Are Smart Sensors The Cure-All For Manufacturing’s Woes?

Are Smart Sensors The Cure-All For Manufacturing’s Woes?

Oct 21, 2016

 By Mark Humphlett, Manufacturing Business Technology  Smart sensors are the heroes in manufacturing’s rekindled evolution. Thanks to these remarkably small, highly flexible, highly-versatile devices, manufacturers can now capture, communicate, and harness unprecedented levels of data and business intelligence. It’s a whole new world in manufacturing and we owe it to the miracle cure-all sensor devices that can be as small as a pencil eraser and cost less than a dollar each. It almost sounds too good to be true. Maybe it is too big of a claim to be truly realistic. Can the use of sensors suddenly increase margins, improve customer satisfaction, stock the warehouse and keep shop floor assets from failing? Yes. And No. Although it is tempting to assume sensors can solve all of the vast issues manufacturers face, a degree of caution, a dose of reality serum, and some old-fashioned strategic thinking and hard work must go into the process. There is no short cut. No easy button.   Understanding the Miracle-Mindset We often look for the miracle cure or the silver bullet that will solve all of our “ailments” with one simple step. Some call it optimism. Others would say it is blind naivety that allows so many of us to fall prey to “too good to be true” deals. Even the highly educated technology-enthusiast can be blinded by vague promises and “next revolution” double-speak.   It’s comforting to think adding some sensors to the shop floor will suddenly lead to greater profitably, happier customers, wider market-share and more productive assets that never fail. This seems to be the overly optimistic assumption of many manufacturers as they fumble with concepts around sensor technologies and Internet of things strategies. The low cost availability, ever-expanding capabilities, shrinking size, and increasing material flexibility can truly be mind-numbing and lead the manufacturer to “hope for the best” as they jump into the deep end of the technology with both feet, big budgets, high hopes and no life preservers.  While “There’s an app for that” was the mating call of IT vendors seeking users in the last decade, now the new resounding cry ringing through the IT wilderness is “Slap a sensor on that!” Far...

Manufacturers Disagree About Skills Gap, PwC Says

Manufacturers Disagree About Skills Gap, PwC Says

Aug 2, 2016

By Bill Koenig, Manufacturing Engineering Manufacturers disagree about the extent of the skills gap in the workforce, PricewaterhouseCoopers said in a report. The consulting company surveyed 120 manufacturers concerning how advanced technology is affecting the workplace. “Manufacturers are not speaking in a unified voice on the skills shortage issue,” PwC said in a report about the survey. PwC worked with the Manufacturing Institute (Washington) on the study. Among the results: —Perspective about skills shortages aren’t uniform. PwC said 33% of those surveyed reported little or no difficulty hiring workers to utilize advanced technology, while 44% have “moderate difficulty.” —Concern about the future varies. According to PwC, 31% don’t see a manufacturing skills shortage now but expect one in the next three years. Another 26% say the shortage has already peaked. And 29% say there’s a shortage now and it will get worse in the next three years. —New technology isn’t expected to kill manufacturing jobs. PwC said 37% of those surveyed say technology will boost hiring while 45% said there will be no impact on hiring. Only 17% said technology will cut hiring. “Our survey reveals that many manufacturers are either on the road to developing a talent pipeline ex exploit advanced manufacturing technology, or are in the process of ramping up efforts to do so,” according to a summary of the study. Traditionally, robots and automation have been the main sources of technology on the factory floor. Now, additional technology, such as controlling and activating production equipment with smartphones, is becoming common at plants. The newer technology is spurring concern about workforce skills, PwC said. “When asked about difficulty attracting talent to exploit advanced manufacturing technologies, the picture changes,” according to the consulting firm. “Only 13% of manufacturers said they have encountered no difficulty in acquiring talent to exploit advanced manufacturing technology.” PwC cited examples such as the Internet of Things, robotics, 3D printing and “virtual/augmented reality.” “Manufacturers realize the need for a workforce of problem solvers that will adapt to and have comfort with swiftly changing technology,” according to the report. “Manufacturers are stepping up hiring of talent that can keep up with their investments in...

Machining Parts Complete in One Clamping

Machining Parts Complete in One Clamping

Jun 28, 2016

By Jim Lorincz, Manufacturing Engineering Multitasking machines not only enhance productivity, but they also improve quality The appeal of multitasking machining isn’t difficult to understand. Multitasking machines overcome some limitations of conventional machines and work their own special brand of magic in subtractively processing parts. From the earliest mill-turn machines to today’s most advanced multifunction machines featuring simultaneous processing, manufacturers have recognized that productivity-enhancing multitasking machining and quality go hand in hand. The ability to drop parts complete in one clamping from one machine removes accuracy-robbing reclamping on a second machine and provides flexibility to quickly change over to meet short-run production demand. Innovative machine configurations and flexible workholding are expanding the limits of future multitasking machines. Testing the Limits and Pushing the Boundaries of Multitasking “One of the primary goals of multitasking machine development is to minimize any tradeoffs,” said David Fischer, lathe product specialist, Okuma America Corp. (Charlotte, NC). “Customers don’t want to give up any milling capabilities on their multitasking lathes and they don’t want to give up any turning capabilities on the multitasking machining centers.” Okuma’s Multus series of multitasking lathes are equipped with milling spindles capable of performance equal to its large machining centers. Spindles range from 6000 to 12,000 rpm and even 20,000 rpm and achieve metal removal rates that are on par with typical machining centers. In addition, technologies such as Okuma’s Turn-cut Function that were only available on machining centers in the past are now migrating to the Multus. “There are several key features that make multitasking machines attractive to manufacturers,” Fischer said. “Producing a part conventionally requires an operator or robot to move the part from one machine to another. In each case, a misload is possible resulting in scrap or rework. With a multitasking machine the raw material must be loaded and a finished part unloaded. Everything else is handled by the machine, eliminating the intermediate steps where mistakes can happen. The ability to change from one job to another in a matter of minutes makes it relatively painless to respond to rapidly changing production demands. For example, interruptions for that hot job no longer result in multiple machine setups to make it. Just...

5 Mistakes to Avoid in Product Development

5 Mistakes to Avoid in Product Development

Jun 14, 2016

By Mitch Maiman, DesignNews Everyone has been there. Done that. Mistakes are a part of life and certainly part of the learning process. Here are some of the key mistakes observed in hundreds of product development teams. Knowing this, forewarned is fore-armed. How many of these do you recognize? Losing Control of the Product Development Costs A team is armed with a good kick-off scenario. The project is launching with a well-defined scope and set of requirements. Targets have been properly designated. The team knows the mission and its goals. Six months into the project, the project engineer runs a projected, costed bill of materials and then… SHOCK. The bill of materials projection rollup vastly exceeds the target cost. What happened? In this scenario, the team lost focus on the projected cost implications in a myriad of technical decisions in the course of execution. Bad news can happen but, what you want is to have bad news discovered early. One tip for helping to identify bad news early (when there is time to course correct) is to start with sub-system and key component cost budgets. These need to be established early and validated frequently — bi-weekly is not too frequent. As an example, on complex product design projects involving electronics systems, establish early budget targets for the electronics (to the board level) and mechanical components or expected cost drivers. The numbers will likely vary as the project progresses but constant monitoring will enable the “puts and takes” to be assessed and over-runs remediated in a timely way. Worst case, cost vs. feature vs. requirements trade-offs can be made early in scenarios where it is anticipated that “the wheels are falling off the bus.” The sooner variances are confronted, the lower the impact to the project cost and schedule, or the disappointment when the features have been delivered at a cost that kills market acceptability. Losing Focus on the Product Requirements In the heat of the project, it is easy to lose sight of the complete nature of the requirements that need to be driven into the product being developed. Often, these oversights are not discovered until late in the development process. The design may...

7 Ways 3D Printing Is Making Manufacturing More Competitive

7 Ways 3D Printing Is Making Manufacturing More Competitive

Apr 26, 2016

By Louis Columbus, Forbes 71.1% of manufacturers have currently adopted 3D Printing. 52% of manufacturers expect 3D Printing will be used for high-volume production in the next 3-5 years. 22% of manufacturers predict 3D Printing will have a disruptive effect on supply chains. Global spending on printers was predicted to reach $11B in 2015 and forecast to reach about $27B by 2019. These and many other insights are from the Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) and Manufacturing Institute report published this month 3D Printing comes of age in US industrial manufacturing.  You can download the report here (10 pp., PDF).  Manufacturing CEO: “We Are Going To Disrupt Ourselves Before The Market Does By Relying On Advanced Technologies Including 3D Printing.” During a recent conversation with the CEO of one of the leading industrial equipment manufacturers in the Midwest, she told me that her company sees disruption as key to their survival and growth. “We are doing to disrupt ourselves before the market does by relying on advanced technologies including 3D Printing,” she told me. This CEO successfully has turned around a series of product lines that had flat sales growth, using a combination of cloud platforms, analytics, mobile and rapid prototyping including 3D printing. She says that by putting the customer at the center of these initiatives unifies them and makes their impact on sales and customer satisfaction immediately measurable. 7 Ways 3D Printing Makes Manufacturers More Competitive 71.1% of manufacturers are now using 3D Printing for prototyping and final products.PwC found that more manufacturers are using 3D Printing for prototyping and final products compared to two years ago (35%). Time-to-market and increasingly unique customer requirements are driving up adoption of 3D Printing in product development and production workflows across global manufacturing today. 52% of manufacturers expect 3D Printing will be used for high-volume production in the next 3-5 years. Manufacturers are looking more to 3D Printing than ever before for high-volume production, with just over half (52%) evaluating it compared to 38% just two years ago. 22% of manufacturers predict 3D Printing will have a disruptive effect on supply chains in the next 3 – 5 years. An additional 18% believe 3D Printing is a...