I am a registered member of the Sons of the American Revolution. Two of my ancestors were enlisted as privates in the Pennsylvania Militia and fought in the Revolutionary War under General Washington. Before enlisting in the army, they were farmers. This was true of most others who fought with them. At the time of the revolution, America was primarily an agricultural society. Farms and farmers were the primary producers of wealth for the colonies. Manufactured goods were imported from England and paid for with the currency gained from the sale of farmed commodities.
Robots, and the dream of intelligent working robots have been with us for a very long time. As early as 1495, Leonardo da Vinci designed the first humanoid robot. It was designed to sit up, wave its arms, and move its head via a flexible neck. There were hundreds of other robots designed over the next five hundred years. In 2003 NASA used twin robots as Mars rovers. Robots were used in industry for activities like welding and painting automobiles. But until recently most robots were fairly simple, single application, machines. But it is only because of rapid advances in artificial intelligence that robots are advancing to the potential uses we now visualize. If robots can learn, improve and “think” in ways similar to humans, they can take on a whole new set of challenges. And, as part of this evolution, robots are also taking on uncannily human-like appearances. The future of robots now appears unlimited. A robot recently advanced one step closer to human status, when it was granted citizenship to Saudi Arabia.
Today’s technologies demand more of everything—more data, computing power, test cycles, security, reliability, everything.
I remember celebrating the first Earth Day back in 1970. As part of the celebration I ran a marathon in Central Park. It went six laps around the park. Marathoning wasn’t popular back then like it is today. There were only 200 participants and the entry fee was $2. There were other more popular attractions in Central Park that day. They included kite‐flying, skits, Frisbee throwing, band performances and chanting by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
Brick and mortar stores are in a steep decline. Every day we hear about another chain closing down dozens of retail outlets and at the same time malls are being shut down or repurposed. Shopping patterns are changing rapidly. We no longer go out to shop. We check out products, compare prices and do a one click purchase from our cell phones. And after we click we have an expectation that the item will be delivered to us in a day or two. It is not uncommon to get an email or text saying our item has been shipped less than an hour after we place the order.
I spent last week at the annual conference of the Control Systems Integrators Association (CSIA). Since it was founded almost 30 years ago, the CSIA has been the leading force in advancement of manufacturing automation in the United States and increasingly around the world. At last week’s conference, over 500 owners and C-level executives from more than 200 automation firms came together to learn, share and teach. They have discovered that “co-opetition” is one of the best ways to grow and improve themselves.
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.
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?
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.