Ted Theyerl’s picture

By: Ted Theyerl

‘Forward!” It’s the state motto of Wisconsin, where I work to help manufacturing companies improve their operations and processes. It’s one simple word that holds a lot of meaning and relevance. It’s what I want companies I work with to embrace, practice, and execute. Forward is a word that helps summarize an entire scope of improvement practices, and it’s a word that has become even more relevant in these times of uncertainty. This motto and mindset can help your company serve everyone—your owners, employees, and customers—even better in the future. Forward!

When the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic hit hard in mid-March 2020, the entire business and economic landscape shifted, almost instantly. Manufacturing companies had no option but to adapt rapidly to change or suffer the consequences—which could be immediate or long lasting.

How well did you do? If you adjusted quickly and smoothly, that’s a good sign you have solid improvement practices in place. If it was a struggle or worse, a threat to your business, that is a signal you need to get better at getting better—rapidly. How can you improve your ability to adapt rapidly?

Ben Brumfield’s picture

By: Ben Brumfield

Dang robots are crummy at so many jobs, and they tell lousy jokes to boot. In two new studies, these were common biases human participants held toward robots.

The studies were originally intended to test for gender bias, that is, if people thought a robot believed to be female may be less competent at some jobs than a robot believed to be male and vice versa. The studies’ titles even included the words “gender,” “stereotypes,” and “preference,” but researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology discovered no significant sexism against the machines.

“This did surprise us,” says Ayanna Howard, the principal investigator in both studies. “There was only a very slight difference in a couple of jobs but not significant. There was, for example, a small preference for a male robot over a female robot as a package deliverer.” Howard is a professor in and the chair of Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing.

Although robots are not sentient, as people increasingly interface with them, we begin to humanize the machines. Howard studies what goes right as we integrate robots into society and what goes wrong, and much of both has to do with how the humans feel about robots.

Ann Clark’s picture

By: Ann Clark

Reshoring is the trend of bringing manufacturing from overseas back to its local origin—to here, the United States. The tariffs on Chinese, Canadian, and European imports were levied both to level the global-trade playing field and incentivize U.S. companies to bring manufacturing back to America. Now it seems that the Covid-19 pandemic may have accelerated this trend.

Supply-continuity risk, rapid innovation, responsiveness, and technological collaboration are now critical considerations for sourcing, as are costs, quality, and lead time. Changing consumer behaviors demand rapid and iterative innovation, which can be more effectively achieved by shortening supply chains and bringing producers closer to final consumers.

U.S. companies like Franklin Bronze offer speed to market and close collaboration—an advantage for those looking to reshore. Automation and in-house processes, from tooling to machining, allows Franklin Bronze to deliver parts quickly. Same-shore manufacturers and customers are able to partner for joint design development and can customize projects to meet specific needs. Franklin Bronze also leverages 3D printing for rapid innovation and small-lot production.

Willow Ascenzo’s picture

By: Willow Ascenzo

During the late 19th century, Wilhelm Röntgen discovered X-rays and soon after discovered their properties for medical and industrial imaging when he created a radiograph of his wife’s hand. From this discovery, the powerful tool of X-ray radiography and tomography fell into the hands of medical professionals and industrial materials professionals.

Several decades later, during the 1930s, James Chadwick discovered the neutron, an electrically-neutral particle that resides in an atom’s nucleus. Soon afterward, the neutron was also recognized as a potential powerful tool for industrial radiography, just like X-rays.

As the technology behind X-ray imaging advanced and X-ray sources became more plentiful, X-radiography became more widely used in the field of nondestructive testing, and exhaustive quality standards were set in place to ensure that the use of this tool led to standardized and consistent results. The development of, and adherence to, these standards have helped push X-ray imaging along, leading to the development of both digital radiography, as opposed to film, and computed tomography as a powerful expansion of planar radiography into the third dimension.

Ryan Ayers’s picture

By: Ryan Ayers

Data are valuable assets, so much so that they are the world’s most valuable resource. That makes understanding the different types of data—and the role of a data scientist—more important than ever. In the business world, more companies are trying to understand big numbers and what they can do with them. Expertise in data is in high demand. Determining the right data and measurement scales enables companies to organize, identify, analyze, and ultimately use data to inform strategies that will allow them to make a genuine impact.

Data at the highest level: qualitative and quantitative

What are data? In short, they are a collection of measurements or observations, divided into two different types: qualitative and quantitative.

Farhana Ahmad’s default image

By: Farhana Ahmad

When Intelex developed its return-to-work program, we decided the best approach would be a phased one. Similar to the concept of continuous deployment, breaking down the plan to allow individuals to quickly process, adapt, and execute practices and procedures makes it more manageable for employers and employees alike.

To summarize each phase and their objectives:
1. Respond: involves the immediate steps taken during the initial outbreak
2. Return: introduces short-term changes implemented to address all the newly discovered issues
3. Reimagine: implements long-term policies, procedures, and best practices to create an agile and resilient workforce

Our role in the Safe Actions for Employee Returns (SAFER) initiative

On top of our internal developments, we’ve joined the National Safety Council’s Safe Actions for Employee Returns (SAFER) initiative. With the aim of delivering a framework designed to ensure an effective and seamless transition back to the workplace, we have joined the ranks of more than 100 experts across 50 leading organizations.

Celia Paulsen’s picture

By: Celia Paulsen

Artificial intelligence (AI)-powered robots, 3D printing, the internet of things (IoT)... there’s a whole world of advanced manufacturing technology and innovation just waiting for small and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) that want to step up their digital game. Unfortunately, manufacturing digitization can present some fundamental challenges, like added cybersecurity risk.

So how do smaller manufacturers increase their advanced manufacturing technology capabilities while balancing the associated risks? Let’s dissect some of the top challenges for SMMs.

1. Cybersecurity plan

All technology implementations should begin with a plan that includes cybersecurity. A sound cybersecurity plan not only helps manufacturers identify and improve current security protocols, it also positions them to manage future risk.

Key stakeholders should identify the most critical information assets to protect, map how that information flows through the organization (currently and with any proposed technology or process changes), and determine the level of risk if that information were lost or compromised.

Davis Balestracci’s picture

By: Davis Balestracci

“With data from an epidemic there is no question of whether a change has occurred. Change is everywhere. The question is whether we are getting better or worse. So while the process behavior chart may be the Swiss army knife of statistical techniques, there are times when we need to leave the knife in our pocket, plot the data, and then listen to them as they tell their story.”
Dr. Donald J. Wheeler

I agree with Dr. Wheeler’s comment about process control charts. Yet, I’m seeing far too many of them being inappropriately used as naïve attempts to interpret the mountains of questionable Covid-19 data being produced. I’ve done a few charts myself out of curiosity but none that I feel are worth sharing. Dr. Wheeler’s two recent, excellent Quality Digest articles have been the sanest things written—with nary a control chart in sight.

NIST’s picture

By: NIST

Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have demonstrated a potentially new way to make switches inside a computer’s processing chips, enabling them to use less energy and radiate less heat.

The team has developed a practical technique for controlling magnons, which are essentially waves that travel through magnetic materials and can carry information. To use magnons for information processing requires a switching mechanism that can control the transmission of a magnon signal through the device. 

Although other labs have created systems that carry and control magnons, the team’s approach brings two important firsts: Its elements can be built on silicon rather than exotic and expensive substrates, as other approaches have demanded. It also operates efficiently at room temperature, rather than requiring refrigeration. For these and other reasons, this new approach might be more readily employed by computer manufacturers.

Angelo Scangas’s picture

By: Angelo Scangas

A manufacturer’s ability to maintain high-quality products and regulatory compliance depends largely on its suppliers’ own quality-related activities. Supplier audits can be an important tool for manufacturing organizations to ensure their suppliers are consistently delivering high-quality parts, materials, components, or ingredients for their finished products.

Leveraged correctly, supplier audits can identify, address, and prevent problems in a supplier’s product quality or processes before the problems spread.

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