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How to Get Cash for a Retrofit Project

If you know how to do it, leasing can fund your much-needed upgrades and eliminate timing challenges.

In my last blog, The Wisdom of Perpetual Upgrades, I wrote about how the availability of capital often drives the timing of retrofit projects. In the interest of walking my talk, I would like to present one possible solution to the problem of capital availability driving project timing: leasing. To cover this topic appropriately, I spoke with Bill Summers, director and vice president of Vision Financial Group. He shared his insights to the world of leasing and why it may be a good solution for manufacturers when considering a retrofit project.

As Bill puts it, “The equipment leasing and finance industry happens to be built around making the necessary capital quickly available for automation projects and other capital intensive projects that require funding. These projects usually either don’t have enough (or any) money earmarked within the company’s budget or the budgeting office simply won’t or can’t progress with the same sense of urgency that the automation engineering team recognizes a need for.” Continue Reading →

How System Integrators Can Help Fill the Skills Gap

By partnering with a system integrator, you can tackle some of your biggest challenges—without hiring additional skilled staff.

If you are a U.S. manufacturer, you already know this fact: skilled people are hard to find. From production line workers, to skilled trade people, technicians, and engineers, finding the right skillsets to support your production is a significant challenge.

At the same time, you face intense competitive pressures to increase productivity, improve quality, introduce new products to the market, and reduce cost.

These combined forces—lack of resources and competitive pressures—have led many manufacturers to improve and expand their automation. Automation makes sense on many levels. To begin with, using properly selected and applied automation, manufacturers need fewer people on the plant floor and can eliminate dangerous and repetitive tasks. Plus, automation has a successful track record in making companies more competitive. Continue Reading →

The Wisdom of Perpetual Upgrades

When is the right time to retrofit? Before you paint yourself into a corner.

Have you ever wondered how timing can impact the effectiveness of a project? If you have not, it’s important that you hear this story.

I was working with a client to help spec out a retrofit to their entire line that turned into a million dollar scope of work. Through the process it became clear that we were being sole sourced on the project; as long as we presented a reasonable budget, the project was ours. Needless to say, I was quite excited, right up until the point when they told me they could not afford any downtime.

This was discouraging news considering the size and scope on the project. A project that was straightforward from a technology and application standpoint had suddenly become a monumental task. A system I would normally estimate at three weeks for the startup turned into a six-week, shot in the dark with 24/7 hour coverage just in case anything went sideways. We got it done, but the time, energy, dollars and risk it took to make it happen were greatly amplified due to the no downtime conditions. As an example, the startup had to be rescheduled three times, with less than a week’s notice, due to the fact that they could not derive enough production to stockpile product to carry them through the startup. Continue Reading →

Welding Innovation Improves Manufacturing Versatility

A new friction stir welding technique gives manufacturers the ability to weld complex, three-dimensional shapes.

Friction stir welding (FSW) is a technology that has crept quietly onto the scene over the years with a niche play in the aerospace industry, welding aluminum components together. FSW was developed in 1991 by The Welding Institute and consists of an innovative mechanical principle—heating two adjoining pieces to their plastic state by plunging a rotating tool head into them and mixing them together.

The FSW technique offers several advantages over conventional welding methods, including lower cost operation since it requires no consumables, a more consistent/stronger weld, and a better quality weld due to the weld being formed at a lower temperature.EADS-welding

The Airbus Group is on the forefront of this technology and developed a new head design that is proving to be a game changer. The technology is called DeltaN FS and consists of both mechanical and controls related innovations. The DeltaN FS technology features a compact head with a stationary shoulder, the piece used to support and guide the rotating tool head. Continue Reading →

Adding Senses to Robots Multiplies Manufacturing Value

Advancing technologies have given robots the ability to adapt to the environment around them, greatly increasing their value in production applications in manufacturing.

Watching a robot in action is a pretty cool thing. A six-axis robot can perform moves that are as good, or better, than the human arm, and it can do it fast! We regularly wow students on facility tours who get to see our robot demos in action, zipping from one position to another. I imagine this is the case for automation professionals as well. When touring a manufacturing facility and catch a glimpse of a robot in operation, I eagerly await the opportunity to stand in front of it and watch it do its thing. Maybe this is just my reaction. Am I the only robo-geek out there or do you feel the same?

Unfortunately, more often than not, I am let down by what the robot is actually doing: the same thing over and over, following the same path at the same speed. Beyond the initial wow factor generated by a lot of motion and maybe an innovative end-effector (end-of-arm tool), robots are not really doing anything very cool or providing the value they could be if they were to leverage advancing technology. Continue Reading →

The Perfect Maintenance Storm

As the skilled workforce ages and with few recruits to replace them, manufacturers are facing difficult decisions about how to maintain their automated systems.

A perfect storm is coming, and questions remain as to how U.S. manufacturers are going to navigate it. Manufacturers realize they need to automate to remain viable in today’s manufacturing environment, but with an aging workforce, fewer trade-skilled people entering the industry, a drive to minimize the costs associated with keeping a maintenance staff, and more and more complex automation technologies being implemented, it begs the question: How are these automated systems going to be maintained?

Nearly 12 percent of the workforce was comprised of folks 55 years and older in 1990. That number grew to 19.5 percent in 2010, and is expected to grow to 25 percent in 2020, according to an August 2013 Cornell University study. Couple that with the fact that unemployment levels are not rebounding to pre-2008 levels and it suggests that we are already feeling some swells of the storm. Continue Reading →