January 09, 2012
2011 Manufacturing Technology Demand Strong
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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However, it seems that manufacturers are planning on adding the most new employees in the areas of production workers and professionals/technicians. The percentage of companies planning on reducing these job categories seemed very low. The increase in production workers is somewhat surprising based on all the news we hear about production reductions, but keep in mind many of the companies interviewed are multinationals, so at least some of the production work that is lost in North America is growing substantially elsewhere. A good sign for manufacturing in general are the areas where increased investments are expected, namely, new product/service introductions, IT, and, R&D. On the other hand, manufacturers concede that their biggest (potential) barriers to growth include competition from foreign markets, unfavorable monetary exchange rates, and inability to implement growth, and a lack of qualified workers (especially at managerial levels).

All in all, the report above and others I have read present some food for thought on the state of manufacturing from a worldwide perspective. Although things may not be so hot here in manufacturing right now, on a worldwide scale, there appears to be reason for at least cautious optimism.

That addresses the relatively positive news on the people side of manufacturing, but the second question I have is will technology also help lead to a manufacturing revival?

I follow a number of manufacturing technologies (machines, tools, and software and hardware products)  with a good for some of the emerging technology trends that might affect the future of manufacturing. These technologies include:
  • Computers and CAD/CAM software
  • Machining centers
  • Turning centers and lathes
  • Milling and drilling
  • Tools and tooling
  • Grind and finish
  • Workholding devices
  • Quality, test, and measurement
  • Sawing and abrasives
  • EDM and ECM

It seems, based on manufacturers I've spoken with, most are pretty satisfied with their current CAD/CAM software and the platforms they run on in favor of other technology areas that provide faster and more flexible actual manufacturing capabilities. Actually, the interest seemed to be higher in flexibility than just raw speed with the manufacturers that I spoke with.

CAM software, like many of the other areas of technology, that, along wit efficiency, flexibility is a major trend and customer. Much like what has happened on the CAD side of the equation, simulation continues to come into its own on the CAM side. Programmed tool movements can be previewed for errors and wasted motion and can be corrected, saving machine tools and time. More complex, multi-tasking equipment demands CAM software that is also up to the task, especially with regard to the myriad synchronizations required – a tough proposition to say the least. Several CAM vendors are addressing this issue by forming partnerships with equipment vendors, and these partnerships are making things better for the respective vendors themselves, as well as their manufacturing customers.

Equipment flexibility has definitely become a major trend and direction lately on several different levels. Although flexibility means different things to different vendors, most equipment vendors would agree to define flexibility as the freedom and ability to perform a wide variety of tasks; the ability to be reconfigured extensively and quickly; the ability to handle a wide range of raw material;, and the ability to handle several different manufacturing operations with a tool, ideally reducing manual setups, work handling time, and tool inventories. While it can be a complex endeavor to successfully accomplish, technology and equipment flexibility is a major step forward in the areas of multi-tasking and multi-processing.

Automation is also a big drawing card as a primary means for smaller shops to return to or retain competitiveness on a global basis.

Another trend that I have seen emerging in the manufacturing is automation integration and not just automation features of specific equipment. For example, equipment integrated at different levels of automation with the ability to help manufacturers arrive at the proper level of automation for their particular businesses. I've heard this concept called “automate to order,” where a manufacturer’s true needs are evaluated before implementing a blanket solution, and there is no longer such a thing as “one size fits all.” What a concept – putting manufacturing customers first and providing them with what they truly need and not just what the equipment vendors think they need.

These are just a few of the things I have followed in manufacturing, but they all seem to point to the fact that well trained people and technology, properly employed, could very well be a key that leads the way to a North American manufacturing revival. However, one is not exclusive over the other. Both are absolutely necessary for manufacturing success, and there is still a long way to go.


The Week’s Top 5

At MCADCafé we track many things, including the stories that have attracted the most interest from our subscribers. Below are the five news items that were the most viewed during last week.

Autodesk Acquires T-Splines Modeling Technology Assets
Autodesk has acquired certain technology-related assets from T-Splines Inc., a privately-held surface modeling software company, based in Utah. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. “The technology acquisition will strengthen our Digital Prototyping portfolio with more flexible free-form modeling and will help achieve even closer integration between industrial design and engineering workflows,” said Buzz Kross, senior vice president, Manufacturing Industry at Autodesk. “T-Splines technology will benefit designers and engineers that require watertight surfaces for downstream analysis and manufacturing.”

Editor's Note: This is actually a pretty big deal for Autodesk and the competing vendors that partner with T-Splines. Watch for an update on the implications of this acquisition in an upcoming MCADCafe Blog.

Donkervoort Automobielen BV Improves Design, Cuts Costs with SolidWorks Simulation
Donkervoort Automobielen BV, a Dutch automotive manufacturer, relies on SolidWorks  design and simulation tools in its quest to produce the perfect sports car. This value was  displayed when Donkervoort unveiled the newly designed model D8 GTO. By incorporating SolidWorks Flow Simulation and SolidWorks Simulation Premium to its existing SolidWorks package, Donkervoort created a single CAD environment for the redesign of its D8 GTO model, ensuring total integration of the design and simulation process. Donkervoort focuses on sports cars that are hand built, lightweight, high performance and perform like Formula One race cars, even though they look like classic roadsters. Donkervoort tackled several different challenges during the redesign, including optimizing intake manifolds and engine airflow and resolving open-wheel aerodynamic challenges. The company created a hybrid carbon fiber-tubular steel chassis to add strength while minimizing weight that held up to simulated testing for force, stiffness, crash and impact. The design team added wings to the rear fenders to increase down force and traction.

InventorCAM 2012 Debuts with iMachining. (SolidCAM)  
SolidCAM announced InventorCAM 2012, the latest version of its CAM system, integrated with full associativity to Autodesk Inventor. InventorCAM provides the same look and feel in CAM as in CAD, greatly reducing the learning curve, enabling engineers to quickly generate efficient and safe toolpaths directly from the CAM toolbar, inside Autodesk Inventor. The iMachining technology in InventorCAM 2012 uses morphing spiral cuts and controlled step-over algorithms to enable tools to cut at their full depth, without suffering from shock loading or rubbing. Cutting at full depth helps to spread the load over the length of the tool, instead of the bottom few millimeters while, precise control of chip thickness, keeps cutting loads steady, enabling far greater metal removal rates to be achieved, even in hard materials. InventorCAM 2012 can drive multi-spindle and multi-turret mill-turn centers. Simultaneous 5-axis milling, multi-sided indexing, high speed surface machining and 3D high speed surface machining in InventorCAM 2012 give engineers the ability to cut complex parts designed in Autodesk Inventor, while turning, mill-turn and wire EDM modules extend the software to program all machines in the shop.

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-- Jeff Rowe, MCADCafe.com Contributing Editor.


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