Digitization and data dominated the discussion as EASTEC returned to West Springfield, Mass., after its 2020 pandemic hiatus.
From the first media event to the three keynote presentations and a panel discussion addressing optimization of the factory floor, EASTEC 2021 firmly established that the quest to drive toward the promise of Industry 4.0 is accelerating.
“It’s kind of nice to be back in person at a manufacturing event, isn’t it?” enthused Bob Willig, CEO and executive direct of SME, in his introductory remarks. “Hard to believe, but we’ve been in this facility (The Big E) doing this show for over 30 years. … “SME, our mission in life—what we do, what we’re here for—is convening people together to advance technology and develop our next generation of skilled workforce. It’s shows like this—they matter and they help us achieve those goals.”
SME has staged EASTEC in partnership with the Association of Manufacturing Technology for more than 30 years. “I came to some of my first (EASTEC shows) more like 40-plus years ago; my grandfather used to drag me to these shows when I was just a wee pup,” recalled AMT President Doug Woods. In the hour or two before addressing the crowd, he added, he noted that he saw “a half dozen people that I know—people doing neat things with technology (and) people I haven’t seen in a while talking about opportunities (and) what we could do with projects together.”
Setting the tone Oct. 19 was the opening-day press conference announcing the partnership of Datanomix and Caron Engineering. Datanomix, of Nashua, N.H., and Caron, of Wells, Maine, joined forces to aggregate and analyze production data collected by Caron’s TMAC tool- and machine-monitoring sensors in a new real-time dashboard in the Datanomix software.
“Through this integration, we’ll be making available machine health capabilities that are powered by Caron Engineer’s technology,” said Greg McHale, CTO and cofounder of Datanomix, during their press conference. The ultimate advantage to users, added Caron founder and president Rob Caron, will be “applying machine learning and new analytics to all of our products that are on many different machines” to “find the anomalies and the problems out in the shop that just aren’t viewable today”— machine health, tool life and more.
Echoing the data-driven future of manufacturing, Stephan Biller emphasized in his Oct. 20 keynote that the time for small and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) to start on the path to creating an Industry 4.0 ecosystem is now—however small the initial effort.
Biller, CEO and president of Advanced Manufacturing International (AMI) in Clearwater, Fla., explained that while OEMs are likely to increase pressure on suppliers to digitize, SMMs might want to get ahead of the curve as a way to attract a new generation of employees eager to embrace the career opportunities afforded by digital manufacturing.
While SMMs don’t have the deep pockets of OEMS, Biller noted, they also don’t have the bureaucracy that could impede digital adoption. “An engaged owner who wants to do digital transformation can do this much faster at a small shop than in a large shop, but you have to overcome the resource problem. We at AMI try to overcome the cost problem.” At the very least, he guessed, there is roughly an equal advantage for small or large enterprises pursuing digital transformation.
Once an operation is digitized, it can convey that advantage to customers through increased transparency about how quickly one can fulfill orders. “If I have visibility of my shop into my customer … that should drive more volume towards me. If I’m at General Motors and I want to increase the production of vehicle X versus vehicle Y, I would love to know instantly if that supplier has that capacity available or not. If you have a mass product, that might be a competitive advantage for you.”
Of course, EASTEC — one of SME’s four regional Manufacturing Technology Series events — included plenty of insights specific to the New England manufacturing community. One major advantage the Northeast enjoys, noted Chris Kuehl in his Oct. 19 keynote, is the Northeast’s orientation toward Europe.
“That can be very powerful, because the most organized manufacturing parts of the world are still us and Europe,” asserted Kuehl, managing director of Armada Corporate Intelligence in Lawrence, Kan. “When you talk about manufacturing by value, the United States accounts for 40 percent of the value of manufacturing because we manufacture very expensive things. Number 2 is Germany, at 35 percent. So between us and the Germans, we account for 75 percent of the value of global manufacturing.”
Furthermore, Kuehl added, the Northeast has “a legacy of manufacturing employees … that many other parts of the country don’t. … You’ve got people who’ve been in manufacturing for two and three generations, and it’s easier to find people. Lately because of the shortage of workers, companies have had to do all kinds of things to sort of lure people out of retirement or convince them not to retire—and that’s something that’s a little easier to do here.”
In addressing how manufacturers can survive in the post-COVID world, Kenneth Sullivan stressed the need to protect intellectual property within a more digitized manufacturing process. Sullivan, president and CEO of aerospace and defense contractor Micro Craft in Tullahoma, Tenn., noted that the commercial aviation industry is discussing the idea of requiring more robust cybersecurity—whether or not on the exacting level of the DOD’s Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification.
Other notable news and exhibits from EASTEC included:
- AMI demonstrating the LIMS (Low Investment Manufacturing System) Edge appliance, a multifunction input/output hub developed primarily by Nat Frampton, cofounder of LECS Energy. When wired at the edge of a piece of production equipment, the LIMS can collect and share complex sensor-derived data—getting users quickly on the road to an Industry 4.0 manufacturing environment. The system can be air gapped for security.
- ANCA showed its new AutoMarkX automated laser marking system for the first time in the U.S. Built to fit alongside other machines within the company’s AIMS (ANCA Integrated Manufacturing System), the system accepts tool pallets directly from ANCA grinding machines and allows etching on the ends of tools to avoid wear when users handle the OD. Meanwhile, the company’s popular FX7 cutting tool machine has been upgraded with Laser Ultra in-process measurement. The system, the second generation of the Laser Plus, now allows digital and analog scanning of a tool’s entire cutting edge and allows 70 percent faster cycle times.
- Greenleaf targeted its display primarily to the region’s aerospace industry, showing of its new XSYTIN-360 line of solid ceramic end mills and noting that the company’s first-ever line of complementary solid carbide end mills is scheduled for release in the near future.
Read more about SME’s 2021 Manufacturing Technology Series: