For American manufacturing to experience a genuine revival, enterprises and institutions must work together, not only as parts of supply networks, but at a level where ideas on technologies, education, and business practices are shared. This means acting as a community, and collaborating to foster innovation and move the sector forward. This was the vision set forth for the Manufacturing in America Symposium held in Detroit.
Much has been made recently of the return of manufacturing to America. The trade press has been filled with articles hyping new production plants, be they from domestic firms “reshoring” or foreign ones choosing to make products closer to the market where they are sold; or the closing labor gap between low wage economies, China in particular, and those in North America. The tremendous productivity of the American worker is also cited as a reason.
But at a higher level something else is occurring: those in the manufacturing sector are seeing the advantage of working collaboratively, of sharing ideas about new technologies and agile business practices, of working together in a much more communal way than ever before. They are beginning to take responsibility for education, understanding that the new manufacturing world requires a new manufacturing worker, and funding not only internal training efforts but also initiatives in the community to help foster the skillsets workers and companies need.
An example of this activity was recently seen in Detroit, where an industry gathering was held under the banner of “community, collaboration and innovation,”
On March 19th and 20th, Siemens and Electro-Matic hosted more than 2,200 executives, technology leaders, innovators, and analysts at the second annual Manufacturing in America Symposium, held at Detroit’s Ford Field. Participants explored how technology is driving a manufacturing resurgence in America during two main sessions: the Automotive Manufacturing Summit and the Technology Tip-Off. The latter featured more than 60 technical seminars where information was shared to help improve engineering efficiency, increase manufacturing productivity, and develop new expertise. The Summit addressed higher-level issues facing the industry, with presentations from a range of academic, industry and governmental leaders.
Understanding How Manufacturing Has Changed
Helmuth Ludwig, CEO of Siemens Industry Sector, USA, emphasized two essential shifts manufacturers must understand to take advantage of the automotive industry’s reemergence in America: the advent of software/mechatronics and the need for training. Moreover, they are linked.
Software is driving the advances in today’s manufacturing, and this means workers need to be adept with mechatronics. Mechatronics is a process that includes a combination of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, telecommunications engineering, control engineering, and computer engineering (i.e., software engineering). Knowledge of mechatronics is particularly important for supporting mass customization capabilities, an increasing concern of automotive manufacturers, and more broadly at the center of advanced manufacturing across a wide range of industrial sectors.
Having the right people in place is critical to leveraging technological gain. This need has created much discussion of the shortage of qualified workers in the labor pool, often referred to as the “skills gap.” Ludwig said that the problem isn’t a skills gap, but rather is a training gap—one that industry and government must address.
Siemens has been at the forefront of this effort in America, a fact underscored at the Summit when the company announced a $55.8 million in-kind software grant to Flint, Michigan based Mott Community College. Students there will now have access to the same Siemens product lifecycle management (PLM) software used in nearly every manufacturing environment in the world—and by more than 80 percent of automakers—to improve productivity and efficiency in the manufacturing process.
Capacity and Collaboration
A look at capacity in the automotive sector underscored the need for global cooperation to meet the needs of a resurgent American manufacturing sector.
In her presentation on automotive vendor tooling, Laurie Harbour, president and CEO of industry analyst Harbour Results, presented data that showed another looming issue: capacity in automotive tooling. Current spending in North American automotive tooling is $9.25 billion, current capacity is $11.35 billion, but demand is expected to reach $15.20 billion by 2018. How does the industry close this gap?
Harbour cited four approaches: current tool suppliers increasing throughput or capacity growth they control by 10 percent, adding capacity in North America with new plants from foreign investors, finding capacity by sourcing to China or other low-cost markets, and sourcing some from Europe. Even with these steps, Harbour estimated a $2 to $2.5 billion shortfall. “The traditional focus in the industry has been on tool supplier price, but that must shift to capture capacity and truly reduce costs in operations and execution,” she said.
This will require collaboration and sharing of expertise.
The Power of Partnership
Ford has emerged as a leader in leveraging collaboration to move forward.
At the Summit, Allison Stephens, technical leader at Ford Motor Company, spoke on how Ford has leveraged partnership, in particular its participation in the United States Council for Automotive Research, to advance its ergonomic lab and digital human modeling (DHM). She cited four spheres in which partnership has moved the DHM initiative forward:
- Partnership with Influence: increasing the ability of users to directly influence DHM development
- Partnership with innovation: meeting software needs by leveraging skills outside the company
- Partnership with quality: accelerating integration of new research and evaluation methods into DHM
- Partnership with leverage: achieving better financial leverage for all participants
Stephens related two efforts Ford has undertaken with Siemens: advancing the digital human model with Siemens Jack, and leveraging Google Earth for Ford with Siemens IntoSite. Siemens Jack enables manufacturers to improve the safety, efficiency, and comfort of their workplace environment using digital human models. With Jack, manufacturers can analyze workplace environments with virtual people that can be scaled to match different population characteristics. Designs and operations can be tested for a wide variety of human factors, including injury risk, timing, user comfort, reachability, lines-of-sight, energy expenditure, fatigue limits, and other important parameters.
Built by Siemens’ product lifecycle management (PLM) software business unit, the new IntoSite system uses an infrastructure provided by Google Earth to create a 3D model of Ford assembly plants. It provides Ford workers a new way of “seeing globally.” A user can navigate through the “plant” and even visit individual workstations to gain an understanding of manufacturing processes and even receive current information about the plant’s real-world activities.
IntoSite isn’t just about bridging the gap between engineers and manufacturers; it also helps each become better acquainted with the processes the other has to contend with. Users can add “pins” to specific locations, just as with Google earth, leaving notes, pictures, videos, or other documentation that will keep everyone updated about new processes, ideas, and changing products— again, improving collaboration.
Reaching out to Robots
In one of the most stimulating presentations at the Summit, Larry Drake, CEO of KUKA Systems Group, shared his ideas on a new industrial revolution: the collaboration of humans and robots. Drake outlined five global megatrends and challenges driving robot-based automation: demographics of the workforce, sustainability, automation in existing markets, automation in emerging markets, and increasing wage levels. He cited another five as driving KUKA in its effort to take robotics to another level:
- Create the possibility of automating sensitive tasks.
- Enable totally new assembly concepts.
- Make collaboration between humans and robots possible.
- Relieve workers at ergonomically bad workplaces.
- Better enable the possibility of production in high-wage countries.
To do this, KUKA created a high-tech robot with integrated torque sensors, streamlined lightweight construction, and a powerful operating system: the LBR iiwa, an intelligent industrial work assistant.
According to Drake, the LBR iiwa represents the third robotic revolution. The first was industrial robotics using PCs and offline programming; the second was safe tactile robotics, leveraging mechatronics for safe operation and simple programming and operation. Now the third revolution is robotics with integral mobile manipulators.
This development moves the arc for automotive suppliers from manual operations to human-robot collaboration. The 1970s to 1990s were marked by high flexibility, limited production, and a rapidly aging society; from the 90s to 2010, productivity increased but flexibility suffered as manufacturers struggled to deal with volatile markets. Now, human-robot collaboration with torque-sensitive robots provides agile response and facilitates learning by teaching.
Drake explained the benefits of human-robot collaboration: “Robots have their strength in the repetition of simple handling tasks. On the other hand, humans have unique cognitive skills, such as understanding the task. The combination of human and robot can greatly rationalize tasks, as long as the work is optimally divided between them. Human-robot collaboration then enables variable automation. Tasks for which complete automation is too expensive or too complex can thus be partially rationalized. Non-ergonomic workstations are replaced by robots.”
KUKA pioneered the use of LBR iiwa at Siemens’ Bad Neustadt factory for electric motors. For this application, KUKA delivered a robot-based handling and inspection cell for the precise execution of five work steps using human-robot collaboration: loading the blanks, removing them after machining in a CNC center, cleaning the workpieces, and inspecting their dimensional accuracy. Upon completion of these production steps, the parts are set down in their corresponding transport containers and made available for further processing. “The industrial production of the future demands concepts beyond full automation,” said Drake. Human-robot collaboration is a model that promises new and more versatile production concepts.
One of the headliners at the Summit, U.S. Senator Carl Levin (Michigan), noted the importance of government’s role in supporting manufacturing, and said that that role has been embraced in recent years, specifically when the federal government decided to again make choices with regard to industrial policy. “Government has to be partner with industry just as other governments are,” noted Levin. “We will be at a competitive disadvantage if we do not, because U.S. companies are not competing with companies overseas, they’re competing with countries.”
Failing to have an active industrial policy over a long period of time inevitably withers R&D investment. In a global marketplace where innovation is essential for growth, this is bad policy. Fortunately, Washington appears to have realized this, although it still has a way to go to match many of the country’s competitive nations.
Finally, the attendance and enthusiasm exhibited at the Summit are also cause for optimism. While there were no grand conclusions or game-changing decisions made during the sessions, the fact that the industry came together in a spirit of community and collaboration was a significant accomplishment and is in itself another example of the sector moving forward. Innovation was clearly on exhibit, but so was the good sense to share it— and that will continue to be a key if American manufacturing is to continue its revival and ongoing growth.Have an Inquiry for Siemens about this article? Click Here >>