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Automation & Control
Slideshow: Top 5 Automation & Control Trends to Watch in 2012
1/17/2012

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Increasing Simulation in Automation
Plant updates can be tested before operators throw the switch on the control system. The use of simulation will likely expand considerably in 2012. Simulation is being used in new plant development, plant updates, and in configuring the plant for new products or for greater optimization. 

The advantage is the ability to test the system before it is deployed. The result is a significant reduction in set-up costs -- both labor and time -- and greater optimization. Plant operators report that the reduction in set-up costs alone covers the cost of using simulation. This photo shows an example of simulation used to configure robots. 

(Source: Simx Simulation.)
Plant updates can be tested before operators throw the switch on the control system. The use of simulation will likely expand considerably in 2012. Simulation is being used in new plant development, plant updates, and in configuring the plant for new products or for greater optimization.

The advantage is the ability to test the system before it is deployed. The result is a significant reduction in set-up costs -- both labor and time - and greater optimization. Plant operators report that the reduction in set-up costs alone covers the cost of using simulation. This photo shows an example of simulation used to configure robots.

(Source: Simx Simulation.)

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Rob Spiegel
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Re: Mainstream trajectory
Rob Spiegel   1/27/2012 2:44:53 PM
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That makes sense, Ann. Most of the new plants are going up in low-cost labor geographies. Japan has a very mature manufacturing base as well as high-cost labor (compared with emerging Asia).

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Mainstream trajectory
Ann R. Thryft   1/27/2012 3:22:19 PM
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Thanks for that info Rob. That means it's possible--although not necessarily likely--that newer machine vision interface standards might go into the emerging economy geographies. But not necessarily the more complex ones, like GigE, which require more expertise. It's not a clear picture, anyway, from the MV standpoint.


Rob Spiegel
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Re: Mainstream trajectory
Rob Spiegel   1/27/2012 3:26:00 PM
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There is probably a factor of how complex the products getting manufacturied are. The low-cost geographies tend to produce products that are commoditized. Complex medical products and military products are staying in North America.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Mainstream trajectory
Ann R. Thryft   1/30/2012 11:50:39 AM
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Thanks, that makes sense. This is clearly a multi-variable equation! It's also good to know that there are any products being manufactured over here, and even better to know that they're complex and high-ticket items.


Rob Spiegel
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Re: Mainstream trajectory
Rob Spiegel   1/30/2012 2:14:18 PM
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Yes, one of the secrets of U.S. manufacturing is that it's robust. We were the largest manufacturing country until just two years ago when China passed us. Our labor costs are coming down lately. This is partly because there is less union, so some of the cost is coming from lower worker wages. Plus, our plants processes are driving down the cost of manufacturing through automation.

Companies such as Texas Instruments are choosing the U.S. for new plants. The outsourcing wave is over, and now brand owners are thinking more in terms of locating plants near the markets. That means Eastern Europe for Europe and the southern U.S. for North America. So a good chunk of manufacturing is coming back to the U.S. recently. 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Mainstream trajectory
Ann R. Thryft   1/30/2012 2:32:16 PM
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Rob, thanks for this info. That's heartening and inspiring. I didn't know the offshoring wave had turned. I remember seeing hints of that a few years back and being cynical about those hints continuing and growing. I was at offshoring ground zero in tech writing in 2000-2001 when the news about it broke. We had 70% unemployment rates in that industry in that year. This was a huge industry crash, just before offshoring hit engineers. More recently, when wages started to increase in the Asian and other outsourced-to countries I hoped the wave would turn back, although it's unfortunate that it's at least partly because our own workers are getting lower pay. 

 


Rob Spiegel
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Re: Mainstream trajectory
Rob Spiegel   1/31/2012 12:40:22 PM
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Yes, I know what you mean. I was on the staff of Electric News during that crash. Companies were reporting 40% drops in business, almost overnight. Everyone was running to China without even thinking it through.

Some products won't come back (cellphones, laptops). But the rush is over according to outsourcing analyst firms. Some companies are coming back, some are deciding not to go to Asia.

With all the commody manufacturing in China, they will probably remain number one. But there is still tons of manufacturing here in the number two country.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Mainstream trajectory
Ann R. Thryft   2/6/2012 2:28:52 PM
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That was a really scary time, wasn't it? Glad things have evened out more since then.


Rob Spiegel
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Re: Mainstream trajectory
Rob Spiegel   2/6/2012 2:49:45 PM
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I agree Ann. It was shocking how fast it all happened. Overnight. Outsourcing was in full swing at the time, so the whole world was changing. 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Mainstream trajectory
Ann R. Thryft   2/6/2012 3:11:24 PM
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You know, Rob, what the tech writers union found out at the time was that major Silicon Valley employers had been gradually offshoring jobs for about 10 years and keeping it a huge secret. This was not rumors, but facts. They already had in the works the same plans for engineering jobs. By the time we found out what was happening, critical mass was being reached, so that's why such a huge dropoff happened so fast. It took a lot less than 10 years for the shift in engineering jobs, mostly because the infrastructure was now in place that could support offshoring of both job types. Apparently they started with tech writing because we had less of a clue what was going on than engineers and weren't thought likely to scream as loud (nor would anyone care as much if we did). Essentially the same thing had been going on with manufacturing, in parallel. I wrote a story about offshoring manufacturing as long ago as 1989 for Computer Design News.


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