Manufacturing Professionals – Think You Don’t Matter to the Bottom Line

Manufacturing Professionals – Think You Don’t Matter to the Bottom Line

My latest email from The Information highlighted the woes and tribulations of Tesla. There are headlines in all the major media outlets—manufacturing problems at Tesla impacting stock price, profitability, and cash flow.

How would you like to be the engineers who “over automated” the factory according to the boss (Elon Musk)? Want to be the Director of Manufacturing hung out to dry in the Wall Street Journal or The New York Times?

Just consider all this and see how you matter to the company—the employees, stockholders, customers.

From The Information quoting Reveal:

Tesla’s 2018 is starting to look like Uber’s 2017: Every week there is a new allegation or setback about workplace culture or business performance or the quality of its products. In this case, an investigative report by Reveal says that Tesla consistently under-reported ailments suffered by workers at its main production plant. “Everything took a back seat to production,” said a former safety manager, Justine White, who left at the start of 2017. “It’s just a matter of time before somebody gets killed.” Tesla, as is its custom, fired back by calling the report by Reveal, which is part of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting, a tool of an “extremist organization” that is trying to unionize Tesla’s workers and that reporters misunderstood how injuries are reviewed. We suggest reading the Reveal report and Tesla’s response, and coming to your own conclusion. (the Reveal)

And another quote from The Information about a class action lawsuit where the former director of manufacturing is giving information to the plaintiffs.

It’s not common for a shareholder class-action lawsuit, typically filed after a stock’s value has fallen precipitously, to get buzz among reporters. But this one against Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk seems unique: No fewer than 11 former workers at Tesla, including an ex-director of manufacturing at the company’s main car-production plant, provided information to the plaintiffs’ lawyers who filed the suit, according to an amended filing from March 23. It alleges Musk knowingly made false statements to investors that Tesla would be able to make 5,000 Model 3 sedans per week by the end of 2017, despite being told by his subordinates that that would never happen and continued to do so in the face of mounting evidence. Tesla’s stock dropped in price by 20% between May 2017 and November of that year, after it became clear that production target would not be met—not by a long shot. Five months later, the production pace is about 2,000 per week, Tesla has said. A spokesman for the company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about the suit, which is worth reading.

We have an important role within our companies. We must always consider that. Sometimes even being required to tell overoptimistic executives the reality of manufacturing.

Interactive Plant Environment Immersive Training Facility

Interactive Plant Environment Immersive Training Facility

Part of the media / analyst program at Emerson Global User Exchange 2017 was a tour of a manufacturing facility and state-of-the-art (or beyond) training center. The Shakopee, MN facility includes final assembly of pressure sensors, product design (which we didn’t see), and an Interactive Plant Environment training center. The latter itself is a $10 million investment. This is one of two (Charlotte, NC being the other) while a third is planned in Houston.

The Interactive Plant Environment training center includes a classroom and a production facility. The facility includes tanks and pipes, valves, sensors and instrumentation, water and air. No steam or corrosive chemicals, of course. It helps customers and students simulate real life process conditions through hands-on learning in a safe environment. The IPE boasts a breadth of Emerson products where students can increase skills and knowledge through real-life scenario-based labs. Students are taught an aspect of instrumentation and then given a work order. They don hardhat, safety glasses, steel-toed shoes and enter the “plant” to perform the work—whether it be trouble shooting or calibration or whatever.

Students have the opportunity to better understand best practices and troubleshooting techniques from the mentorship of certified Emerson instructors. It is as if they are immersed in a typical plant environment (minus smells and mud) where they can replicate the most common, as well as unexpected, operational scenarios.

This is a great example of forward thinking in the training field. It is also impressive that Emerson continues to make these investments. Emerson alone among its competitors at this time is showing momentum and growth.

The first thing we saw past the lobby was a Collaboration Center. Looking like a high-tech conference room, this Center enables customers to learn to manage remote operations and interact with experts located anywhere in the world. There is one display for video conferencing. Another digital wall includes capability to display a variety of information that people in the room can interact with. The displays may include weather maps with maps of facilities. Or perhaps a “heat map” of wireless installations. This should be a great productivity booster.

Production facility is an excellent example of Lean Manufacturing. We saw an excellent Kanban system as well as many other examples of the visual factory, 5S, and more. I just love seeing the spreading adoption of lean. It’s great for workers, as well as, great for the bottom line.

A New Approach to Automation Beginning With Robots

A New Approach to Automation Beginning With Robots

Despite the bad press that robots receive these days, I still have a soft spot in my heart for the technology. I first learned to program one in 1985. I’ve seen how robots remove humans from unsafe working conditions and improve product quality.

I have also liked what I’ve seen from Rethink Robotics. However, the press release I recently received was so filled with superlatives, that I was beginning to wonder if there was substance behind the hype. I’m betting there is. (And I removed most of the superlatives so that it reads better. Maybe I’ll see them at Automate and get a deeper dive.)

Rethink Robotics has announced Intera 5, a first-of-its-kind software platform that connects everything from a single robot controller, extending the smart, flexible power of Rethink Robotics’ Sawyer to the entire work cell and simplifying automation with ease of deployment.

Intera 5 fundamentally changes the need for integration, making it substantially easier and more affordable, allowing manufacturers to deploy full work cell automation in a matter of hours, not weeks, according to the press release.

Intera 5 is much more than the latest version of Rethink Robotics’ software; it’s a new way to approach automation that allows manufacturers to control the robots, orchestrate the work cell and collect data.

“With the introduction of Intera 5, we’ve created the world’s first smart robot that can orchestrate the entire work cell, removing areas of friction and opening up new and affordable automation possibilities for manufacturers around the world,” said Scott Eckert, president and CEO, Rethink Robotics. “Intera 5 is driving immediate value while helping customers work toward a smart factory, and providing a gateway to successful Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) for the first time.”

Rethink Robotics’ Intera 5 modernizes the traditional work cell by improving coordination, increasing flexibility and drastically reducing deployment times. Run through the robot’s controller, manufacturers can orchestrate conveyors, equipment and other machines from a central Intera 5-powered robot.

Tuthill Plastics Group, a full-service custom injection molding company, is using a Sawyer robot with Intera 5 to power improved product quality and more efficient production. Operating 24 hours a day, five days a week, Sawyer with Intera 5 is picking parts from a conveyor belt and communicating with a computer numeric control (CNC) machine to precisely place the part into the machine by using Intera 5’s unique force-sensing capabilities. By applying a precise level of force while placing the part, the Tuthill team has been able to improve part quality and consistency, reducing a length defect on the part by 98 percent since implementing Sawyer.

“Sawyer with Intera 5 is a major step forward in manufacturing automation,” said Richard Curtain, president, Tuthill Plastics Group. “Part placement is extremely critical to our machining process. Sawyer is able to effectively ensure product quality and consistency, handle the variability of the production line, and automatically re-register to the environment in the event that any parts move.”

German magnet manufacturer, MS Schramberg, is also leveraging Sawyer with Intera 5 and has substantially improved deployment time. With six robots operating on three machines, MS Schramberg has one robot selecting parts from a series of patterns and loading the part into the machine, while a second robot removes the part from the machine and loads the part into a tray.

With less than a day of training, an MS Schramberg engineer is able to deploy and train the robots in just more than an hour. The robots now run 24 hours per day, six days per week, and can easily configure complex logic tasks, minimizing the need for human interaction and freeing up employees for more complex tasks.

“We’ve cut our deployment times by hundreds of hours with Intera 5, and are able to easily deploy our Sawyer robots on an extremely complex task in just over an hour,” said Norman Wittke, general manager, MS Schramberg. “The ease and speed of deployment is extremely valuable for our company, and is helping make our manufacturing processes more efficient, while improving our ROI.”

With Intera 5, manufacturers will reap the benefits of:

  • Industry-leading embedded vision, which will allow the robot to perform tasks just as humans do, reducing the need for expensive part presentation fixturing and additional integration costs.
  • Adaptive force-sensing, allowing users to precisely set the amount of force required, or enable the robot to feel and respond to a specific force, so the robot can make adaptive decisions while performing a task.
  • Intera Studio, an intuitive and powerful new tool to simply and effectively deploy automation like never before, providing a gateway to the factory of the future.

“Intera 5 is equipping industry leaders like Tuthill Plastics and MS Schramberg to achieve immediate bottom-line improvements in productivity, quality and efficiency on the factory floor,” said Eckert. “By implementing our robots equipped with Intera 5, manufacturers will have unprecedented work cell coordination, greatly reducing the need for complex, time-consuming and outdated automation options.”

Beginning in March, Intera 5 will be available for download on all existing Sawyer robots, and will come standard on all new robots.

Safe Machine Technology Brings Production, Engineering, EHS Together

Safe Machine Technology Brings Production, Engineering, EHS Together

This is another of a series of posts from the Rockwell Automation show Automation Fair last week. This stop on the tour concerned Safe Machines. The safety team has been active for many years now developing new products and initiatives. Not everything they do is expressly pointed at selling a product. Often they are out in public teaching safe machine practices, risk assessment, and safe machine design.

They showed a BevCorp machine that had been designed with the latest safety advances in mind. The idea involved removing incentives to defeating safeties. One feature is an ultra-wide door that allows access to more of the machine.

The safety system has a “request to enter” function. This is a high inertia filler machine. Activating the function begins with guiding the machine to a slow stop at a repeatable location. Therefore the controls always know status without requiring a reboot. Of course, there is a safe reduced speed mode to allow maintenance without a shutdown.

Integral with the Connected Enterprise philosophy of Rockwell Automation, the HMI and software collects data on who/what stopped the machine, which safety devices were triggered, and the like. From this data, employee behavior can be ascertained.

This leads to the real value of Connected Enterprise–production, engineering and EH&S can come together to evaluate the entire system from all points of view. The goal is to maintain productivity through use of a safe machine.

I’ve followed Rockwell Automation safety for years. In fact, I can remember classes in the 90s before becoming an editor on risk assessment and the launch of safety products. There have been two popular podcast interviews at Automation Minutes one on Safety Automation Builder and the other on the Safety Maturity Index.

This is the last stand where I had a deep dive. Following will be a review of partners who also exhibited at the Fair. Then it will be on to the next conference–which I couldn’t visit in person, but I have some interviews.

Where Do You Get Information?

Where Do You Get Information?

I like the push notices of email to tell me that there is new information posted somewhere. But the last email telling me about Tim Sowell’s latest post was sad. He’s stopping his run of thought leadership (truly) pieces at Operations Evolution. Sowell is a Schneider Electric Fellow and VP of System Strategy at Schneider Electric in the Common Architecture team in R&D.

This post will be my final one in this blog, as forum does not seem to be working as it once did, and we exploring new approaches to getting thought leadership out. Thank you for your interest if you feel like we should continue in some form, please post a comment.

Here’s his lead paragraph. Discover the rest of his thinking on the site.

In today’s “flat world” of demand-driven supply, the need for agility is only going to move faster in the next 10 years. This is driving leading companies to transform their operational landscape in systems, assets and culture in a shift to “smart work.” Agility transforms their thinking from a process-centric to a product and production focus, which requires a dynamic, agile work environment between assets/machines, applications and people. Aligned decisions and actions across a multi-site product value/supply chain is crucial, and  requires the ongoing push of a combination of automated (embedded) wisdom and augmented Intelligence (human wisdom).

Manufacturing / production companies have accumulated tremendous amounts of data over the past decades. Mostly they do nothing with that data. People like Sowell and Stan DeVries have been making sense of all the applications that can help customers succeed in this new technological reality of actually using the data well.

Media thoughts

It’s hard work maintaining a blog–especially when it’s not your main job. I know. I’ve done this for 13 years.

But the problem for thinkers and companies is–how do you get your information out?

It used to be you could use trade press. But shrinking ad budgets and demand for shorter pieces on the Web (at least that is current thinking in many places) have changed the way companies are relating to traditional publications. If you want to get out your whole message, you need to write it yourself. With the Web and search, you can write it and then try to get links.

I’ve linked to most of Sowell’s posts. Obviously not enough of you have clicked and gone to the site. On the other hand, I think there are inflated ideas of the amount of readers. A typical magazine Website in our industry may get upwards of 75,000 views a month. Or a couple may approach 100,000. Certainly not the millions that get publicized in the general technology press.

But if you drill down, a typical article may only get a few hundred views.

The way my site is constructed, when you visit you see several posts. I’m not really selling “eyeballs”. But depending upon the tool you consult, there are several thousand who at least see the headline if you don’t actually read it all. Since my site has few distractions–just a couple of ads and a few other pieces of information–the writing is emphasized.

So, I don’t know Sowell’s traffic (he’s on Blogspot, not the best platform) and I don’t know Schneider’s expectations. But the traffic was not sufficient.

The other company blogs I follow are informative, but they have changed over time to less blog and more PR-type writing. This one was different. I’ll miss the weekly read.

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