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.
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.
For the past decade and more there has been steady progress toward greater and greater use of advanced automation in manufacturing. While Manufacturing 4.0 and the Internet of Things are new in their implementation, they were preceded by continuing and steady improvements in process control systems, SCADA and historians which have been in place for decades. Capturing process and product data from the plant floor and using analysis techniques such as SPC has been the manufacturing model for decades. One of the challenges has been dealing with the massive amount of data available to use, storing, analyzing, and using the results to meaningfully improve quality and throughput.