Research and Innovation in American Manufacturing

Posted by Bill Pollock on May 19, 2020 7:00:00 AM

American technology and innovation have always been the envy of the world. Perhaps not since the founding of the nation two and a half centuries ago, when we were cut off from the factory production in Europe and forced to produce our own goods, has there been such motivation and drive to increase our domestic output. In the United States, billions of dollars are spent annually on research and development.  For decades Congress has encouraged it and tax law has provided research and development tax credits to companies carrying out this research. The law periodically expires but, independent of who controls the House and Senate, there has always been bi-partisan support to renew the law and the credits continue. Research and development lead to innovation and innovation is a hallmark of American ingenuity. Companies in the United States spent about 500 billion in research last year. One could assume that most of this was eligible for federal tax credits which is in part why companies and like Google, Apple and Amazon often pay such a small amount in income taxes. 

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Topics: Manufacturing, COVID-19

The New Normal

Posted by Meghan Hayes on May 12, 2020 8:00:00 AM

You’ve been out of work or working from home for weeks, months? How do we adjust to the “new normal”?

Welcome back, almost. We’ve been living in this strange new world for eight weeks, and we are all anxiously awaiting being able to get back to “normal”, whatever that looks like now. If you’re anything like me, you’ve started to accept this as the new normal. Working from home, not working, doing DIY projects at home you found on Pinterest (or your significant other found on Pinterest), making TikTok’s with your kids, or by yourself (okay maybe that’s just me), baking banana bread, just to name a few of the things that have taken place.

The push to reopen the economy is accelerating. After weeks of social distancing and working from home, many Americans are heading back to work — and many employees and consumers are anxious about their safety. Here’s a few things to keep in mind as we start reopening our businesses and getting back to work, “normal”.

Footshaking. “I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you. Not only would it be good to prevent coronavirus disease; it probably would decrease instances of influenza dramatically in this country,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said when interviewed by Wall Street Journal

But don’t celebrate the death of handshakes just yet, warns according to Cara Silletto, president and chief retention officer at Crescendo Strategies. “I believe the handshake is over for 2020, but I have serious doubts that it will be gone for good,” she said. “It’s too deeply ingrained in our culture and behavior as a way to physically connect with one another. Once the current pandemic health threats have diminished, many people will accept handshaking again, but they will need to respect those who choose not to shake hands, and still carry hand sanitizer.”

Have you seen the “footshake”? Need a tutorial? This is something I learned about via TikTok… try it out and let me know how it goes! This may be the new normal, at least for the remainder of this year.

Check this gif out from the 90's (it's rapper duo Kid 'N Play with their famous dance move).

Sweatpants. I'm not saying whether I'm wearing sweatpants these days, but I am finding I prefer a drawstring. While stores say that COVID-19 induced anxiety and dim economic forecasts have caused a steep drop-off in overall fashion sales, sweatpants appear to be an exception — their popularity spiking at a rate that may indicate they are the biggest (and perhaps only) trend in fashion right now.

With restaurants and nonessential stores closed by mandate and most professionals working from home, fashion status symbols have been rendered nearly useless. Consumers have few places to go that require any degree of style or savoir-faire, and in turn have begun dressing for comfort. As much as I love my sweatpants, we must face the inevitable halt to wearing these every day. Be prepared to get out your more formal attire. And possibly try it on prior to your first day back, given the fact of close proximity to the fridge we’ve had the last several weeks… bringing me to my next point.

Diet and Sleep. Start readjusting your sleeping and eating habits NOW. The fridge has been right around the corner, boredom has been frequent, and Netflix shows are addicting. Time to start getting back into the swing of things. Go to bed at a reasonable hour, wake up early, and eat better starting now. Here’s some advice from the Sleep Foundation.

Establishing a routine can facilitate a sense of normalcy even in abnormal times. It’s easier for your mind and body to acclimate to a consistent sleep schedule, which is why health experts have long recommended avoiding major variation in your daily sleep times. 

Sleep-specific aspects of your daily schedule should include: 

  • Wake-Up Time: Set your alarm, bypass the snooze button, and have a fixed time to get every day started. 
  • Wind-Down Time: This is an important time to relax and get ready for bed. It can involve things like light reading, stretching, and meditating along with preparations for bed like putting on pajamas and brushing your teeth. Given the stress of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s wise to give yourself extra wind-down time each night. 
  • Bedtime: Pick a consistent time to turn out the lights and try to fall asleep.     

In addition to time spent sleeping and getting ready for bed, it can be helpful to incorporate steady routines to provide time cues throughout the day, including: 

  • Showering and getting dressed even if you aren’t leaving the house.
  • Eating meals at the same time each day. 
  • Blocking off specific time periods for work and exercise. 

Other ideas to help keep or regain a normal sleep schedule:

  • Reserve your bed for sleeping.
  • Spend sometime outside in the daylight.
  • Stay active and exercise regularly.
  • Practice kindness and foster connection.
  • Utilize relaxation techniques.
  • Watch what you eat and drink.

Read the full article from the Sleep Foundation here.

Eating and sleeping go hand in hand. In order to sleep well, you have to eat well. Here’s a few tips on eating well, especially during a global pandemic;

  • WHEN you eat is just as important as WHAT you eat. Curb eating two to three hours before you plan on hitting the hay. Eating right before bed is like asking your body to multitask, it can take food 6-8 hours to pass through your stomach and small intestine, so eating right before bed keeps your digestive tract up all night. Nighttime cravings versus actual hunger are different things.
  • Making healthy dietary choices across the board will benefit your sleep. Try to reach for whole foods and complex sugars all day, not just before bed. If you opt for plant based whole foods, like fruits, legumes and veggies, which are high in fiber and important nutrients throughout your day, your sleep will likely benefit.
  • Super sad, but nightcaps are bad news for sustained slumber. Alcohol changes REM, or rapid eye movement, throughout the night. Moderate to high doses of alcohol cause a decrease in REM sleep

Oh, I should add that I'm not sure that my Uncle's recipe for Bacon Wrapped Asparagus counts as a healthy choice, so, please be honest with yourself as you get to eating healthy again.

Help Your Immune System. The COVID-19 pandemic has exerted a heavy toll worldwide—especially on healthcare professionals on the front lines fighting the virus. Taking steps to protect yourself by boosting your immune health are absolutely warranted.  

So, how can you improve your immune system? Overall, your immune system does a remarkable job of defending you against disease-causing microorganisms, but sometimes it fails. Is it possible to intervene in this process and boost your immune system? What if you improve your diet? Take certain vitamins or herbal preparations? Make other lifestyle changes in the hope of producing a near-perfect immune response? Your first line of defense is to choose a healthy lifestyle. Following general good-health guidelines is the single best step you can take toward naturally keeping your immune system strong and healthy. Every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when protected from environmental assaults and bolstered by healthy-living strategies such as these:

  • Don't smoke.
  • Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.
  • Get adequate sleep.
  • Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly.
  • Try to minimize stress.

Personally, I am loading up on the vitamins including Zinc! Zinc, a nutrient found throughout your body, helps your immune system and metabolism function. Zinc is also important to wound healing and your sense of taste and smell. With a varied diet, your body usually gets enough zinc. Food sources of zinc include chicken, red meat and fortified breakfast cereals. I figure that adding a little extra support couldn’t hurt.

Opinions are like… We all have our opinions on what is taking place in our world, but it is important that we respect each other as we continue to move forward. Some individuals will feel more comfortable continuing to work from home or not working at all and that is okay. Others have different beliefs; they do not fear. They want life to go back to normal. This is also okay. Both sides will need to research and acknowledge the potential consequences of their actions and decide what is best for themselves. Just be respectful of each other. And more so than respect, be kind.

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Topics: COVID-19

Made in America

Posted by Bill Pollock on May 5, 2020 7:30:00 AM

There are a dozen or more organizations, groups and events called "Made in America".  Momentum is building and BOTH membership and participation are growing. Individuals and companies want to be a part of the growing movement. These organizations were already alive and growing before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States this year, but the virus has fueled the flames of the patriotism and self-sufficiency.    

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How and Why to Become an Engineer

Posted by Meghan Hayes on Apr 21, 2020 7:30:00 AM

Now you want to be an engineer, so how do you do it?

During National Engineers Week  we filled you in on all the reasons you should be an engineer. EWeek, as it is also known, is dedicated to ensuring a diverse and well-educated engineering workforce by increasing the understanding of and interest in engineering careers in the United States.  So why should someone become and engineer?  And if you decide on an engineering career, how do you become one?

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Topics: IIoT, National Engineers Week, Engineering

Expanding Roles for Robots in Medicine and Future Pandemics

Posted by Bill Pollock on Apr 16, 2020 7:00:00 AM

As the spread of the corona virus accelerated, the need for medical personnel as well as medical equipment and supplies accelerated. At Optimation, where we design and fabricate manufacturing lines, we were contacted dozens of times with requests to participate in increasing the production of the necessary equipment and supplies. We became engaged in discussions for manufacturing ventilators, face masks, face shields and hand sanitizers. We remain engaged with many of those opportunities, but the immediately identified needs are the short-term ones. As we learn from this pandemic, we need to think about longer term strategies. We need to find improved uses of technology and identify and manufacture items that can more effectively be used by medical communities, and in some cases by the community at large.  We had the experiences of SARS, MERS and Ebola to learn from and we knew a great deal about pandemics, but the world was not well prepared for COVID-19.  There weren’t enough hospital beds and there was a shortage of equipment. There was a huge scramble for ventilators and at the urging of governments a dozen or more companies jumped into the manufacture of ventilators, but what other equipment might have been valuable? With lessons learned from our current situation can we use to prepare for the next pandemic. It’s a good time to look for new opportunities and to develop new equipment to help the medical community be more effective. 

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What can a politician learn from an engineering firm? Quite a bit.

Posted by Pete Sherer on Apr 14, 2020 7:30:00 PM

It’s an Election Year, why not Vote for an Engineer?

If you are like me, every four years during the presidential election cycle, I get frustrated with our political system. As candidates for the vaunted office of the Presidency take to the campaign trail and seek to garner the votes of their party’s delegates, I grind my teeth at the rhetoric and unrealistic promises that are offered up as enticement to voters. It makes me question if these candidates even understand their charter, should they be elected, within the legal if not moral guidelines of our democracy.

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The World is Flat & the Demise of the Global Supply Chain

Posted by Bill Pollock on Apr 9, 2020 7:30:00 AM

In 1492 nearly everyone thought that the world was flat. Ships who ventured too close to the edge of the earth would fall in an abyss to their death or be eaten by large dragon like creatures. Columbus overcame all of that and the earth became round. That truth became foundation for a long time. But fifteen years ago Thomas Freidman published his book The World is Flat. It was the Financial Times Business Book of the Year in 2005 and sold millions of copies. It is because the gospel of global trade. In the book Friedman laid out the basis of offshoring, outsourcing and supply-chaining. Business owners read the book and accepted that the future was a global economy with both essential parts and essential products manufactured in all parts of the world, most dominantly in China. Six months ago, predictions for manufacturing trends during 2020 included more globalism with acceleration of Industry 4.0 technologies to make things faster, smarter and of higher quality. Predictions anticipated the growth of analytics, robotics and additive manufacturing.  We couldn’t see, even then, that globalism would soon be dead. The flat world of Friedman would be disrupted even more quickly than the flat world of 1492 was disproved by Columbus. 

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Topics: COVID-19

Hazards of Contamination in Stainless Steel Fabrication

Posted by Bill Pollock on Apr 7, 2020 7:45:00 AM

As we navigate our new reality of Covid-19 we have come to appreciate how small virus particles can infect any of us and how important cleaning and sanitation is. In a similar way to how viruses can “contaminate” our bodies stainless steel contamination can be a real problem in applications that require clean corrosion free surfaces. This is frequently a requirement in labs as well as food and pharmaceutical plants. Stainless steel, when fabricated correctly provides excellent corrosion resistance. When misapplied this will not be the case. Precautions must be taken to prevent contamination of stainless steel surfaces during fabrication. This is possible with the proper precautions when done in a shop in controlled conditions, and more difficult when installation is carried out in a project field location.  

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Okay, Boomer: Demand for Skilled Trades in America

Posted by Meghan Hayes on Mar 31, 2020 7:00:00 AM

By now, everyone has heard of it. The expression 'ok boomer' went viral all over the world. The term 'boomer' is short for 'Baby Boomer', a term first introduced as a name for the generation of people born between 1946 and 1964. During that period, the first decades after World War II, there was a dramatic increase, a ‘boom’ in number of births. But right now, the term is used to refer to people seen as characterized by a common set of dominant values and concerns. 'Boomer' has become a nickname for someone who is old, very conservative and narrow-minded.

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Topics: Skilled Trades

New York on “Pause”: How to Turn COVID-19 into an Opportunity

Posted by Pete Sherer on Mar 26, 2020 7:51:13 AM

As we embrace the needed isolation that is aimed at slowing the progression of the coronavirus, many of us are frustrated by the interruption to our business goals and productivity. Our imposed idleness, with the health and well being of our friends and neighbors being our top priority, makes us question what the best use of our time and energy might be in the midst of this storm.

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Topics: COVID-19

Welcome to the Optimation Blog

Tips, tricks and trends

The goal of this blog is to be helpful to readers by providing useful information about applications in industrial engineering, design and skilled trades, as well as industry knowledge. We're passionate about manufacturing in the United States. We have a little fun with it too.  

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