Intelligent Wearables Solution Improves Compliance, Productivity

Intelligent Wearables Solution Improves Compliance, Productivity

I was working with controls, instrumentation, computers, software when I traded it in for media work first with Control Engineering and then with Automation World. Through a lot of those media years, Honeywell was one of the Big Four or Five in process control and systems. Over the past 6-10 years, those big companies have diverged into differing specialities. It’s been interesting to observe that part of the industrial market.

Honeywell began leveraging expertise of its various divisions into wireless, mobile, and wearables. Much of the emphasis has been safety with a spillover effect into productivity.

Wearables comprise a growing market category with much promise. I’ve had the opportunity to try on a number of different products. These increasingly solve real world problems with ever reducing interference in the real work of the person.

In this latest release, Honeywell announced that Braskem Idesa has adopted a hands-free, wearable connected technology solution at its plant in Veracruz, Mexico. Honeywell’s Intelligent Wearables will allow Braskem Idesa to improve productivity and compliance with process procedures, capture the expertise of experienced workers and provide critical insights and information effectively to trainees and support workers in the field.

Honeywell is delivering a complete outcome-based solution that tracks specific key performance indicators and integrates hardware, software and services, and a full Wi-Fi infrastructure to support use of the solution across the plant. The wearable technology will also accelerate training and ensure safety for field operators at the Braskem Idesa facility.

“With this solution, Braskem Idesa is embracing the digital transformation that will enable us to retain our leadership in the petrochemicals industry,” said Roberto Velasco Gutiérrez, industrial director, Braskem Idesa. “Capturing all the relevant expertise and data within the organization and getting it to workers wherever and whenever needed, will help get trainees safely into the field faster and ensure that every worker operates to Braskem Idesa’s best standards.”

A comprehensive range of applications from Honeywell will boost the speed, safety and reliability of field workers thanks to the following services:

  • Expert on Call: Provides field workers with live, real-time access to experts in the central control room or elsewhere for troubleshooting, support and advice
  • Video support: Enables users to view videos demonstrating key tasks
  • Paperless rounds: Provides step-by-step instructions for common and complex tasks

“Braskem Idesa has not only taken an important step toward Industry 4.0 but has now also replaced paper-based and manual operations with a sophisticated solution that’s both digital and wireless,” said Vincent Higgins, director of technology and innovation, Honeywell Connected Enterprise, Industrial. “Wearable, voice-controlled computer headsets and software eliminate the need for clipboards, pens, and flashlights. Our offering will help Braskem Idesa capture expertise and document critical tasks to ensure operational compliance.”

Honeywell’s solution for field worker competency and productivity enables Braskem Idesa to tie its plant performance directly to the performance of its workers, critical to the success of any industrial enterprise. By connecting field workers with remote advice, Honeywell Intelligent Wearables also reduce the need for site visits from experts, empower workers to continue learning, become their best and effectively share their knowledge with peers.

Respect for Labor

Respect for Labor

The local Y, the place where I work out daily, recently hired a maintenance guy. His attention to detail is phenomenal. His first week was a Daylight Saving Time change weekend. When I saw him pull out his smart phone and check the time as he set clocks in the locker room, I knew we had a winner..

Especially during the years when I went into plants daily helping customers solve problems and hopefully selling some products, I’d look in electrical panel enclosures with an eye toward the workmanship of the wiring. Were the wires pulled and uniformly bent? Neatly terminated in devices and terminal blocks? Labeled?

One day I called on a small stamping plant in my area. There was a new general manager, whom I met with. he was interested in press safety equipment. We walked out to the machinery. On one operating press, the cover of the electrical enclosure was hanging open held by a single screw out of the four that should be there. Wires were sticking out in a rat’s nest tangle of spaghetti.

I couldn’t get out of there quickly enough. And I never went back. There was no way I was selling a piece of sophisticated safety equipment in a plant with such poor electrical practices and attention to detail.

In my youth I hung out at times with older guys who could be described as “good ol’ boys” or “rednecks” I guess. But they could tune cars and rebuild engines better than the factory guys.

I have a lot of respect for people like that. Attention to detail. Caring about their work. Developing skills mostly on their own.

This Monday is Labor Day in the US. A last vestige of the labor movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it’s a Federal holiday to remember and celebrate the nation’s workers.

Certain management types may have condescending views of workers, but I respect these people–electricians, pipe fitters, mechanics, millwrights, and all the other trades and workers. We would not have built great manufacturing without them.

Looking For Skilled Labor–Try Hiring a Welding Bot

Looking For Skilled Labor–Try Hiring a Welding Bot

I think even mainstream media has caught up to the current hiring situation—it is hard to find qualified people to fill positions. Heck, even last night stopping at a Cracker Barrel on the drive home from Tennessee we saw a harried staff and only about half the tables filled. They didn’t have enough people to staff the place.

Now try to find skilled welders. How about hiring a robotic welder? Easy to program and install. Always shows up for work. No drug test required. A very interesting idea.

The new for-hire BotX Welder—developed by Hirebotics and utilizing Universal Robots’ UR10e collaborative robot arm—lets manufacturers automate arc welding with no capital investment, handling even small batch runs not feasible for traditional automation.

The press release tells us, “Nowhere in manufacturing is the shortage of labor felt as urgently as in the welding sector, which is now facing an acute shortage of welders nationwide. The industry’s hiring challenge, combined with the struggle metal fabrication companies experience in producing quality parts quickly and in small runs, prompted Hirebotics to develop the BotX Welder.

“Many people didn’t believe that collaborative robots could perform such heavy-duty tasks as welding,” says Rob Goldiez, co-founder of Hirebotics. “We realized the need of a solution for small and medium sized metal fabricators trying to find welders.” Hirebotics’ hire-a-robot business model built on the Universal Robot, set the foundation for the BotX. It is a welding solution powered by the UR10e cobot that is easy to teach, producing automation quality with small batch part runs.

BotX Welder1

The BotX is now available to early access customers and will officially launch at FABTECH in Chicago, November 11-14.

In developing BotX, Hirebotics addressed two major hurdles of robotic welding: the ease of programming and the ease in which a customer can obtain the system without assuming the risk of ownership. There are no installation costs with BotX and with cloud monitoring, manufacturers pay only for the hours the system actually welds. “You can hire and fire BotX as your business needs dictate,” explains Goldiez.

The complete product offering comes with the UR10e cobot arm, cloud connector, welder, wire feeder, MIG welding gun, weld table, and configurable user-input touch buttons. The customer simply provides wire, gas, and parts. Customers can teach BotX the required welds simply via an intuitive app on any smartphone or tablet utilizing welding libraries created in world-class welding labs. A cloud connection enables 24/7 support by Hirebotics.

“We chose Universal Robots’ e-Series line for several reasons,” says Goldiez. “With Universal Robots’ open architecture, we were able to control, not only wire feed speed and voltage, but torch angle as well, which ensures a quality weld every time,” he says. “UR’s open platform also enabled us to develop a cloud-based software solution that allows us to ensure a customer is always running with the latest features at no charge,” explains the Hirebotics co-founder. “We can respond to a customer’s request for additional features within weeks and push those features out to the customer with no onsite visits,” says Goldiez, emphasizing the collaborative safety features of the UR cobots. “The fact that they’re collaborative and don’t require safety fencing like traditional industrial robots means a smaller foot print for the equivalent working space, or put another way; less floor space to produce same size part. In many cases less than half the floor space of traditional automation,” he says. “The collaborative nature of the solution enables an operator to move between multiple cells without interrupting production, greatly increasing the productivity of an employee.”

PMI LLC in Wisconsin, was one of the first customers of the BotX. “A large order would mean, we need to hire 10-15 welders to fulfill it – and they’re just not out there,” says VP of Operations at PMI, Erik Larson. “Therefore, we would No Bid contracts on a regular basis. With the BotX solution, we now quote that work and have been awarded contracts, so it has really helped grow our business,” says Larson. “The BotX Welder doesn’t require expensive, dedicated fixturing and robot experts on the scene.” Now PMI’s existing operators can handle the day-to-day control of the BotX, which welds a variety of smaller product runs.

The Wisconsin job shop has now stored weld programs for more than 50 different parts in their BotX app. “We are now able to deliver quality equivalent to what we could accomplish manufacturing with very expensive tooling typically used with higher-volume part runs,” says PMI’s VP of Operations, mentioning the ease of accessing the solution. “Being able to simply hire the BotX Welder, and quickly switch between welds by using our smart phone—and only pay for the hours it works—is huge for us. It took our area lead, who had no prior robotics experience, half an hour to teach it how to weld the first part.”

Another significant benefit was PMI’s ability to get the BotX welds certified for customers who require this. “This now means we do not need to use certified welders to oversee the operation. As long as the cobot welder’s program is certified, any operator can tend the cobot welder. This really unlocks a lot of resources for us,” says Larson. “Hirebotics and Universal Robots really hit the mark with this, we’re looking forward to a long partnership with them.”

School versus Learning

School versus Learning

More than 50% of the science and electronics that I know are self-taught. In fact, all of the electronics that I know I learned on my own. It formed the foundation of my career. Perhaps half of the math I know came the same way. And everything about computers.

I’ve always had this love/hate relationship with schools and education. Public education is important for the building of a democratic society. But so much of the regimentation of schools is off-putting to me. I had 17 years of formal education and the thought of finishing a Ph.D. in the field I was in ceased to be appealing (International Politics–engineering is much better).

Schools, including universities, need to teach reading, written/oral communication, thinking. Maybe throw in creativity. Memorizing all the subject matter stuff—well, that’s important, too, but not so much if you can’t do the other stuff.

Seth Godin recently addressed this idea. And he takes my idea to a whole different level. That’s what he does.

He writes:

For the longest time, school has been organized around subjects. Fifth graders go to math class and then English class and then geography.

Mostly, those classes don’t teach what they say they teach. Sure, there are some facts, but mostly it’s the methods of instruction that are on offer. School usually has a different flavor than learning.

There was a story about a boy in school staring out the window. The teacher asked, “Little boy, what are you doing?”

“Thinking,” he answered.

“Don’t you know you’re not supposed to think in school,” replied the teacher before realizing the joke in what was said.

Godin continues:

Perhaps, instead of organizing school around data acquisition and regurgitation, we could identify what the skills are and separate them out, teaching domain knowledge in conjunctionwith the skill, not the other way around.

It turns out that the typical school spends most of its time on just one of those skills (obedience through comportment and regurgitation).

What would happen if we taught each skill separately?

Obedience
Management
Leadership/cooperation
Problem-solving
Mindfulness
Creativity
Analysis

When I teach people to be soccer referees, it’s only a little about the Laws of the Game. Mostly it’s looking and being professional, making decisions, handling people, managing a game. These are sometimes called “soft skills.” I beg to differ (my favorite phrase in high school!). These are “hard” skills. Hard to learn, hard to master, essential for maturity.

School versus Learning

What the Best Mentors Do

Can you think of a mentor who has helped you grow either personally or professionally? Perhaps a teacher? A boss early in your career? When have you mentored someone? How did it work out?

I can remember a teacher or two who helped guide me. My first supervisor in manufacturing would put me in situations where I couldn’t help but grow. My problem then was that although I could do the work intellectually, my interpersonal skills were sadly lacking. Especially in the manufacturing environment of the time that placed a premium on strong personality. I can still remember moments when he set me up for a confrontation forcing me to be forceful. I think the other guys liked it because I was almost the only “college kid” there. The old guys loved to poke at the college kid.

Many people have begun studying mentorship. We talk often about mentoring young soccer referees as the best way to move them from the classroom to a successful career.

I recently ran across this older article in the Harvard Business Review by Anthony K. Tjan. His research revealed four things that the best mentors do.

Before he gets to the four things, he notes that mentors he studied consistently “do everything they can to imprint their ‘goodness’ onto others in ways that make others feel like fuller versions of themselves. Put another way, the best leaders practice a form of leadership that is less about creating followers and more about creating other leaders.”

  1. Put the relationship before the mentorship. All too often, mentorship can evolve into a “check the box” procedure instead of something authentic and relationship-based. For real mentorship to succeed, there needs to be a baseline chemistry between a mentor and a mentee. Mentoring requires rapport. At best, it propels people to break from their formal roles and titles (boss versus employee) and find common ground as people.
  2. Focus on character rather than competency. Too many mentors see mentoring as a training program focused around the acquisition of job skills. Obviously, one element of mentorship involves mastering the necessary competencies for a given position. But the best leaders go beyond competency, focusing on helping to shape other people’s character, values, self-awareness, empathy, and capacity for respect.
  3. Shout loudly with your optimism, and keep quiet with your cynicism. Your mentee might come to you with some off-the-wall ideas or seemingly unrealistic ambitious. You might be tempted to help them think more realistically, but mentors need to be givers of energy, not takers of it.
  4. Be more loyal to your mentee than you are to your company. Of course, we all want to retain our best and brightest. We also want our people to be effective in our organizations. That said, the best mentors recognize that in its most noble and powerful form, leadership is a duty and service toward others, and that the best way to inspire commitment is to be fully and selflessly committed to the best interests of colleagues and employees. Don’t seek only to uncover your mentees’ strengths; look for their underlying passions, too. Help them find their calling.

And Tjan makes a couple of final points: The best mentors avoid overriding the dreams of their mentees. At its highest level, mentorship is about being “good people” and having the right “good people” around us — individuals committed to helping others become fuller versions of who they are.

This is all based on research as is befitting of the Harvard Business Review. It is also wise guidance.

Looking For Skilled Labor–Try Hiring a Welding Bot

Manufacturing Jobs Surveys Highlight Positive and Negative

Everyone worries about manufacturing jobs. The topic comprises talking points for politicians. Economists can’t figure out jobs and wages (but they can’t figure out much with all their differential equations and such but never actually working anywhere). Manufacturing management is worried about filling all the openings caused by retirements.

Oh, and young people wonder about whether manufacturing is a good career that will pay off financially in the future.

As coincidence would happen–I just received news of two research reports on this very topic. The first is from an interesting organization called Leading2Lean (L2L). If you are sick of hearing about Millennials like my Gen Y son is, then this survey about Gen Z will get you going. Following this survey is research by McKinsey that I saw reported in my Axios newsletter.

We do need to be mindful of recruiting talented young people into manufacturing. People in general know the importance of manufacturing to the economy, but few consider it while making individual career decisions.

“Generation Z to The Rescue as Manufacturing Faces a ‘Silver Tsunami’ “

A new survey conducted by Leading2Lean (L2L)reveals that there is an unlikely hope for a new generation of workers that will spur industry-wide innovation.

The 2019 L2L Manufacturing Index, an annual measurement of the American public’s perceptions of U.S. manufacturing, found that adults in Generation Z (those aged 18-22) are 19% more likely to have had a counselor, teacher or mentor suggest they look into manufacturing as a viable career option when compared to the general population. One-third (32%) of Generation Z has had manufacturing suggested to them as a career option, as compared to only 18% of Millennials and 13% of the general population.

Better still, the survey also found that Generation Z is intrigued by careers in manufacturing. They are 7% more likely to consider working in the manufacturing industry and 12% less likely to view the manufacturing industry as being in decline, both compared against the general population. These findings may be in relation to Generation Z having a larger exposure to the industry compared to previous generations with one-third (32%) having family members or friends working in the manufacturing industry, compared to 19% for Millennials and 15% for the general population.

“For many years, manufacturing has struggled to introduce and entice new workers to the industry,” said Keith Barr, President and CEO of L2L, the lean manufacturing software company behind the survey. “The industry has failed to compete with technology for their interest. Unfortunately, the industry hasn’t fully explained the dynamic, technology-driven environment of the modern plant floor. With Gen Z just moving into the workforce, we need to encourage their participation in modern manufacturing. If we don’t, I’m afraid the industry will be hit with the negative effects of the Silver Tsunami.”

According to the latest government data, there are now 522,000 open manufacturing jobs in the United States (an all-time high), and a recent report from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute (the National Association of Manufacturer’s social-impact arm) projects that 2.4 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled over the next decade.

Unfortunately, vast misconceptions about the industry persist. For example, the 2019 L2L Manufacturing Index revealed that over half (53%) of the general population assumes the average salary of a mid-level manufacturing manager is under $60,000. In reality, the average salary for a manufacturing manager in 2018 was $118,500, according to IndustryWeek.

Leading2Lean though has reason to believe that the industry is making positive moves towards a better-informed public. Last year’s 2018 Leading2Lean Manufacturing Index measured that 70% of people believed that the American manufacturing industry was in decline. When the same question was asked in this year’s survey, only 54% of people believed the industry is in decline, showcasing a surprisingly better understanding of the present state of the industry.

Education is the key, and it is an area that manufacturing continues to struggle in. When surveyed about alternative types of education, the 2019 L2L Manufacturing Index found that a vast 75% of people have never had a counselor, teacher or mentor suggest they look into attending trade or vocational school as a viable career option. The number was slightly lower with Generation Z (59%) and Millennials (67%), but still showcases an extreme disconnect in consideration of alternatives outside of traditional 4-year institutions.

When surveyed about the likeability and availability of work, 54% of Generation Z respondents agreed that there is a shortage of skilled manufacturing workers in the U.S., and 43% agreed that manufacturing jobs are an attractive option to younger workers and the next generation of workers. A majority (59%) of Generation Z also agreed that trade schools offer promising career opportunities for high school students graduating in 2019.

Generation Z grew up in the midst of the Great Recession, watched their older peers accumulate student debt, then struggle to pay it off with low-paying jobs right out of college. They are seeking higher paid jobs in a more transparent and open learning environment, and they’re increasingly open to alternative types of education and training. Barr believes manufacturing jobs can meet their needs and provide the diverse and rewarding work experience they crave.

Click the link to learn more about the 2019 L2L Manufacturing Index.

Think polarization and inequality are bad now?

  • Buckle up: Axios’ Kim Hart writes that big cities are poised to get bigger, richer and more powerful — at the expense of the rest of America, a report out later today from McKinsey Global Institute will show.

Why it matters: Automation may end up adding more jobs than it destroys, but the McKinsey analysis of 315 cities and more than 3,000 counties shows that only the healthiest local economies will be able to adapt to the coming disruption.

  • Wide swaths of the country, especially already-distressed rural regions, are in danger of shedding more jobs.
  • The 25 most prosperous cities, which have led the recovery from the Great Recession, are poised to get stronger.
  • Those megacities could claim at least 60% of job growth through 2030. 

The big picture: The labor market will become more polarized, according to McKinsey’s 113-page “The future of work in America.”

  • On one end of the spectrum are a few dozen successful cities with diversified economies and a lot of young, highly educated workers.
  • On the other end are “trailing” cities and rural regions with aging workforces, lower education levels and jobs that are highly susceptible to automation.

Between those extremes is a group of thriving niche cities, such as Sunbelt cities popular with retiring baby boomers and college towns.

  • There’s also a broader “mixed middle,” including stable cities like St. Louis and unique economies like Lancaster, Pa.