Great article Elizabeth, it's good to see manufacturers coming back to the country and it only took robotics to do so. However, I wonder if the price of manufacturing will be competitive on the world market.
@bobjengr: Even blind robots caused a tremendous amount of reworking for quality. It was the case we could produce parts out of tolerance and even with minor fractures, knowing full well the welder could alter his path and even weldup small fractures. Robots cannot or at least could not do that. Therefore a die cut edge had to be where it was supposed to be for the weld to be completed properly. And forget about repair on-the-fly.
About 30 years ago the company for whom I worked had only one customer who routinely did robot welding and they used to flag out on the prints the edges that were to be robot welded so we could make sure we included trim stations in the die for consistant edges. I am not sure if that is the sort of quality you meant, but the parts were certainly closer to print.
Thanks for the real-world perspective and compliment, bobjengr. It was interesting for me to hear about this from an engineer's point of view and it seems like this lack-of-quality sentiment is ringing true across the industry. it would be good if some of these technologies become more widely adopted to remedy this issue.
Excellent Post Elizabeth. I think improvements in vision systems greatly enhance the ability to provide quality control on a continuous basis. Add to that ability robotic automation and you have an extremely complex system that, when working properly, can add significant throughput to any manufacturing process. These innovative methods will surely drive more manufacturing "home". I work for a company that tires greatly of quality issues from off shore companies. Communications are terrible and time "on the water" creates problems with obsolescence when revisions need to be made. During our design confirmation builds and first piece assessments the parts are right to print. As manufacturing progresses, the quality falls from excellent to marginal at best. On one stainless steel trim piece we run a 33% rejection rate. PC boards run about 28 % rejection rate. We have even received boards designed for other products and other company's altogether. Vision systems would greatly lessen this occurrence. Knowing how to speak English would not hurt either.
My pleasure, Ann. It was certainly interesting to talk with Steve and very informative for me, as I didn't know loads about the topic. He was quite articulate about his insights and I think will provide a good session at the conference in September.
Yes, naperlou, that is part of what Steve was saying to me--that poor design and quality is part of what is inspiring manufacturers to take measures, like more automation, to take back more control of the entire production process.
Yes, naperlou, there's plenty of data to suggest that redesigning products for ease of manufacture creates betters products. A few years ago, we did a story about how Japanese automakers discovered they could get better reliability by using imperfect parts. The idea is, don't use better parts, just design a better system. See The Quest for Imperfection below:
Elizabeth, this is indeed a good trend. With the relentless drive to bring prices down driven by companies like WalMart, we have given up quality. Frankly, I hear that WalMart is not doing so well.
Another trend I have noticed, that goes along with automation, is better deisgn. When you could hire lots of inexpensive people to do something, and you did not own the factory, design suffered. It may have been an article in Deisgn News, but I have read about a couple of companies that redesigned their products to be easier to manufacture. They also ended up with products that were more reliable and easier to repair and maintain. Imagine that.
I found Steve to be well-versed in this topic when I spoke with him, so if any of our readers are at the conference, they should definitely check out his talk. I know this is a topic that's close to many North American manufacturers and using robotics innovation, an exciting prospect in itself, also could be the key to regaining control over the entire production process.
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