Here’s another round-up of voices from the Pacific Design and Manufacturing Show in Anaheim earlier this month. Manufacturing vendors on the show floor defined their new opportunities, while they also revealed the underbelly of those positive developments. Seems that every piece of good news comes with a challenge. Here’s the view from the manufacturing street.
Overall system efficiency
Efficiency is the big word in the world of power supplies and components, according to Jeff Schnabel, vice president of marketing for power supply company CUI. “In the motor market, we’re seeing a drive for overall system efficiency,” Schnabel told Design News. “Europe, North America, and Asia all have efficiency requirements in power supply and motors.” He said efficiency is a major concern, because “46% of energy consumed in North America comes from electrical motors.” He noted that the next evolution in efficiency is the evaluation of the efficiency of the whole system. “Our customers require that,” said Schnabel.
He pointed to a number of other pressures coming up from his customer base. “Another trend is that everything is going mobile,” said Schnabel. “Plus, there’s pressure to make the products smaller, faster, lighter, and smarter.” Finally, he noted that customers expect embedded intelligence. “Customers are also looking to get data out of devices for onboard diagnostics and troubleshooting.”
The challenges of wireless connectivity were a repeated refrain during the show. While introducing wireless to manufacturing products offers an opportunity, the challenges remain daunting. “We’re seeing more wireless, but there are safety issues we’re not sure about,” Dominic Dimitri, vice president of sales and marketing for motion control company Delta Tau Data Systems, told Design News. “We have tablet control by customer request, and we’re working on phone apps for Google and Apple.” He noted that customers are expecting wireless offerings. “The redundant safety is where it’s a challenge. Our military customers have it, but it’s costly.”
While robots in manufacturing are becoming more popular, the companies producing the robots are seeing fiercer competition on price. “One trend we’ve seen for a while is the price of robots is falling, falling, falling,” John Clark, national sales manager at Epson Robots, told us. Lower prices mean that robot manufacturers have to drive their costs down. “In order to get the prices low, we have to move manufacturing to China, but there are problems there,” said Clark. “Turnover is high and quality is a problem. Training is a constant problem. That affects yield.” Clark noted that robot manufacturers have to lower the cost of products without affecting the quality. “So you have to find ways to take waste out of the system,” he said.
Some sectors are growing, some are not
The economy was on everyone’s mind. But the take on the economy was varied. “We’re seeing manufacturing growth in select industries,” Fred Poelzing, technical sales manager at Servometer, a metal bellows and couplings company, told Design News. “Semiconductors is booming, oil and gas is growing, and aerospace is strong.” He said aerospace, while still robust, is showing signs of fraying. “Aerospace is government customers, and the government is hurting,” Poelzing told us. “Unmanned vehicles have slowed down because priorities changed.”
Wireless was on the mind of Hack Summer, applications technology manager at motion control company, Moog Animatics. “We have customers asking for Bluetooth wireless connectivity. It’s inexpensive, but you get crosstalk,” Summer told us. He’s also skeptical about the growth strains on wireless addressing. “You have to buy into MAC ID addresses, and how many do you have to buy?” He said he believes the addresses will run out. “If you’re running wireless on refrigerators, how many MAC addresses will be left for automation?” Summer is also concerned about whether Bluetooth can hold up in the demanding environment of automation. “You don’t want it to run real-time data,” he said. “Bluetooth wasn’t meant for industrial applications.”