How do you work on the most stimulating and meaningful engineering and manufacturing projects across a wide variety of applications without working directly and exclusively for one of the world's biggest manufacturing companies? Work for a firm that services those companies and participate in select projects that are sourced to your firm.
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!
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.
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.
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.
The byword of the presidential campaign and the new administration has been creating manufacturing jobs in the United States. But even before the change in leadership in Washington there was a push to create manufacturing jobs, save the automobile industry, provide funding to create apprenticeships and new qualified tradesmen.
There has always been an element of service as a product but it is accelerating in recent years and may become the dominant method of delivery for sophisticated goods over the next several years. The question being asked by manufactures is, do consumers want a “thing” or do they want the service that the product delivers? Do consumers want to buy a device and use and maintain it or would they prefer to pay for the actual use they get from it? A traditional example of this was the car lease. Consumers get a car to use and effectively pay for the miles they drive. The repair and maintained costs are covered in the lease fee paid. The same concept can now be applied to almost anything a consumer uses. As the Internet of Things has become more robust it has made it possible to monitor more closely the operation and failure of appliances, and to do predictive and preventive maintenance.
Say you are a manufacturer with an aging production infrastructure, faced with the opportunity to sell more of your goods (if only you could up your output from your existing equipment). As you begin your investigation into your options to increase your volumes, and consider the possibility of a capital investment, you may then be faced with the need to deal with parts of your existing system which may have to be brought up to current code. The modifications you may desire for your current machinery, which will enable the integration of new equipment to give you the added production you are seeking, are also now mandating certain regulated updates (this can happen to electrical components and wiring, and can also drive necessary improvements to guarding for operator safety).
In a quote attributed to Warren Bennis over a decade ago, it was stated that “The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching any of the equipment.” Perhaps the future he visualized is very near.