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Modern Times Circa 2016: Achieving Unprecedented Control at All Levels

By Ilene Wolff
Contributing Editor
 
If Charlie Chaplin were to update Modern Times, the 1936 movie where an assembly line’s gears grab and drag his Tramp character into the machine’s inner workings, he’d have to call for a rewrite—because the digital world that is revolutionizing manufacturing today would avoid such catastrophes.
 
Increasingly, modern factories merge the real and the virtual, and if predictions from manufacturing visionaries continue to materialize, the two worlds promise to become even more intertwined in the factory of tomorrow.
 
While industrial giants like GE, with its Brilliant Factory, and Lockheed Martin, which is assembling a “digital tapestry,” are leading the way in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, small and medium-size manufacturers must incorporate the virtual world into their factories for American Industry to remain competitive.With digital tools, manufacturing and design engineers can study parts and the manufacturing processes for those parts virutally, throughout the design process, using three-dimensional views.
 
There’s a lot at stake: While 17% of US manufacturing businesses have receipts of $25 million or more, according to Census Bureau data, most manufacturers are much smaller: 21% have revenues between $2.5 million and $24.9 million; 26.5% have receipts between $500,000 and $2.4 million, and 35% of manufacturers bring in less than $500,000 a year.
 
These majority small- and medium-size factory owners may question how they can absorb the expense and acquire the know-how to go digital. The encouraging news is that government, academia, larger manufacturers that depend on the smaller suppliers and savvy digital entrepreneurs are collaborating to make the newer technology accessible.
 
One of those savvy digital entrepreneurs borrowed an idea from Uber and Airbnb and applied it to contract manufacturing. The entrepreneur, Drura Parrish, established MakeTime (Lexington, KY), an online marketplace that brings the sharing economy to manufacturing through the sale and purchase of machine time by the hour in shops with excess capacity.
 
The benefits of smart machines, smart factories and smart manufacturing go far beyond efficiency, quality and cost savings, too. They hold the promise of enabling truly sustainable, efficient and custom manufacturing. Once networked to a larger system, smart manufacturing holds the potential to reshape supply chains in ways similar to how the digital revolution has transformed banking, personal transportation, travel accommodations, retailing and other sectors.
 
“We’re really at the beginning of this digital revolution” in manufacturing, said Karen Kerr, senior managing director of GE Ventures.
 
Kerr told an audience at FABTECH 2015 how GE is reshaping its own manufacturing facilities, and others, by opening its Predix software to app developers. Predix is used universally in GE’s Brilliant Factory.
 
Also in 2015, GE launched the Brilliant Manufacturing Suite at its Minds + Machines conference in San Francisco to showcase how machines and digital technology can merge.
 
Globally, the digital future for manufacturing is becoming reality.
 
“It’s going to touch everybody,” said Dean Bartles, executive director of the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute in Chicago. DMDII is a federally funded program that encourages factories to increase efficiency and cost-competitiveness by employing digital practices.
 
Bartles, who is also president of SME, predicts that in the next five to 15 years, manufacturers will need to be digitally connected in order to secure contracts from major OEMs in industries such as aerospace and defense.
 
 

Digital job description


While GE sees the factory of tomorrow as a Brilliant Factory and Lockheed describes a digital tapestry, what both are talking about is using technologies like sensors, wireless capability and data-crunching software, to visualize, optimize and problem-solve operations in real time. 
 
Other keywords manufacturing visionaries use include the Internet of Things, the Industrial Internet, Industrie 4.0, and smart, or advanced, manufacturing (see glossary).
 
In a cyber-physical system, sensors and the data they collect, analyze and share in feedback loops can help machines and systems make decisions.
 
For example, in the robotic pick-and-place process, computer vision sensors help a robot figure out the orientation and height of a part in a randomly stacked pile in a bin, where best to grip it, and how to move it to where it’s needed. But, let’s say that robot drops a part and production slows down. A smart, connected robot will tell other machines on a line or in a cell, wirelessly, that it missed its target and that production ought to slow down until it catches up. By merging the virtual and physical worlds, as shown in this photo illustration, Siemens, Optima and Festo collaborated to make one shampoo-filling and-packaging line.
 
Or, the robot is retrieving finished parts from a machine, but for some reason the door to that machine won’t open. The machine tells the robot the door is still closed so the robot doesn’t crash into it.
 
These smart communications can all help factories prevent disruptions and optimize their performance, not to mention save wear and tear on robots and humans. (If Chaplin were with us today, he’d light up a cigarette right about now and breathe a big sigh of relief.)
 
They can also make factories safer.
 
For example, worker vests can be equipped with location sensors that vibrate when an employee is too close to something dangerous, such as a forklift that is backing up. Already, many machines, such as press brakes, feature vision systems that prevent fingers from getting caught inside.
 
Jack Hu, professor of industrial and operations engineering and interim vice president for research at the University of Michigan, envisions factories managing the collection, analysis and use of data that will “reveal new things we couldn’t understand or look into” before. He also sees high-speed manufacturing using 3D printing, as well as more automation and connectivity among everything.
 
“The machines can adapt so that you can create parts much faster… so that you can add many functions in the product that are tailored to each and every individual” for mass personalization, or batch-size-one manufacturing, said Hu.
 
Using bicycle manufacturing as an example, he said, “You can personalize the handlebars and seat to each and every individual, and you can assemble those personalized components to a frame that may be standard.”
 

A communication matrix


What this merger of the real and virtual worlds in manufacturing does, at its most basic level, is enable communication.
 
Communication is vital in the factory of the future, whether among the 50 billion new and legacy machines that one GE software executive estimates will be connected to the Internet by 2020, between raw materials and the factory itself, between parts and assemblies, between a factory and its workers, between factories and shops that make up a supply chain or even from a final product back to the factory once it’s in use.
 
At a cosmetics manufacturing plant set up by Siemens (Munich), Optima (Schwabisch Hall, Germany) and Festo (Esslingen, Germany), machine cyber-communication is combined with an innovative transport system to create an automated shampoo-filling and -packaging line that has unprecedented flexibility.
 
The system consists of individual multi-format-capable units, or carriers, that transport different containers through the production process, according to Siemens. Each carrier is equipped with an RFID tag so the machine knows which shampoo to dispense into which bottle, and which label to use on it.
 
As a result, the filling and packaging line fulfills two seemingly conflicting needs: bottling and labeling different consumer products in one line with the efficiency of mass production.
 
“In the past, we used five machines to produce five different products,” Marco Gierden, project manager, multi-carrier systems for Siemens, said in a company video. “Today, we use one machine to produce five different formats.”
 
In addition to merging the virtual and physical worlds in its use, the system was largely developed and tested virtually, Siemens said.
 
For another functioning example of smart technology, look to Ford Motor Company’s Dearborn Truck Plant (Dearborn, MI), home of the aluminum-body F-150 pickup truck.
 
At the plant, RFIDs tell a hopper chute’s reader to accept rivets from a plastic jug because it holds the right fasteners for the job at hand; and they tell an assembly line which truck model it’s working on.
 
Elsewhere in the line, robotic arms equipped with cameras do inline metrology. If there’s a problem that needs attention in one module of the line, a skilled worker—an electrician, for example—gets a text message telling him where he should head to work on the issue.
 
In the same plant, a wireless factory information system measures cycle times so team leaders and shift supervisors, or even CEO Mark Fields, can use any computer screen, including process control boards hanging overhead and connected tablets and smart phones, to make sure production is on track.
 
“Also, the riveting equipment is all closed loop,” said Ron Ketelhut, Ford’s chief body construction engineer, who oversees Dearborn and 10 other plants in North America. “So, before the unit transfers from one station to the other, we get all the feedback from the rivet equipment that it’s OK to go.”
 
In a pilot project, the factory’s 700 or so FANUC robots even communicate back to their Japanese manufacturer via the Internet to help predict when unscheduled maintenance may be needed or to help with troubleshooting online.
 
Regarding human workers, ergonomists at Ford complete more than 900 virtual assembly task assessments per new-vehicle launch. Three core technologies—“full-body motion capture,” 3D printing of model parts and immersive virtual reality—provide the data they use to evaluate the safety of the assembly process for employees, Ford said.
 
Meanwhile, robots are making more of their own decisions, University of Michigan’s Hu said, “The new generation of robot is more automated; they can adapt.”
 
For example, a robot’s software can learn and can compensate for the wear on a weld tip, Hu said. As the tip wears down and becomes misaligned, which would be picked up by a sensor or other data sources, the robot can adjust its force or current, or both, to compensate and keep on working.
 

Optimized supply chains


Smart manufacturing isn’t all about what’s happening inside the factory alone. It also enables transparency through the supply chain from original equipment manufacturers, or OEMS, right down to their lowest-tier suppliers.
 
In the case of Ford and FANUC, the robot’s communication back to its manufacturer via the Internet—or the Industrial Internet—shows how technology can change the way factories work with parts suppliers and manufacturing technology providers.
 
“The opportunity you have as a company is to keep your supplier companies involved,” Ketelhut said. This lets FANUC be more proactive in maintaining the robots it manufactures, and makes the supplier more vital to the automotive company’s operations, he said.
 
If a manufacturer along a supply chain is having quality problems or a production slowdown, that would also be more transparent when supply chains are sharing data, too. For manufacturers working on complex projects such as fighter jets, having transparency among a complex web of suppliers holds the promise of improved efficiency and cost.
 
This data-sharing can extend outside of the manufacturing environment altogether, and help solve real-world problems.
 
Cisco (San Jose, CA) said sensors on some ATMs can recognize gunshots or human distress signals. The company foresees a time when the ATM can notify police and possibly link to traffic monitors that can shut down traffic in the vicinity, if needed, according to an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
 
GE is already working on this type of manufacturing communications with a concept it calls the “digital twin,” said Stephan Biller, the company’s chief manufacturing scientist.
 
 “We’re thinking of how do we get a representation of the product that’s out there and link it to better performance for our customers,” Biller said.
 
By automatically monitoring the product via sensors connected to it, and creating a digital thread that spans its entire life cycle, GE can assess the item’s performance and recommend service based on the feedback it gets. Feedback from the sensors can also be relayed to product designers and engineers so that flaws can be designed or engineered out of the next generation of a product.
 

Speaking the same language


One factor facilitating the move to smart manufacturing is the establishment of MTConnect, an open-source, royalty-free, read-only standard that allows for the organized retrieval of process information from numerically controlled machine tools.
 
Created by the Association for Manufacturing Technology, the University of California, Berkeley, and the Georgia Institute of Technology, the first version of MTConnect was released in 2008.Ford is working to reduce injuries on its assembly lines, in part by using full-body motion capture technology, the company said.
 
“A huge enabling factor for this desired connectivity, and the productivity it enables, is the communication standard of choice for manufacturing,” said David McPhail, CEO of Memex Inc. (Burlington, ON, Canada). “MTConnect enables manufacturing equipment to provide data in a single structured XML format rather than an obstructive array of proprietary formats.”
 
MTConnect version 1.3 was released late in 2014, and updates are planned through Version 1.6. Future updates are to include enhanced security and metrology; adding new modes of manufacturing, including wire and laser jet cutting; electrical discharge machining; additive manufacturing; and more, according to MTConnect Strategic Roadmap to Promote Advanced Manufacturing.
 
“This is a big, big deal because without it you are given a book with words you have never heard and no easy way to figure out what those words mean,” said Dave Edstrom, Memex’s chief technology officer and previous president and board chairman of the MTConnect Institute.
 
Once the data is collected, manufacturers need to analyze it if they’re going to achieve the greater efficiency and be able to react more quickly to trends and defects, as Hu describes. A variety of software companies now, such as Memex, 5ME, GE, Itamco, TechSolve, Forcam, now offer software that uses MTConnect to collect data and then provides analysis to optimize manufacturing production.
 
McPhail offers an example to illustrate the value of MTConnect.
 
When one of McPhail’s clients, aerospace and defense contractor Rose Integration (Carleton Place, ON, Canada), started using Memex’s Merlin software on 20% of its machines to produce daily reports on overall efficiency, non-conforming events and downtime, it revealed 40% lower production and efficiency rates on the night shift, compared with the day shift.
 
The plant manager’s hypothesis that unsupervised workers at night were less motivated to improve output was confirmed when he saw a 20% increase in efficiency within a week of implementing the software, and further gains to 25% overall equipment effectiveness when all of its machines were connected.
 
“Monitoring each machine without the ability to connect all machines for a unified view of plant productivity won’t allow companies to survive and thrive in a globally competitive market,” said McPhail. “To get that overall efficiency, their machines must be connected together and consistently report a variety of machine performance data from across the plant floor to the top floor where the plant manager sits. Or, better yet, from multiple plant floors to the corner office in the tower where the CEO sits.”
 

Democratizing smart manufacturing


GE’s Biller said the DMDII plans to roll out an affordable solution for small- and medium-size shops that want to keep up with the digital manufacturing leaders of the world.
 
GE is leading the institute’s effort to create a Digital Manufacturing Commons, or Digital Marketplace, which forms the “digital thread” that will connect and drive manufacturing supply chains in the future.  The open source platform GE scientists are developing will build on the platform they demonstrated with DARPA and MIT: Manufacturing leaders see it as an outstanding innovation.
 
“We’re developing digital tools, and of course we are helping our suppliers to gain access to those tools, to get educated in those tools,” Biller said. “We’re creating a digital manufacturing commons that eventually will allow people to communicate, exchange ideas, and use new tools if they are small and medium enterprises.”
 
George Barnych, director of R&D programs at DMDII, said he’s encouraged by the positive response from some manufacturing software OEMs to the concept of providing digital tools on a pay-per-use or sliding-scale basis to small companies. The software could use strategies like templates, graphic dashboards and online consulting to make it easy to use, he said.
 
“It’s a different type of model, and it’s cloud-based,” he said.
 
The DMDII is helping to address cybersecurity, too, and has solicited white papers and cost proposals for developing security tools for manufacturers’ data, software and hardware.
 
Other entities are also working on democratizing smart manufacturing.
 
The National Science Foundation is pitching in with research, through its Industry/University Cooperative Research Center on Intelligent Maintenance Systems, led by mechanical and materials engineering professor Jay Lee, at the University of Cincinnati. And the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition, chaired by Jim Wetzel at General Mills (Minneapolis, MN), was formed to make data-driven manufacturing attainable for all US industries through a cloud-based, open-architecture platform.
 

Manufacturing Workers 4.0


In the factory of the future, workers like Chaplin’s wrench-wielding Tramp in Modern Times are obsolete.
 
Who will replace them?
 
“What we are looking for, really, on the engineering side is people with skills that go beyond the typical manufacturing side [to include programming],” GE’s Biller said. “It’s at the intersection of disciplines where we really see the innovation is happening right now.”
 
 
Bob Doyle, communications director of the Association for Advancing Automation (Ann Arbor, MI), and an engineer who previously worked in manufacturing said, “It’s definitely not your father’s or your grandfather’s factory anymore. These new manufacturing facilities are very high tech and they require a different type of mindset.”
 
Doyle said future workers will be trained through technical education starting in high school, or earlier. Also, they may have participated in FIRST or VEX robotics extracurricular programs.
 
“I think that in high school there’s potential to get some experience in an internship and then move on to a community college advanced manufacturing program, and there are many of them now,” he said.
 
One Midwest training school, RAMTEC Ohio (Marion, OH), has partnered with Honda, FANUC, Lincoln Welding and others to match the skills it teaches to real-world jobs. RAMTEC offers manufacturing training from high school through adult.
 
“This generation is never going to sit idle because training will never stop,” predicts Ritch Ramey, RAMTEC coordinator. “The workers are going to have to understand programming; how do you make something repeat its motion and think, whether it’s CNC programming or robotic or PLC programming.”
 
Ramey’s colleague, Mark Edington, a certified robotics instructor, said with computer programming touching CNC, robotics, welding, hydraulics, and more, workers have to know and understand how computing ties everything together.
 
Edington also points out the difference between the factory worker of yesteryear and the manufacturing employee of the future.
 
“In years past, labor would have its own niche, but now in the 21st century, a technician has to be a multitask person,” Edington said. “They have to know a bit about everything; hydraulics, pneumatics, PLCs, robotics, trouble-shooting, welding, electrical, machining.”
 
Advanced Manufacturing Media Editor in Chief Sarah A. Webster contributed to this report.


Published Date : 4/18/2016

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