Think bigger and think broader. I want to expand what you may think it takes to successfully transition new technology onto the manufacturing floor. My experience with manufacturing engineering led me to advocate for a new approach to implement transformational manufacturing technology at Northrop Grumman, and I would like to share how those ideas can apply across the manufacturing industry.
My introduction to manufacturing was at the Cornell University machine shop. I basically lived there. Even though I designed, manufactured and assembled work for research projects on campus, I never saw myself as a manufacturing engineer. I had the view, as many young engineers do, that manufacturing was just a means to an end.
While applying to graduate school, I struggled to balance my academic interests with the reality of student loans. Desperate for a job, I emailed the head of the Georgia Tech machine shop and explained why I would be a great fit. From that first contact, I became a graduate research assistant in the Precision Machining Research Consortium for Thomas Kurfess, PhD, FSME, PE (and SME President for 2018). There I learned how impactful manufacturing technology could be.
The PMRC challenged me to think broader and bigger and changed my views on manufacturing engineering. Thinking broader led me to a greater understanding of the interconnectivity between electronics, sensors, algorithms, statistics, wireless communication technology and how to build tools that could effectively communicate all the data mined from machines to support real decision making. Thinking bigger about the realities of mining data from different brands of machine tools made the value of the IT staff and standards like MTConnect quite apparent. The most valuable takeaway from my experiences in Dr. Kurfess’ lab was that true success in manufacturing comes from proficiency in a broad number of disciplines. When promoting new technology, the big-picture approach must include nontechnical considerations such as contracts and security.
Soon after my lab experience, the opportunity to join Northrop Grumman’s Future Technical Leaders program presented itself. The FTL program consists of three, one-year rotations across different technical disciplines and is designed to morph individuals into systems engineers and big-picture thinkers.
During my rotation at Northrop Grumman’s Corporate Technology Office, our CTO, Pat Antkowiak, tasked me with building a transformational manufacturing technology strategy. Pat wanted to know what disruptive manufacturing technologies were on the horizon and which technologies we could adopt to improve our future manufacturing efficiencies and prospects. Most importantly, he wanted to know what challenges were hindering acceptance and application of new manufacturing technologies across the Northrop Grumman enterprise. To aid in this last request, I developed a set of questions to critically assess a company’s technology migration maturity, which were later published by SAE International in the book, “The Future Airplane Factory: Digitally-Optimized Intelligent Airplane Assembly.” The focus of these questions is to help companies analyze any challenges that may be inhibiting their ability to adopt transformational manufacturing technologies and processes.
Both my academic and professional experiences led me to the same conclusions—that we need to blur the lines between disciplines to attain broader success and embrace the realities of nontechnical considerations, such as IT and security, earlier in the exploration phase when we field new technology. Three more recommendations that I believe are critical to transitioning new technologies and processing to the manufacturing floor are: First, the teams that used to be involved in approving technology adoption at milestones need to be engaged and involved much earlier in the process, especially IT, InfoSec and the supply chain. Second, choose open-architecture solutions, such as MTConnect, that support transitioning “machine by machine” instead of an all-at-once approach. Third, on the team that transitions technology and processes have people who can think as broad and big as necessary to coalesce all the complex interdependencies to make technology work securely and reliably. It takes a flexible and adaptable mindset to find solutions that can correctly balance risk versus reward for an optimal outcome.
Women in Manufacturing (WiM) has announced 15 outstanding women leaders who make up the inaugural class of Women in Manufacturing Hall of Fame inductees. SME Executive Director and CEO Sandra Bouckley, FSME, P.Eng., and 2020 SME Vice President Dianne Chong, PhD, FSME, were among the 15 honorees. The group was officially welcomed to the Hall of Fame with a virtual ceremony and celebration on Oct. 1 as part of WiM’s 10th annual SUMMIT event.
The Women in Manufacturing Hall of Fame honors women who have, over the course of their careers, made exceptional contributions to the manufacturing industry and to the advancement of women in the field. The inductees embody WiM’s mission of supporting, promoting and inspiring women in the manufacturing industry.
The inaugural class of Women in Manufacturing Hall of Fame inductees are:
Inductees were nominated by their colleagues and industry peers and selected by a judging panel of WiM and Women in Manufacturing Education Foundation board members as well as WiM staff. Each was chosen based on their significant contributions to the advancement of women in manufacturing.For more information about the Women in Manufacturing Hall of Fame, visit womeninmanufacturing.org.
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