Reinventing manufacturing with the latest technologies

  • March 23, 2015
  • Siemens
  • Feature

Highlights from the Manufacturing in American Symposium 2015

By Bill Lydon, Editor

There is a great opportunity to leverage the latest technologies and compete in the global manufacturing landscape. This message was clear at the recent Automotive Manufacturing Summit 2015 held at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. The Summit was part of the March 2015 Manufacturing in American Symposium sponsored by Electro-Matic, Siemens, and 40 other sponsors. The Summit hosted nearly 100 technical seminars and was attended by more than 3,000 industry professionals.

Raj Batra, President Siemens Digital Factory Division USA, stated that large and small manufacturing companies have the opportunity to reinvent themselves with the application of new technology. Batra described how the future lies in the convergence of product design, production planning, production engineering, production execution, and services. This convergence can be accomplished by using the latest technologies to create the digital enterprise. The digital integration from design to manufacturing shrinks the time to market and improves quality. This enables companies to more efficiently deliver product and process innovation and be more competitive. We have reached an inflection point in industry where products, business models and positions that once gave companies their competitive edge are no longer secure unless companies embrace new technology.

Batra discussed how automation systems are aging and reaching the end of their useful life. He noted something he has never quite understood by saying, “Since it is not in vogue to keep your iPhone for 6 months, how is it OK to have an automation asset running for 30 plus years?” He cited a Morgan Stanley study estimating the average age of U.S. industrial equipment is the highest it has been since 1938.

The environment for manufacturing growth in the United States is good. Capacity utilization is at 78% and consumer spending is making solid gains. Manufacturers have the opportunity to embrace digitalization that will achieve more speed, agility and efficiency and lead to a competitive advantage.

Ford Experience

Andy Herbert, Plant Manager Chief Stamping Engineer of Stamping Business Unit at Ford Motor Company, described their experience and vision for a controls standard. Herbert and the stamping business unit have responsibility for all the stamping dies and stamping equipment in North American Ford plants. This year they launched four new press lines, two new blanker machines, one straight cut, all with new controls. In addition, he has responsibility for hydroforming and other equipment, which makes the unit a diverse organization. He noted that the first thing people typically look at when entering a car showroom are the lines on the vehicle. “That’s what we do,” said Herbert.

Herbert described his experience 8 years ago when he took over a plant. One of the presses still had controls with vacuum tubes! Highlighting the need for controls standard, he discussed how one plant had a production line with five presses. It had three different types of presses which included four different drive systems, five different types of controls, and four different types of automation. The diversity of automation and controls posed challenges to those who operated and maintained the lines in a plant. In the United States, they have ten plants. Europe has five plants and Asia Pacific has 8 plants. In all, they have a total of twenty-six facilities around the world. Ford has defined a new global control and automation standard to simplifying engineering, programming, operations and maintenance.

Controls and automation are becoming a major competitive factor and the simplification using modern technology is essential for efficiency. Benefits include improved safety, higher quality, faster delivery, lower cost, and more efficient maintenance. Herbert emphasized how operators can now run any line without having unique training for each.

All of this ties into the ONE FORD concept to achieve global continuity and enable continuous improvement. Ford’s goal is to become the best automobile maker in the world.

When asked about attracting new talent, Herbert related his recruiting experience at his alma mater Ohio State. He believes potential employees want to see the products being produced and are attracted to those that excite them. “When I started with the company in 1985, what enticed me to come to Ford was the 1983 turbocharged T-Bird,” said Herbert. “That was it!” Young engineers want to see the product they can take part in producing and it doesn’t matter if they are in controls, design, or other engineering and manufacturing functions.

Thoughts & Observations

There is a new energy in American manufacturing and recruiting young talent is an important part of the equation. Andy Herbert’s comment about people wanting to know what product they can take part in producing is so very true. The next generations are looking for excitement. This notion addresses the emotional engagement needed to attract talent to manufacturing.

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