In Rochester, the transition from winter to spring came pretty fast! One day it was 70 degrees and we were getting ready to pull our cars and motorcycles out of storage and the next day there was 3” inches of snow and salt on the roads again. Friday I did yard work and noticed some buds on the trees, and by Sunday everything was in bloom!
One of the big goals this year is to grow manufacturing jobs in the United States. It is a wonderful goal and I endorse it. There are some challenges with the plan that not too many are talking about. At face value, manufacturing jobs sound great. But manufacturing jobs in 2017 are not the same as manufacturing jobs were in the 50s, 60s or 70s. Because of advanced technologies in our manufacturing plants and the high levels of automation, many of the jobs available today require much greater levels of skills and training than those of past decades.
It seems that its time has come and its more than we imagined.
As an ABB Chemical Business Unit employee in 1991, I attended an internal meeting by a corporate "think tank" group within the company that postulated on automation and where it was trending. The main theme was that user interfaces would be multi-faceted. Displays that offer configuration forms, loop drawings, and P&ID views for engineering; at the click of a button morph into a version with setpoint entries, alarm status feedback, and real-time trends for operators; another click transforms to I/O troubleshooting, statistical reports, and repair orders for maintenance; still more variations with cost of operation, yield and order status for production and management. It sounded like a great idea, but no products offered this type of seamless operation between stakeholders.
Machine guarding is often thought of as something associated with industry and manufacturing plants. It is true that the potential for hazards from machines is greater in those settings. But even in our homes we often have machines where safety guards have become common. Our garage doors have sensors so that if anything cuts the plane of the door the opener will reverse the action and open the door. Riding lawnmowers have seat interlocks to shut down the engine when we get off the mower. Table saws have sensors to shut the blade off quickly if it comes in contact with a finger. And even kitchen appliances like a food processor have interlocks to keep clumsy home operators from cutting their fingers.
Earlier this year it was announced that Rochester ranked 23rd in the U.S. for STEM workers in a study done by WalletHub. WalletHub is a social website that offers financial tools and information for consumer and small business owners. They ranked 100 of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas on 17 metrics from per-capita job opening for STEM graduates to projected demand for STEM workers by 2020. This is great news for the area, but how do we move up on this and ensure that we at least hold our position and move higher on the list?
In February, 2009 the US economy hit a new low and in an effort to spur it along the Fed dropped the prime interest rates to a historic low of 3.25 percent. It stayed there for seven years and is just beginning to rise again, but slowly. Money has been cheap and abundant. In spite of this there has not been enough demand from the manufacturing sector to use all the available cash as investment capital to build new manufacturing infrastructure. Suddenly, in the spring of 2017 we have a new interest in increasing US manufacturing capacity and building new manufacturing plants. The initial investment will be made by large multinational well financed companies. Many of them have available cash reserves and are only looking for good ways to invest it. But the growth of these firms has a multifaceted ripple effect. Smaller firms, which are suppliers to these mega-firms, will get to grow with the economy as well. A rising tide raises all boats. Perhaps the question to ask is how rising interest rates will impact medium and small business as well as individual consumers.
In my last post, I talked about the NFPA 70E standard and Arc Flash. I mentioned that Optimation has a staff of engineers that perform Arc Flash Studies to help ensure that our customers comply with the standard. OSHA requires that the employer provide its workers a safe work environment free from known hazards. Electric shock and arc flash are known electrical hazards recognized by OSHA.
Some products are just too significant to die. Or so it would seem. A few that come to mind are Wonder Bread, Twinkies, the Polaroid Camera and now Ektachrome film. A question we might ask is if the product was so great in the first place why did it disappear from the marketplace. And what makes companies believe that if they reinstate a previously failed product it will succeed the second time? Reasons may vary from situation to situation. And it may be a matter of timing. Although it isn’t a single brand, the sale of vinyl records is one example of the rebound of what appeared to be an obsolete product. Sales of vinyl in 2016 reached a 25-year high. More than three million LPs were sold in 2016, the highest number since 1991. Spending on vinyl outstripped that spent on digital downloads.
Many efficient, high-speed manufacturing processes are implemented using roll-to-roll manufacturing that processes a web based product.
Each year we that we offer web handling training to our clients, we hear their stories of why they decided to take the class, and later, how they applied what they learned in their plant after they left. Pete Sherer writes up a fictional story, based on our own customers and their feedback: