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FABTECH 2019 Brings More Than 48,000 to Chicago’s McCormick Place

Bruce Morey
By Bruce Morey Senior Technical Editor, SME Media
Alan Rooks
By Alan Rooks Editor in Chief, Manufacturing Engineering

Enduring an early winter snow storm on its opening day, Nov. 11, the FABTECH show nevertheless brought a record crowd to McCormick Place in Chicago’s South Loop. Even though the extreme weather led to cancelled speakers and created some logistical challenges, FABTECH 2019, held Nov. 11-14, included 816,000 paid net square feet, 48,278 attendees, 1,064 education program delegates, and 1,800 exhibitors. And the weather cooperated for the rest of the week.

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FABTECH 2019 drew more than 48,000 visitors to McCormick Place in Chicago.

Keynote Presentation: FABx Tech Talks

For the opening keynote on Nov. 11, FABTECH paid tribute to Veteran’s Day by showcasing five noted veterans for a series of inspirational talks. The highlight was a motivational speech by Chad Henning, ex-quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys and an Air Force fighter pilot with 45 combat missions in the First Gulf War. The experience of combat and three Super Bowl Championships helped him identify what he thinks are the five most important concepts towards a successful, satisfying life. They are: 1) have a vision. The best vision is one that leads to service for others. 2) Evaluate your actions against that vision. 3) Train both your abilities and your character, ideally by following a respected mentor. 4)Plan and 5) Expect to face obstacles to overcome. “Life is a series of choices,” he advised. “Strive to make the best ones.”

Other discussions included Hernan Luis y Prado, founder and CEO for Workshops for Warriors. He had a more directed presentation, discussing how his organization trains veterans for work in manufacturing. He described 16 weeks of training that provides industry-ready veterans with seven nationally recognized credentials, from proficiency in SolidWorks to CAM among others. Shelly Rood, educational consultant for Mission Ambition LLC shared her experiences as an intelligence officer during some of the times most fraught with danger in our recent history. As to why she became attracted to the military, while in college, she felt “I had a choice to make—I chose to serve others,” she said. A valuable vision that can easily lead to a life lived with character.

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Hernan Luis y Prado, founder and CEO for Workshops for Warriors, speaking at the FABx Tech Talks at FABTECH 2019.

Implementing New Manufacturing Technologies

What is Industry 4.0 and why should we care about it? That was one of the questions that a Leadership Exchange on Emerging and Advanced Technologies attempted to answer. Among many other topics, the panel, held on Monday, Nov. 11, offered great practical ideas on Industry 4.0. Moderated by Dave O’Neil, vice president of SME Media, the panel included Chandra Brown, CEO of MxD, Chicago, one of the 14 Manufacturing USA institutes; Jason Ray, co-founder and CEO of Paperless Parts Inc., Boston, and Michael Walton, industry solutions executive (manufacturing) at Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash.

O’Neil led off the panel with this question the panelists: “For small to medium shops, what is Industry 4.0, what products are necessary to implement it, and what data should be captured?”

Brown led off the responses with this reply: “Start with an assessment of where you are at in this digital journey. You don’t have to transform everything immediately. Pick one area [to start digitizing] and do it well.”

She encouraged the audience to think about the ROI of a few specific things, because there are “a million things you can do with digital thread and all these technologies. You need to see where the best bang for your buck is. Sensors are cheap and collect a lot of data, so you need to determine your pain points” and attack them first.

Ray of Paperless Parts encouraged attendees to focus on connecting their most important asset: people. When you walk into a shop today, there’s paper everywhere. All that is tribal knowledge. [Use digitization] to capture the tribal knowledge of your most skilled people” so it can be passed on to new machinists. “When I talk to shops, their biggest problem is finding people. They can’t get a second shift up, so the question becomes how you enable your people and get them to work for you? Focus on that,” and use digitization technology to make things easier for new employees to access knowledge and get up to speed.

Walton of Microsoft agreed that digitizing tribal knowledge is vital, but that using sensors to monitor machining processes can start the process of identifying knowledge no one—including experienced machinists—knows is there. “Move from your business running on tribal knowledge and artisans to capturing people’s actual knowledge, then use sensors to capture the hidden knowledge [in your machining processes],” he said. “We can take a $49 sensor on a machine” and analyze that data to coach people on what process changes are needed. You can visualize on a dashboard, parts, components and geometries; you can visualize the process inside the factory. It’s not that hard. It’s as simple as a few sensors feeding a dashboard.

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FABTECH 2019, held Nov. 11-14, featured 816,000 paid net square feet of exhibit space and 1,800 exhibitors.

I was working with a $40 million job shop that galvanized parts, and the owner couldn’t hire enough people,” Walton continued. “He felt that they were in an artisan situation, not a science situation, but he wasn’t capturing all the knowledge in those aging machinists. [We worked with him and] he took one of those experienced people [to identify what information needed to be monitored], came up with a simple dashboard from a simple data feed, and was able to visualize the process from the begin to when the part was galvanized. The CEO told me, ‘Before this, we had never been able to get true Takt time. After what I saw on the dashboard, I realized that we could split into two shifts with just the existing staff and increase our capacity.”

Automation Marches On

Another FABTECH Leadership Exchange panel focused on the effects of automation and how it is changing manufacturing. The state-of-the-industry discussion on Nov. 12 included moderator Jay Douglass, COO of ARM (Advanced Robotics for Automation) along with Mingu Kang, CEO of Aris Technology, Tyler Vizek, Project Engineer for MxD, and Steve Czajkowski, head applications engineer, Siemens Industry Inc.

There are concerns about automation replacing jobs even while it offers the possibility of lowering costs as it improves quality. Douglass was instrumental in creating a lively discussion, addressing numerous questions from a motivated audience.

Vizek said that robotics has hit an inflection point in adoption, well on its way to wider acceptance, even with smaller shops. Part of that growth is fueled by the accelerating growth of collaborative robots (cobots). Will people be replaced? “The dull, dirty, and dangerous jobs will certainly be replaced,” said Douglass. This will lead to workers re-assigned to more challenging tasks, tasks that robotics and automation are not suited for. He also noted that the industry is continuing to employ advanced sensors with automation, expanding their use to an even wider set of tasks.

The panel agreed that this greater adoption of automation will raise the needed skill level of the remaining workers. There is an upside. “Adoption will make it more interesting for younger workers,” said Vizek. This may make manufacturing in general more attractive to younger generations, who seem to be shunning it.

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