Slow Recovery Predicted For Post-Covid Industrial Landscape

One of my favorite market intelligence companies, Interact Analysis, published its quarterly industrial market update last week. The highlights:

  • Slow recovery out of pandemic predicted up to end of 2023 or into 2024
  • Manufacturing output growth calculation for 2020 revised up from -3.9% to -3.6%
  • Semiconductors: crash in the market expected in late 2023 or early 2024
  • Quantitative easing will cause inflation in some regions

Market intelligence company Interact Analysis has just published the latest quarterly update of its Manufacturing Industry Output Tracker (MIO). The report announces the inclusion of data from three key new regions – Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam; and predicts a slower-than-previously-expected global recovery from the pandemic. Good performances by the US, South Korea and China are offset by regions such as Europe and Japan, which have struggled with the pandemic but are expected to make a swift recovery, and India and Brazil, which continue to fare badly and are expected to see a slow recovery. Problems in the semiconductor sector are already holding back the manufacturing sector, while inflation is a black cloud on the horizon.

The COVID-19 vaccine roll-out has been uneven, meaning some economies will open up more slowly than others. The EMEA region (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) in particular has fared relatively badly. In February 2021, for example, while the UK registered 89.8 vaccination doses per 100 people, Germany registered only 54.2. France and Italy currently measure 48.6 and 51.9 per 100 respectively. The region saw a major hit to the economy in 2020 with growth slumping by around -10%, and the slow vaccination rate will keep growth down to 6% in 2021.  The US is currently running at around 85.4 doses per 100 people and the economy should be fully open by this summer, turning a relatively modest negative manufacturing growth of -3.7% in 2020 into positive expansion running at 6.4% in 2021. The terrible news coming out of India means that recovery is going to be slow, likewise Brazil, both having the daunting task of turning around from double digit manufacturing declines in 2020 (India: -12.6%; Brazil: -15.8%). They are both projected to achieve a relatively modest year on year growth of around 6% in 2021. China is the only country that saw positive manufacturing growth in 2020 (1.9%) and is now back to normal levels of production, in spite of a limited vaccine roll-out.

A combination of factors has led to a serious shortage of microchips, with major repercussions for the electronics and automotive sectors, and a consequent knock-on effect for industrial automation companies. This is hampering recovery in many regions. In the longer-term, the research shows that the current period of unusually strong semiconductor growth as a result of the shortage will be followed by a crash in the market sometime around the end of 2023 or the beginning of 2024. This is being driven by two factors: semiconductor companies are investing in new capacity to deal with current elevated demand, and semiconductor customers are currently stockpiling and will soon have more than they need.

Adrian Lloyd, CEO at Interact Analysis, comments: “These have been incredibly difficult times for the global manufacturing sector, and we’re by no means out of the woods yet. The chip shortage will continue for some time to come. Furthermore, the vast scale of quantitative easing and financial support that was applied by governments during the pandemic, amounting, for example, to a massive 54.5% of GDP for Japan, and 39.5% and 26.5% for Germany and the US respectively, means that serious inflation is almost inevitable in some key regions. The effects of covid are going to stretch some way into the future.”

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About the MIO

This edition of the MIO has expanded coverage of Southeast Asia, with key manufacturing regions Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam now included. All datasets in the report have been revised to include the new regions, so historic aggregates will be different. Our data analysts have been hard at work, and, with a full year of monthly indicators for 2020, and figures for Q1 of 2021 now under our belt, we are confident that we have a clear picture of the damage caused by the pandemic to global industry. More importantly, we have been able to hone our predictions for future performance on a global and regional level. For further information, click here.

About Interact Analysis

Interact Analysis is an international provider of market research for the Intelligent Automation sector. Our team of experienced industry analysts delivers research into three core sectors: industrial automation, robotics and warehouse automation, and commercial vehicles. Intelligent Automation – which is the integration of artificial intelligence and automation – will change virtually every industry imaginable. This combination enables greater efficiencies, productivity, convenience, and scale. It has the potential to drastically alter the outlook for many traditional industries such as manufacturing, healthcare and automotive as well as to lead to the emergence of entirely new industries.

Partnership Brings One-Stop-Shop for Cobot Applications to Manufacturers Globally

The Danish collaborative robotics (cobot) tools company OnRobot has been churning out innovative robotic tooling in a stream for the past year. It also taps the partnership stream of collaboration. I’ve run across Vention at a trade show a few years back but haven’t really seen something I could write about intelligently. Here is a partnership between the two that should bear fruit.

Vention, a manufacturing automation platform (MAP), today announced its partnership with OnRobot, which makes tools for collaborative applications. This partnership combines Vention’s online-first manufacturing automation platform with OnRobot’s library of plug-and-play end-of-arm tools to accelerate the design and deployment of end-to-end cobot applications.  

Vention’s MAP provides users with the engineering software and modular hardware they need to design, automate, order, and deploy factory equipment in a single digital environment. With thousands of modular parts, smart design tools, and real-time pricing, factory equipment can be designed in minutes—from anywhere, on any web browser. With the addition of OnRobot’s plug-and-play tools for collaborative and light industrial robotics, manufacturing professionals can focus on scaling production with greater flexibility and efficiency.

The combination of offerings makes it even easier to automate tasks like machine tending, material handling, material removal and assembly. With solutions for grippers—parallel, flexible, magnetic, and vacuum alike—as well as vision cameras, sanding tools, screwdriving tools, and more, the application possibilities have now been significantly expanded.

We’re thrilled to be working with OnRobot to offer a range of industry-leading cobot solutions,” says Patrick Tawagi, Director of Application Development at Vention. “OnRobot’s suite of grippers and end-of-arm tools covers almost every application in the cobot market, and their straightforward interface combined with Vention’s platform makes them incredibly easy to deploy.” 

OnRobot’s exciting partnership with Vention will make it easier than ever for companies of all sizes and skill levels to deploy collaborative automation,” says Kristian Hulgard, General Manager of the Americas division at OnRobot. “The combination of Vention’s superb MAP platform and OnRobot’s ever-expanding, award winning range of no fuss tools for collaborative applications will empower users to design and deploy advanced automation with unprecedented ease.” 

Solar Power From The Fabric In Your Tent Or Awning

One of this week’s more intriguing conversations centered on solar power from your canopy, awning, or tent with Pvilion CEO Colin Touhey. 

Maybe in these post-Covid days of rediscovered al fresco dining, you may be able to have a fine meal under a tent with lighting and outlets to charge your mobile device powered by solar cells in the fabric of the tent. Or perhaps thinking of work, you need temporary coverage of an area for work or storage. And electrical power is required. Maybe many volts and amps. Same scenario. Pvilion products, er, cover a fascinating range of use cases. I’ve included a general background of Pvilion and its technology plus use cases from the New York Botanical Garden and a Home Depot location.

Pvilion Solar Fabric

What is Pvilion?

(from an essay by Director of Marketing Jill Gettinger) Pvilion integrates solar cells into fabric, producing products that when exposed to the sun, generate electricity. Pvilion can take any surface that receives sunlight, cover it with this fabric and produce electricity, providing flexible structures that can be powered independent from the electricity grid.

The more technical name for Pvilion’s offerings is flexible photovoltaic (PV) solar fabric products and structures and behind the simplicity is a 10-year-old partnership between Colin Touhey, an electrical engineer and CEO of Pvilion, and fabric industry veterans Todd Dalland, a pioneering designer and inventor in the field of lightweight structures, and Robert Lerner, AIA, an architect who has led new technology development programs involving lightweight, deployable structures for NASA, the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force. The three connected when they were working on integrating photovoltaic cells with fabric for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Pvilion’s roots go back more than 20 years when Dalland and Lerner developed the first photovoltaic tent. That the tent was easy to deploy, flexible and self-powered piqued the attention of the military, which led to research and development funding from the U.S. Army.

Military deployments during this time further increased product demand as forward operating bases needed to be setup quickly in places where there was no grid, and it was difficult to setup up traditional power generators.

At the same time, mobile device usage, cell phones, laptops, handheld computers, was taking off. The mobile purpose of these devices meant they often needed to be powered where access to a traditional grid source was not available. To meet this need, Pvilion developed the Solar Sail, a small solar canopy that resembles a sail, hence the name, which can be easily deployed in public spaces and at outdoor gatherings, e.g., sporting events, concerts, parks, weddings,et cetera. Once deployed and receiving sun light, it generates power that can be tapped into to charge mobile devices.

Concern for the environment also came into play as solar power’s proven advantage over fossil fuels is that its use leaves no carbon footprint. As a result, environmentally conscious corporations and public entities, like schools, began installing Pvilion’s solar power canopy structures to meet both short- and long-term needs while avoiding the costs, environmental damage, and time associated with erecting and running permanent structures tied into the local power grid.

What started out as a solar powered tent has evolved into a product range covering standalone USB charging stations and easy to erect temporary structures, including canopies and awnings, all solar powered.

The easiest way to understand what Pvilion does is to look at one of its signature products: The Solar Sail Canopy, a free-standing canopy that can be erected anywhere that receives sunlight: parks, university campuses, bus stands or in any public setting, and used to recharge mobile devices. The Solar Sail Canopy is available in (3) versions: a Single Pole Solar Sail, a Double Pole Solar Sail that can be used as a solar powered shelter, e.g., over a bus stop or bench, and a portable Four Pole Canopy for seasonal applications that can be customized to suit an individual space requirement.

Sustainability At New York Botanical Garden

NY Botanic Gardens

Aesthetic appeal is very important to The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG), which is why the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) chose NYBG as the launch site for Pvilion’s Solar Powered Canopy structures.

Intended to provide NYBG visitors a place where they can seek shade, enjoy a beverage and recharge their mobile devices, the eight (8) solar canopies, designed, engineered and installed by Pvilion, provide ample space to relax while staying safely socially distanced.

Pvilion provides a fabric that incorporates photovoltaic cells, which generate electricity upon exposure to the sun. As part of New York City’s emission reduction efforts, seven (7) of the canopies contribute energy directly to the city’s power grid. One (1) structure powers a bank of batteries used by NYBG and by Botanical Garden visitors to charge their mobile phones and other cellular devices.

The solar canopies are a pilot project operated by Pvilion and the Innovative Demonstrations for Energy Adaptability (IDEA) Program, an initiative of the City of New York’s Division of Energy Management. The program encourages businesses, innovators and entrepreneurs to create transformative opportunities and to foster a culture of innovation. The goal is to find solutions to the challenges facing manufacturers and businesses through partnerships with private sector business entities, with emphasis placed on technology to help the City reduce carbon emissions.

Pvilion’s Solar-Powered Fabric Products are fully turn-key solutions that provide energy in any location where fabric is exposed to the sun. Pvilion integrates its fabric technology into a wide range of applications. The technology eliminates the need of having two (2) separate systems: fabric shade/shelter and solar panels. Instead, Pvilion integrates the solar power into its fabric to achieve one turn-key product that provides charging, lighting, ventilation, climate control all in an easy to install manner. Pvilion has delivered high quality products for customers like Google, Tommy Hilfiger, Carnegie Hall, Tishman, New York City, Yale Univ, the Florida Dept of Transportation, Bloomberg, The City of Miami, FL and more.

Home Depot Pilot Program to Achieve Sustainable Energy

The Home Depot Rental Center in Geismar, Louisiana, a large industrial building and parking area, serves as the rental equipment preparation and distribution center to surrounding Home Depot stores. Here, equipment is prepared before being sent to Home Depot Superstores upon being rented by customers. The first of over one hundred rental centers planned to be opened throughout the country, Geismar is also the initial location for a Home Depot green pilot energy sustainability program in which Pvilion Solar Canopies will be used to recharge rental equipment batteries.

Pvilion developed and installed its signature product, the Portable Solar Sail Tent, at the Geismar, LA Home Depot. Effectively, a relocatable canopy integrated with solar panels; the Solar Sail can provide sustainable power anywhere that receives sunlight. It lets Home Depot charge its electric rental equipment independently from the local electric grid, eliminating the environmental impact associated with traditional sources of energy and the need to create permanent infrastructure.

The implemented 20 ft x 24 ft structure provides two (2) bays under an angled roof for maximum sun exposure. It is designed to withstand extreme weather conditions yet is flexible for speedy assembly/disassembly. It can provide up to 5 kW of energy and storage for up to five (5) full operational days of energy without sun. In addition to charging rental equipment, the energy provided by the Solar Sail can also be used to power other devices such as cell phones, laptops and lighting.

NI Expands Global Network to Serve Small Businesses

NI has always served smaller businesses—most of whom do work for big businesses or projects solving interesting engineering problems. This month I received an announcement of NI’s partner network focusing on small-to-medium businesses (SMBs). We must remember that the true engines for economic growth come from startups and smaller businesses doing innovative things.

NI announced the expansion of its global distribution channels within the NI Partner Network, a strategic move to support its omnichannel strategy dedicated to serving small-to-medium business (SMB) customers to help them do what they do best — innovate. 

NI is focused on providing value and choice to its SMB customers, strategically connecting them to partners and resources on ni.com to provide a positive, efficient experience. Shifting to a multi-channel approach in this way leverages established, well-known distributors and ni.com to meet customers’ buying needs. 

“We know our customers, especially those in the SMB space, need simple and efficient ways to buy so their time is spent on moving their business forward,” said Josh Mueller, GM of the Portfolio Business Unit at NI. “That’s why we’re taking important steps to serve our customers in ways that help them the most, including new avenues to purchasing NI products and solutions.”

NI is also committed to purchasing more from small and diverse businesses. As outlined in its 2030 Corporate Impact Strategy, Engineering Hope, NI has put forth a goal stating that by 2030, 16% of NI suppliers will be small or diverse businesses. Diverse and equitable procurement has a positive ripple effect throughout entire communities and NI is taking steps, such as increasing access to its global distribution program, to cultivate opportunities for small or diverse business suppliers. 

To show appreciation for its SMB customers and community, NI is celebrating Small Business Month in a big way, from providing access to best-in-class test tools and technology at a discount, to sharing customer success stories.

During the month of May, members of the SMB community can look forward to:

  • Customer stories and the “Secrets of Small Business” video series featuring SMB CEOs and their perspectives on overcoming some of the greatest engineering challenges of today.
  • Limited-time promotions on tools, software and solutions designed to help SMB customers advance their engineering initiatives, including LabVIEW, FlexLogger™ software and CompactDAQ.
  • Webinars about NI software and solutions to help SMBs address quality in validation designs and flexibility in engineering.

“Connecting our customers to the right technologies and services helps them accelerate their pace of innovation and better serve their organizations and end customers,” said Jim Ramsey, vice president of the Global Partner program at NI. “We’re excited to celebrate Small Business Month for this reason — to help equip more engineers with the tools and technologies they need to take on their next big opportunity.” 

Learn more about NI’s expanded global distribution network and how it’s celebrating the SMB community this month. 

Basecamp Policy Changes Rattle Tech Industry

Jason Fried, co-founder/CEO of Basecamp a projects software company, released a blog post (the hyperlink on his name) that dumped a number of new policies on employees. He and co-founder CTO David Heinemeier Hansen (@DHH) have decided that employees at Basecamp are too worried about things other than work.

Following the lead of Bitcoin, they have banned all political and social communication on company communication tools. Employees are free to do that on their own time on their own social media platforms. But not employee-to-employee.

I have to back up a second to some of my past experience. I served eight years on a public school board. I learned that school administrators hate any public discussion and questioning of their decisions. They hate any feedback from teachers. Since principals are “part of the club”, it becomes career-limiting for a principal to question anything. I mentioned one time to the superintendent that I was advising a bunch of students on how to protest (thanks to my civil rights/hippie days). He blanched.

Similarly, Fried wrote that decisions wouldn’t be discussed. Live with it and go back to work.

They also did away with “paternalistic” policies. They had over time instituted policies and payments for wellness programs and the like. They will give employees a payment this year in lieu of the benefit, then it’s cut out. Maybe in future years a profit sharing plan will make up the difference. The rationale is that they don’t think the company should tell people what’s good for them–even if it is.

And, no more advisory committees. The person in charge makes the decision. Period. If they want feedback and information from anyone, they will ask for it.

Basecamp has been an employee-friendly company. These new policies require trust. They blew the trust by the way they rolled it out. Bitcoin lost a number of employees with its new policies. We’ll see how many Basecamp loses. And what the culture will evolve to. And whether Fried and DHH will write any more books about the right way to work.

Engineering Hope for a Better World – A Note from NI

This post contains a challenge for us all. I know that many companies, perhaps most, have a corporate responsibility leader and participates in some beneficial activities beyond the merely self-serving gifts. NI (formerly National Instruments) has had a vision for the advancement of engineering and public good for as long as I’ve known it. Current CEO Eric Starkloff is building on the legacy of co-founder and retired CEO Jim Truchard leading by example.

I received this “Note from NI” the other day. It is powerful enough that I thought I’d share. Perhaps we can all gain some insights and spur our innovative nature from these ideas.

Engineering Hope for a Better World

In 2020 we made our mission clear: empower engineers to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges. And while we’ve always been quietly but diligently dedicated corporate citizens, we’re facing many challenges as a society, from climate change to racial and economic inequality. And the time to be bold is now. This is why we’ve launched Engineering Hope, our 2030 Corporate Impact Strategy.

Our aspirational 2030 impact goals and commitments outline how NI will put our company, people, and products to work to make a positive impact on society and our planet. Simply put, it outlines how we’ll drive the positive change we want to see in the world – engineering can, and should, play a pivotal role in addressing the biggest challenges we collectively face today. We designed our Impact Strategy to be iterative and to scale with our business and industry. Some are moonshot goals that will challenge us to think well beyond current paradigms. And all are informed by the priorities of our stakeholders, a thorough analysis of which issues are material to our business, and the realities we see in the marketplace. We’ll work diligently to achieve our goals by 2030 and will transparently report our progress each year. As our CEO Eric Starkloff says, “if we can send rockets into space, we can achieve Zero Waste.”

What We’ve Been Up To

We got to work right out of the gate in 2021. In the first quarter, we joined OpenRF to help tackle 5G ecosystem interoperability issues and partnered with MaxLinear to simplify validation of wideband power amplifiers. In alignment with our Engineering Hope 2030 Corporate Impact Strategy goals, we partnered with Project Lead the Way to increase access to STEM education, worked with the Texas Rocket Engineering Lab at the University of Texas to prepare students for future space flight, and collaborated with Code2College to help build equitable pathways to STEM careers. The mentoring and hands-on internship component of the program directly addresses systemic underrepresentation in STEM professions. A recent study that surveyed over 550 engineering and computer science students found a key driver of the gender pay gaps is associated with self-efficacy or a confidence gap. Researchers highlighted the importance of mentoring and internships to strengthen students’ self-assessments and provide stronger bridges to engineering jobs with higher pay. Programs like Code2College help students discover their potential and the limitless opportunities that exist in STEM fields.

Check out the links below for a few more details on what we worked on over the last few months:

  • We joined OpenRF and will chair the OpenRF Compliance Working Group to address interoperability issues facing the 5G ecosystem.
  • We worked with the Texas Rocket Engineering Lab at the University of Texas to prepare students for a new era of human spaceflight through hands-on projects in rocketry and aerospace.
  • We partnered with MaxLinear to simplify the validation of wideband power amplifiers for 5G networks.
  • We announced a 10-year strategy, Engineering Hope, aimed at advancing diversity, sustainability, and equity in engineering.
  • We partnered with Project Lead the Way to increase access to STEM education in underrepresented and underserved students in Central Texas.
  • We collaborated with Code2College on their work to develop a pipeline of diverse tech talent.

At NI, we believe Engineering Ambitiously and Engineering Hope go hand-in-hand. And our 2030 Corporate Impact Strategy goals reflect as much. Through our commitment to our Impact Strategy, we are putting our company, people, and products to work to positively impact our society and planet — a commitment we do not take lightly. We voluntarily set goals informed by the priorities of our stakeholders, that reflect the realities we see in the marketplace, and represent a thorough analysis of the issues material to our business. 

We are dedicated to achieving our goals by 2030 and will transparently report our progress each year. Through our partnerships with suppliers, customers, governments, industry, and non-governmental organizations, we’ll harness the power of NI’s operations philanthropy to focus on three pillars of impact:

  • Changing the faces of engineering. Building a diverse and inclusive workforce is the right thing to do for NI, our industry, and society. But the diversity of the engineering talent pipeline hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years. In fact, the global technology sector is projected to have a shortage of 4.3 million workers by 2030. Attracting more diverse people to our industry helps us keep up with this growth while providing more equitable access to high-paying jobs. We’ll work towards this vision by increasing our workforce diversity and supporting aspiring engineers through STEM education initiatives, expanded recruitment strategies, and talent acquisition and diversity leadership programs.
  • Building an equitable and thriving society. Over time, inequalities in our systems and institutions decrease the well-being of our entire society. We envision a thriving society with fewer economic, racial, and gender inequalities and greater wellbeing and prosperity for all. Our work will begin within NI by cultivating an equitable and thriving workforce through total rewards redesigns, wellbeing programs, and ongoing employee engagement initiatives. We’ll also advance diversity within our own supply chain, and by changing the faces of engineering, we’ll increase access to higher-paying technology.
  • Engineering a healthy planet. Healthy and biodiverse ecosystems are critical to human wellbeing. We envision a world where industries and governments work together to protect and repair ecosystems and stabilize our climate by mitigating rising temperatures. We’ll do our part to reach this vision by reducing the environmental impact of NI’s operations and products, and in doing so, reduce our footprint and help our customers do the same. Each year through 2030, we’ll discount or donate NI products to organizations developing green technology, will design 100% of our new buildings or remodels to LEED and WELL standards, reduce our footprint, and make circular design improvements in our product design, manufacturing, and packaging. And by 2030, we will achieve Zero Waste at NI-owned buildings.