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Manufacturing space enters era of change

Posted: 07 Oct 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:manufacturing? FMA? automation? packaging?

The Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International (FMA) has designated October 2, 2015 as a day to encourage events that can teach and celebrate the value of manufacturing. The reason behind this is that the world of manufacturing is in the verge of transformation, and recent developments point to a change that may be considered drastic, yet nonetheless certain.

To paraphrase a classic Yogi Berra quote, the future of manufacturing isn't what it used to be. Profound changes have come to the craft and art of making things. Here are some of their insights of some of the people at the PackExpo.

1) It's Not All China Any Longer

The flight to China has subsided somewhat as brand owners seek manufacturing that better supports their customers. While tons of products bound for the US are still made in China, a new paradigm has taken hold for industrial goods and for high-mix, low-volume products, build it close to the customer. The goal is to provide greater customer service and the shipping control that comes from local production. We also noted a ring of pride when employees said their products are produced locally.

2) Everything's Connected...But for What?

For all the talk about Industry 4.0, it seems to remain in the realm of very large manufacturers. The technology is within the reach of small- and mid-size manufacturers as automation vendors make their technologies available to a wide spectrum of customers. But smaller manufacturers are not yet equipped to effectively utilise the data coming off their machines.

As an example, conditional monitoring tends to remain in the realm of measuring how many times a machine completes a task rather than monitoring the condition of the machine. While it's hard to make a blanket statement, most manufacturers are still monitoring equipment conditions like we monitor oil in our cars: by mileage and time, rather than by the condition of the oil itself.

3) The End User Is Pointing to a Flexible Future

How many types of Oreos are there now? How many types of packaging do you see for Oreos? That says everything about flexible manufacturing and packaging. In the world of packaging, by extension, the world of manufacturing, the end customer is driving major changes. The retailers want custom packaging; they even want custom products themselves. It's not just Oreos. The auto industry is also working to incorporate custom manufacturing. This is a long way from Henry Ford's famous quote, 'You can have any colour you want as long as it's black.'

Across the PackExpo show floor, automation vendors explained how their newest technology advances are coming directly from customer demands. Ten or 15 years ago, these vendors were developing technology and introducing it to customers hoping they were see and appreciate (and pay for) its value. Now, again and again, I'm hearing vendors say the customer came to them with a problem, and the technology was developed as a solution.

A perfect example of this came with the retirement of the Baby-Boomer control engineers. They took decades of experience out the door when they left. The end users needed smart manufacturing systems, but their programmers were no longer in the building. Vendors have responded by creating building-block systems that require configuration, not programming, even with robotics. At PackExpo, I watched booth personnel 'programme' robot operations in minutes. They even turned to me and said, "Here, you try." That's the future of manufacturing.

- Rob Spiegel
??Design News

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