What Can Design Engineers Learn from IKEA?

What Can Design Engineers Learn from IKEA?

Dec 11, 2015

By Chris Wiltz, Design News IKEA has become the go-to brand for what are essentially LEGOs for adults — modular, customizable furniture that’s affordable, easy-to-build, and with a name that’s impossible to pronounce. There are whole websites devoted to clever tricks to reconfigure IKEA’s furniture. Buried at the core of IKEA is the idea of modular design — creating products comprised of individual units, or modules, rather than as a whole. When done right, the end result is a product that can be repaired, reused, and re-designed with much less effort. Writing for our sister publication MD+DI, Nigel Syrotuck, a mechanical engineer at StarFish Medical, a medical device design company based in British Columbia, argues for the medical device space in particular, but all of traditional engineering and manufacturing might do well to adopt the philosophy of the Swedish furniture company. Syrotuck writes: “In medical devices, we have one main reason to use a modular design: the ability to reuse approved components in multiple products. Testing is cumbersome in medicine, for obvious reasons, but reusing an approved power module in a few different devices leads to a safer product with an extensive history and saves cost and time in development.” He cites several advantages to modular design: faster assembly, easier maintenance and testing, and improved product longevity. There are also technological advantages, especially when it comes to upgrading products. Rather than having to purchase a whole new device when the current model becomes obsolete (yes, we’re looking at you Apple), a modular design needs only for the outdated part to be replaced. And, because the modules have been used before, they can be characterized, more reliable, and more predictable. Of course there are downsides as well including higher initial design costs and expensive connectors (a key component of any modular device). There are also aesthetic considerations for designers since modules are best done in blocks, squares, and rectangles — not always the best design course, particularly when safety or other considerations would require a product not to have sharp, ridged edges. Still, more and more technology companies are starting to embrace the idea. Google’s modular cellphone, currently dubbed Project Ara, is probably the most prominent example to date. The...

Cheaper Gas Lowered U.S. Producer Prices In September

Cheaper Gas Lowered U.S. Producer Prices In September

Oct 14, 2015

By Josh Boak, Manufacturing.net Prices fell for manufacturers, farmers and other producers in September, as lower energy costs have limited broader inflation. The Labor Department said Wednesday that the producer price index, which measures price changes before they reach the consumer, dropped 0.5 percent last month after being unchanged in August. Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, core prices tumbled 0.3 percent in September. Wholesale prices have decreased 1.1 percent from a year ago, with September marking the eighth straight 12-month decline. Gasoline costs fell a sharp 16.6 percent, while food prices slid 0.8 percent. Consumer prices, meanwhile, have barely risen. According to the Federal Reserve’s preferred measure, they increased just 0.3 percent in August from a year earlier. Excluding the volatile categories of food and energy, core prices have risen a gentle 1.3 percent in the 12 months ending in August. Those inflation figures are far from the Fed’s 2 percent inflation target, a gap that could cause Fed policymakers to delay a rate hike at their Oct. 27-28 meeting. Many analysts had anticipated that the Fed would increase short-term interest rates at its September meeting for the first time in nine years. But the U.S. central bank held off amid concerns about China’s economy growing at a slower pace and sharp volatility in the U.S. stock market. The Fed has said that it needs to feel “reasonably confident” that inflation will move back to its 2 percent target before beginning to raise interest rates. The short-term rate it controls has been pegged at a record low near zero since late 2008, in an effort to spur borrowing and spending amid the Great Recession and ensuing recovery now entering its seventh year. Falling gas prices, in addition to a stronger dollar which lowers the cost of imports, are keeping overall inflation at bay. A gallon of gas cost an average $2.31, about 89 cents cheaper than a year ago....

How a Decaying Infrastructure Hurts U.S. Manufacturing

How a Decaying Infrastructure Hurts U.S. Manufacturing

Jun 5, 2015

By Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Wall Street Journal Make or buy all that you want in the U.S., but if the transportation system doesn’t work, your business will suffer. That’s why the U.S. must address the huge problem of decaying infrastructure. Manufacturing is physical—not virtual—regardless of the amount of digital technology used to organize, guide and control it. It is dependent on places and the transportation connections among them. Even if research and development can happen on computers, even if simulations can substitute for prototypes or prototypes can be made on 3-D printers, and even if parts can be sourced from anywhere in the world by employees sitting in any part of the world destined for customers in any part of the world, physical objects must move from place to place. But what if goods can’t move to markets in a timely, cost-effective way? What if supplies are held up by a port strike on the West Coast or freight railroad congestion in Chicago, through which a quarter of America’s trains pass? What if employees can’t get to work without long, frustrating commutes? What if a potential workforce lives in inner cities with poor public transit access, while the jobs are in the suburbs and exurbs? When suppliers can’t move goods and employees can’t get to work, then manufacturing firms are vulnerable. On recent Harvard Business School U.S. Competitiveness project surveys, logistics and infrastructure remain areas in which the U.S. is falling behind other nations. Yet logistics is increasingly the lifeblood of manufacturing, as companies increase their dependence on supply-chain partners. The strategic advantages that come from supply chain in turn depend upon the smooth operations of transportation systems, including trucks and other cargo carriers, and the quality of the infrastructure on which they run. Supply-chain management has become a route to the C-suite, as I heard at the recent summit held by AWESOME (Achieving Women’s Excellence in Supply Chain Operations, Management and Education), a three-year-old network encouraging the best and brightest women to work in this field. I urged them to become advocates for big investments in renewing and reinventing America’s transportation infrastructure. There are many good reasons for an emerging manufacturing renaissance in...

The Heat Is On Difficult-to-Machine Metals

The Heat Is On Difficult-to-Machine Metals

Jan 13, 2015

By Jim Lorincz, Manufacturing Engineering Successful machining depends on making the right engineered tooling choices Cutting tool manufacturers call on a lot of tribal knowledge to help their customers find the most productive machining solutions for processing difficult-to-machine materials. Manufacturers in industries that are big users of titanium, stainless steels, Inconels, and other high-temperature heat-resistant superalloys (HRSA) are increasingly seeking machining solutions that extend tool life, improve productivity, deliver consistent part quality, and take advantage of the latest advances in machine tool technology—all at the same time. In machining these materials, heat, as well as the unique processing characteristics of the metals, is the enemy. Failure is not an option for workpieces that are expensive and production that is costly and time-consuming. In a real sense, cutting tool suppliers have become an invaluable engineering resource for their customers. Here’s how. Advanced Tooling Solutions Trump Material Challenges According to Michael Standridge, aerospace industry specialist at Sandvik Coromant (Fair Lawn, NJ), aerospace manufacturers are faced with critical issues affecting capacity, cycle time, cutter security, tool life, repeatability, longevity, and part quality. “There’s a lot of pressure on the supply chain to deliver quality parts on time to meet increasing monthly production rates for commercial aircraft. With the strong forecast and large volumes of aircraft to produce over the next 25 years we are seeing an increase in the quantity of all major component groups within the engine, frame structures, and landing gear,” said Standridge. “At our Aerospace Application Center, we offer many solutions for our customers: from machining strategy and process development on a particular material or component feature, to cutting tool application and design, as well as full turnkey services that includes CAM programming. CAM programs are complete and verified. The real benefits of our center comes from having the ability to show our customers the latest techniques that demonstrate how to get the most productivity out of our cutting tools, plus it gives us the ability to develop solutions outside of their facility, which can then integrate into their facility,” said Standridge.  “Titanium, particularly 6AL4V titanium, has been used in aircraft for a long time and the industry has a pretty good handle on...

Job shop cuts CNC programming time

Job shop cuts CNC programming time

Jan 9, 2015

By Manufacturing Group, Aerospace Manufacturing and Design New software speeds Honeycutt’s milling productivity up to 20%. Honeycutt Manufacturing Inc.’s CNC programming system was showing its age. It was difficult to use and presented particular difficulties in programming mill-turn machines. Company engineers selected Delcam’s FeatureCAM CNC programming system because it is more intuitive and does a better job of addressing mill-turn and other advanced machining methods. The new CNC programming software has automated many tasks that used to have to be done manually, saving time and virtually ensuring that the program will run correctly the first time. The end result: typical parts that used to be programmed in 12 to 16 hours can now be programmed in 3 to 4 hours. Sophisticated machining Honeycutt’s forte is its ability to produce parts with complex geometries to demanding tolerances in relatively short delivery times utilizing sophisticated CNC machine tools such as a Tsugami SS-26 mill-turn, Nakamura Tome WT-300 mill-turn, Mori Seiki SH-50 horizontal machining center, Hitachi Seiki HG-400 III horizontal machining center, and Matsuura VX-1000 vertical machining center. As the company upgraded its machines, the original CNC programming software had difficulty in fully taking advantage of their capabilities. “Another shop in the area recommended FeatureCAM as being particularly good for mill-turn machines,” says Steven Honeycutt, manufacturing engineer for Honeycutt Manufacturing. “We demoed the software and found that it greatly simplified the task of mill-turn programming. So we purchased one seat and began using it to program our mill-turn machines. Later we tried using FeatureCAM to program our milling machines and found that it was better for these machines as well. So we bought two more seats of FeatureCAM and now use it for all of our programing.” FeatureCAM automatically handles many aspects of programming that used to be manual. For example, the company’s mill-turn machines have a sub-spindle with a chuck that feeds bar stock and then grips it while a series of operations are performed, Honeycutt adds. Programming how far to pull the bar out and where to grip it has been changed from a complex code-writing exercise to just a few mouse clicks. Milling operations on a mill-turn machine are programmed with exactly the same...