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Articles from 2021 In September

Will Increased Manufacturing Capability Mean More Jobs? Ask the Semis

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This year, the news has been flooded with the manufacturing challenges in the semiconductor space. The automotive industry has been particularly harsh in its criticism of chip shortages needed for their new vehicles. Whether this concern is warranted is open to debate, as automakers are being investigated for chip hoarding and their unwillingness to move to more contemporary chip designs that are not in short supply.

Regardless of the outcome, the U.S. semiconductor industry is going through significant changes to shift manufacturing back to American soil. For example, Samsung will soon be opening a new fab in Austin, TX, and Intel/TSMC has begun building a large fab in Arizona.

The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) and Oxford Economics reported recently that robust federal incentives for domestic chip manufacturing would create an average of nearly 200,000 American jobs annually as fabs are built and may add nearly $25 billion yearly to the U.S. economy.

Some see the building of new fabrication facilities in the U.S. as a short-term solution, which is being fueled by the White House’s proposal to invest $37 billion in the sector.

A longer-term solution would be for the federal government to increase demand for chips by buying more U.S.-made semiconductors or investing in industries that need them.

More Jobs?

Will all of these activities result in more U.S. manufacturing jobs? The Semiconductor Industry Association (SAI) certainly thinks so. A recent joint study between the SAI and the Boston Consulting Group concluded that $50 billion in federal incentives could help produce 70,000 direct jobs and up to 19 manufacturing facilities over the next ten years.

These facilities might lead to a total of 400,000 jobs within that same 10-year time frame, based on the industry group's analysis that every direct job in the sector creates nearly five additional jobs.

Other analysts urge caution, noting that the average leading-edge, lowest node fab can cost between $15-20 billion to build. Further, these modern fabs are increasingly fully automated. This could mean fewer jobs and more automated smart machines.

But building new fabs in the U.S. is only part of the challenge. Any domestic industry would also need talent and local resources, which typically require education and immigration reform. These considerations are nothing new to the semiconductor industry, wrestling with such challenges for many years.

As the SAI has noted, the semiconductor manufacturing process is not suited to rapid shifts in demand since it takes time to ramp up semiconductor production. Making a semiconductor is one of the most complex manufacturing processes. Lead times of up to 26 weeks are the norm in the industry to produce a finished chip. Most industry analysts believe the current short-term supply shortage will ease in the coming months as supply adjusts to meet demand.

John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

Plastics Processors Mark Manufacturing Day by Touting Career Opportunities

Image: Manufacturing Institute Manufacturing Day logo

Nearly two years after the onset of COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, the plastics industry is marking this year’s Manufacturing Day on Oct. 1 with a renewed sense of purpose.

Celebrated on the first Friday of October, Manufacturing Day and the month of events it kicks off is prime time for producers to spotlight the benefits of joining a modern, high-tech workforce. And with manufacturers seeking to fill at least four million high-skill jobs over the next decade, according to the Manufacturing Institute, the need is more urgent than ever.

Apropos of the heroic role plastics have played during the pandemic, this year’s Manufacturing Day features the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) as an industry sponsor.

“Manufacturing Day is an incredible opportunity for plastics companies to literally open their doors and show people the tremendous career opportunities in the manufacturing industry,” said Tony Radoszewski, President and CEO of PLASTICS.

Key industry players are planning to do just that. For instance, PTI Engineered Plastics of Macomb, MI, will host approximately 30 students from Eisenhower High School in Shelby Township, said John Budreau, PTI’s Director of New Business Development.

Diverse careers available in manufacturing

“Though students are on a tight schedule for this event, we are planning to provide an overview of a multitude of careers available in manufacturing,” Budreau said. “They will learn about the process of bringing a plastic component to market through the stages of design, tooling, manufacturing, and assembly.” Video of PTI employee interviews and facilities will be available for students who cannot attend.

Meanwhile, Hoffer Plastics of South Elgin, IL, will sponsor an open house for media that will showcase:

  • Innovative career opportunities in manufacturing in a clean, high-tech environment with flexible work schedules.
  • Advances in creating products that are more sustainable and better for the environment — of special concern to the public at large and young people in particular, the company noted.
  • The integral role manufacturing plays in the United States.
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Left to right: Chief Culture Officer Charlotte Hoffer-Canning of Hoffer Plastics inspects equipment with Chief Revenue Officer Alex Hoffer and Chief Financial Officer Gretchen Hoffer Farb.


Plastics in the time of COVID

As the pandemic threw a curveball to many industries and companies, the plastics industry hit the challenge out of the park.

Hoffer, for instance, pivoted to the production of personal protective equipment (PPE) and health-related products like dispensers for hand sanitizers. And it did so while avoiding layoffs and maintaining customer service levels and community service commitments, the company noted.

Meanwhile, PTI “supported customers in the ventilator and oxygenator markets,” Budreau said. “We also developed and donated 150,000 face shields for PPE during the shortages that first responders were facing during the initial weeks and months of the pandemic. We support and produce many lifesaving and life-changing devices comprised of many plastic injection molded parts.” Among those, he said, are a backpack used by firefighters, a sizing template used to perform heart valve repair, and a technology that lets patients self-deliver medications at home, eliminating trips to a pharmacy or clinic.

Plastic materials “will continue to be a go-to choice as designers create new products,” he added, “primarily for cost, lightweight alternatives, aesthetics, and ease of manufacturing. Resin manufacturers and compounders continue to create engineered materials that offer new solutions for performance, durability, and custom color options.”

Ultimately, while short-term material and resource shortages continue to challenge the plastics industry and others, Manufacturing Day participants are eager to send a powerful message: Manufacturers not only make products that affect all aspects of people’s lives, they are committed to continuing to lead on environmental sustainability and social responsibility through continued innovation.

To find Manufacturing Day events across the country by location or company name, click here.

Ford Innovated the Assembly Line 100 Years Ago. Now, Ford has a Better Idea

A 1923 Model T receives its body on a moving assembly line (left), while a pre-production F-150 Lightning scoots through the plant on an automated guided carrier (right).

In recognition of the National Association of Manufacturers’ Manufacturing Day 2021, let’s take a look at more than a century of advances in automotive manufacturing at Ford Motor Co.

Ford founder Henry Ford is often popularly credited with inventing the mass production moving assembly line. He didn’t, but the company exploited and popularized this advance in manufacturing efficiency to make the Model T a mass-produced commodity rather than a hand-built luxury.

The slow old way of building cars involved car bodies being delivered by horse-drawn carriage and teams of workers assembling each automobile atop sawhorses. These teams of workers would rotate from one station to another to bring the vehicle together. The logistics of bringing in more parts to complete each car was a headache and late parts delivery caused pile-ups of workers contending for space.

J.J. Seaton wrote in Harper’s Weekly in January 1910 that “the man who can successfully solve this knotty question and produce a car that will be entirely sufficient mechanically, and whose price will be within the reach of millions who cannot yet afford automobiles, will not only grow rich but will be considered a public benefactor.”

Ford studied other industries’ practices, looking at brewing, canning, and steel manufacturing to get ideas on the best way to build cars. On Oct. 7, 1913, Henry Ford became the person to meet Seaton’s challenge, and it marked the beginning of a new era in automotive manufacturing. Ford’s Model T was intended to be a car anyone could afford, but until it was constructed by mass production on a moving assembly line, even this modest car remained beyond the means of most people.

On that first day, Ford’s team rigged a rudimentary final assembly line at the Highland Park Assembly plant. They rigged a rope with a winch that dragged cars along a 150-foot assembly line, where 140 workers swarmed the passing cars to assemble them. This rigged system was replaced by a permanent chain-driven assembly line in 1914.

Worker hours of final assembly dropped from more than 12 hours under the stationary assembly system to fewer than three. By 1924, a Model T required only 1.5 worker hours to complete. As a result, production soared and costs plummeted. In 1912, Ford produced 82,388 Model Ts and the touring car sold for $600. By 1916, Model T production had risen to 585,388, and the price had dropped to $360.

Today, carmakers like Ford are moving away from traditional assembly lines, and to conveyances that are reminiscent of the carts that carried early cars around assembly plants.

Corey Williams, plant manager at Ford’s Dearborn Truck Plant described the new Rouge Electric Vehicle Center plant for the F-150 Lightning. “The [plant’s] interior will look much different than its next-door neighbor, Dearborn Truck Plant,” he said. “There won’t be any conveyors on the plant floor. Instead, automated guided carriers will move the vehicles from workstation to workstation like a well-choreographed ballet.”

These dancing carriers provide greater flexibility than the traditional steel assembly line conveyor systems, Williams explained. “The great thing about this is our flexibility in production. When customer demand goes up, we can flex our production with these automated guided carriers and we don’t have to physically take a conveyance line and move it.”

Ford is spending nearly $1 billion on the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center to create a manufacturing home for the F-150 Lightning. Only time will tell whether this factory’s opening will be a watershed, like installing the moving assembly line in the Highland Park plant was in 1913.

How to Build a Better Off-Road Camper Using 3D CAD Design Software

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RKS Off-Road designed the Purpose trailer using Dassault Systemes 3D CAD software.

The pandemic has sparked a boom in interest in camping trailers, and Design News even went camping with one to test the Ford Pro Trailer Backup Assist system.

But while we parked our trailer in a National Park Service campground with paved roads, more ambitious campers want to haul their trailers where there may be only a trace of a path. For this kind of trailer camping, RKS Off-Road is developing high-riding off-road camping machines.

RKS says it is redefining the recreational vehicle industry with its quality-first approach to designing, manufacturing, and customizing off-road trailers. Designing a trailer that combines off-road towability with practicality and comfort is a stern task. To marry these requirements, RKS is using Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE software. Design News talked with RKS Off-Road co-founder and managing partner of RKS Off-Road, Elisabeth Gritsch about their use of the software.

Design News: How is RKS Off-Road using Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE software?

Elisabeth Gritsch: RKS is utilizing Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE software from initial concept design through the completion of the development process. In addition to using the core 3D math model functionalities of CATIA and the entire BOM (bill of material) features, RKS is managing all existing and planned product configurations through the system as well as issue management and project management activities. The out-of-the-box change management ties all the project/issue-management features nicely to CAD and BOM activities. 

Design News: What drove RKS Off-Road’s partnership with Dassault Systèmes?

Elisabeth Gritsch: Choosing 3DEXPERIENCE was a natural selection for us as we had a previous positive experience from our roots in the automotive industry and the knowledge that 3DEXPERIENCE is one of the most modern and holistic PLM systems on the market.

Design News: What are the advantages of the Dassault Systèmes platform over RKS Off-Road’s previous software solution?

Elisabeth Gritsch: RKS started out with 3DEXPERIENCE. We wanted a system that had the capability to grow with us, without overpowering the organization with complicated IT infrastructure. Furthermore, the holistic approach of 3DEXPERIENCE enables us to have everything part/product related in one system and therefore streamlines the data flow and increases quality and speed.

Design News: How is RKS Off-Road employing the software to improve its products and what’s been the impact of the cloud on the business?

Elisabeth Gritsch: RKS is utilizing the issue management feature which manages all potential and existing improvements. That feature combined with the change management process allows for early issue and change evaluation and thus, quick reaction to any situation that may come up. Additionally, having all apps which help you drive your project forward in one system is a huge benefit in streamlining and reducing unnecessary interfaces. As for the cloud impact, there’s been a substantial financial benefit as we no longer have to worry about expensive and heavy infrastructure and resources. We can focus on developing and building our products instead of worrying about IT topics.

Design News: Describe the creation process. How do you come up with your design? How do you innovate in an established category?

Elisabeth Gritsch: Our team members are avid outdoor enthusiasts and off-roaders. Our innovations come from real-life experiences and needs. We have a long history in renting and managing RVs and know the shortcomings of that industry. Our roots are in the automotive and aerospace industry and it’s important to listen to feedback from our dealers. We monitor different trends and communicating with customers feeds our innovation process.

Design News: Where do you see RKS Off-Road in the next 10 years?

Elisabeth Gritsch: We will continue to innovate and modernize this industry. The next product will be a larger trailer with an even more modular set-up, featuring industry-changing technology. Our newest product will be launching in 2022. After that, we’ll continue to launch new products and innovations on a regular basis. Our vision and mission summarize our core believes and values we stand for. We will build on these and bring uncompromising quality, technology focused products to the market.

Dangerous Environmental Changes Are Here. Do We Act or Remain Afraid?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released the first portion of its Sixth Assessment Report on how climate change is altering the planet’s natural systems and environmental states. These changes are leading to worsening extreme weather events around the world.

The IPCC’s periodic reports are drafted by a consortium of the world’s top climate scientists and experts. The purpose of their work is to establish a technical foundation for policymakers to address climate change on multiple fronts, such as mitigation, adaptation, and assessing future risks.

This gallery highlights only some of the takeaways and how technology can help. These summaries present a grim finding but not one without hope.

John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

Creating a Connected Plant? Learn How to Build a Better I/O System

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Using an I/O system is an effective way to manage plant data. The input-output (I/O) system transfers information between the computer's main memory and the outside world. An I/O system is composed of I/O devices (peripherals), I/O control units, and software to carry out the I/O transaction through a sequence of I/O operations.

For intelligent and reliable data transmission, a flexible and cost-effective I/O system is essential. Belden builds I/O systems that offer a variety of solutions that range from passive distribution boxes, Fieldbus and modular I/O systems to high-performance modules.

Connecting the Data

Belden uses IO-Link as a standardized I/O technology to enable smart communication with sensors and actuators. The IO-Link Masters allow easy integration into the most common industrial PLC environments. The technology is multiprotocol capable and ready for Industry 4.0 due to several IIoT protocols on board. It is designed to be a fast, reliable, and secure solution for collecting, converting, and transmitting critical data in automated production environments.

Distributed Control Units

The distributed I/O control units manage the data flow. They include:

  • Flexible designs: Replace modules by using universal channels—without any configuration—that can work across a variety of protocols
  • Power distribution options: Compact power distribution with an option for M12 Power
  • Secure automation: With integrated intelligence, DCU1 ensures that control applications can run, even if a PLC fails.

Here's some background on I/O systems:

We caught up with Raymond DiVirgilio, a senior solution services engineer at Belden, to learn how to build a better I/O system.

Design News: What are your customers seeking in an I/O system?

Raymond DiVirgilio: Today, we see our end users and integrators moving to an Ethernet-based I/O system. Older I/O controls are being replaced from the serial (remote I/O, Device Net, etc.) to Ethernet I/O-based controls. In addition, I/O link is surfacing more for both discrete and analog I/O. New I/O-based controls are all Ethernet for both replacements of a machine, for instance, a material handling system, and new equipment for either addition to an existing piece of equipment or a new build.

DN: What issues are they working to solve?

DiVirgilio: Issues that are being solved are faster communication to I/O and reducing downtime by adding On machine Ethernet I/O for both faster deployment and startup as well as having communications to hand-held devices that have the ability to read the status of their production lines. It is also used to receive information about a potential problem that could cause downtime or a piece of equipment that is down and requires a technician.

DN: Do you help with the design and the device selection? And what are some of the devices involved?

DiVirgilio: Both yes and no. Our Solutions Team can provide assistance in the design and selection if requested. We provide guidance on managed Ethernet switches, firewall devices, cybersecurity for deep packet inspection devices, and monitoring software.

DN: What troubleshooting is involved in developing the system?

DiVirgilio: I would not describe it as troubleshooting, but rather before assisting in the design we can provide a full network assessment to identify the area’s where our Solution Consultants would identify the area’s and suggest a design that would achieve the best design that would reduce downtime and improve the network speed by reducing the amount of traffic over an Ethernet network by segmentation of the control system.

DN: What are the quality checks?

DiVirgilio: Our Solutions and Services Team review the design and can provide assistance if requested by the customer.

DN: How involved are you with the system after deployment?

DiVirgilio: Depending on the customer request, we can provide any assistance requested after the control system has been deployed.

Ready for a Breakthrough? This Robot Rolls Uphill and Climbs Stairs

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Researchers have fabricated self-assembling soft robots that can move in surprising and nimble ways when heated, rolling uphill, and navigating stairs among their autonomous capabilities.

A team from Tianjin University in China fabricated the robots through 4D printing, creating an object that moves in response to stimuli. In the case of the soft robots developed by materials scientist Wei Feng and his team, the stimulus that elicited a movement is heat.

The initial phase of the robot is as a flat, rectangular sheet of a 3D-printed liquid crystal elastomer, which is a type of stretchy plastic material. When the surface below the robot is heated, it will transform spontaneously into a tube-like object, similar to a spring, they said. This adds time as the fourth dimension to the printing process, hence the robot’s fabrication by 4D printing.

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Researchers developed 4D-printed soft robots out of a liquid-crystal elastomer that moves in various ways autonomously in response to heat.

After forming into its first autonomous shape, the heat causes the robot to move in other ways—some of which surprised researchers, Feng said. The robot can roll in one direction, with the driving force behind the movement so strong that it can climb up a 20-degree incline or even carry a load 40 times its own weight, he said.

“Like an insect with antennae, the robot can surmount a small obstacle. But when the obstacle is too high, it will turn back,” Feng said in a press statement. “The whole process is spontaneous without human interference or control.”

Racing Robots

Researchers found that the length of the robots they printed affected the speed with which the heat caused them to roll; longer robots rolled faster than shorter ones.

The length of the robot affects its velocity, with longer robots rolling faster than their shorter counterparts. This was demonstrated in tests in which robots of various lengths raced each other, researchers said, documenting their antics on video. One robot even was shown pulling a cart.

The soft robots even changed behavior based on their surroundings, Feng said. When a robot would encounter an insurmountable obstacle, for example, it would either change directions or climb of a step, for example.

All in all, how the robots behaved was not exactly what researchers expected when they decided to print elastomers and see how they would respond to various stimuli, Feng acknowledged. We found many interesting driving phenomena besides deformation,” he said in a press statement.

Researchers published a paper on their work in the journal Matter.

Feng and his team envision that the robots could one day be used to perform work in small, confined places where it would be difficult for humans to enter or move, such as in a pipe. The robots also could be used to access and perform tasks on extremely hot surfaces that would be dangerous to humans, he said.

Feng also hopes the work can inform future robotic design to create soft robots that have more freedom of movement, he added.

“We hope that soft robots will no longer be limited to simple actuators, which can only change shape in a fixed position,” Feng said in a press statement.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco, and New York City. In her free time, she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga, and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

LG Chem Finds the Solution to its Chevrolet Bolt EV Battery Problems

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A 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV rolls off the assembly line.

General Motors has resumed production of the Chevrolet Bolt EV and EUV models after collaborating with battery supplier LG Chem to identify and solve the assembly error that was causing fires in the vehicles’ batteries.

The company acknowledged that the underlying cause of the battery fires was a combination of manufacturing defects. If the battery’s anode is torn during the assembly process, and one of the cell separators also gets a fold in it, that cell was at risk for a fire.

“It is a machine thing,” University of Michigan Battery Lab Technical Director Greg Less told Design News. “Somewhere along the line in the process of the cells being made, something was catching, causing the anode to tear and the separator to fold,” he said.

“This is obviously a problem that can happen,” Less explained. “You have to check the machine. That’s something we have to do here. We are smaller and slower so it is easier for us to catch a mistake.”

The batteries could tolerate one of the mistakes or the other, but not both in the same cell, according to Less. “If it was just a torn anode or just a folded separator, it would have been fine.

It is that both these issues happened in the same cell that we had fires.”

But the corrections to the assembly process should “absolutely” be able to provide batteries that drivers can trust now that the problems have been identified and addressed, he said.

Now, the LG battery plants in Holland and Hazel Park, Michigan, have resumed production. In fact, the plants are boosting production so that they can provide replacement battery modules for dealers to install in cars that are already on the road.

“We’re grateful for the patience of owners and dealers as we work to advance solutions to this recall,” said Doug Parks, GM executive vice president, Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain.

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The 60 kWh lithium-ion battery pack in the Chevrolet Bolt uses liquid cooling to keep the battery operating at its optimum temperature.

“Resuming battery module production is a first step and we’ll continue to work aggressively with LG to obtain additional battery supply,” he said. “In addition, we’re optimistic a new advanced diagnostic software will provide more convenience for our customers.” 

That software will be available for installation by Chevrolet dealers in approximately 60 days, according to GM, and it will increase the charging parameters for the cars beyond the company’s current guidance to drivers.

The diagnostic software will be designed to detect specific abnormalities that might indicate a damaged battery by monitoring the battery performance. It will alert customers of any anomalies and prioritizing damaged battery modules for replacement. The goal is to allow customers to return to a 100 percent state of charge once all diagnostic processes are complete.

The new batteries will include an extended battery 8-year/100,000-mile limited warranty.

The LG/GM battery problems should not be viewed as an indication that EV battery problems are inevitable, said Less. Rather, each problem that is encountered as lithium-ion cells are developed is checked off and avoided in the future.

“The industry says, ‘Oh, we can’t let that happen again,’” he said. “And they find a fix. More inspection or a different design of how these machines work, they get the problem solved.”

While lithium batteries have had some high-profile development problems, they are getting less frequent as battery know-how matures, he noted. It has been a while since we’ve had problems with laptop batteries. It is a learning process.”

Rivian Ushers in the Age of Electric Pickup Trucks With the Impressive R1T

While Tesla has grabbed headlines showing off the ambitiously styled Cybertruck, General Motors has amazed with its planned Hummer EV’s four-wheel steering, and Ford has pocketed orders by the thousands for its F-150 Lightning electric pickup, startup Rivian has quietly slipped past them all, delivering the first all-electric full-size pickup to market.

The R1T (which will be accompanied later by the R1S full-size SUV) delivers on the promise hyped by its rivals, but unlike those other trucks, it is rolling off the assembly line at Rivian’s Normal, Ill. factory and into customers driveways today.

We’ve been able to put the R1T through its paces climbing the mountains around Breckenridge, Colorado, where the truck’s electric drivetrain not only demonstrated its superior off-road traction management, but also its immunity to the effects of thin air that would sap a combustion vehicle’s power at the 12,600-foot summit we climbed.

Rivian, which was founded in 2008, initially planned to build sport coupes, but seeing the popularity of pickup trucks and SUVs, pivoted to America’s largest market segment for its planned vehicles. Our off-road drive confirmed that electric power is not only more effective at doling out power exactly where it is needed when scrambling up a rock-strewn climb, its serene power delivery also produces less noise, heat, and drama than a combustion-powered Jeep Wrangler or Ford Bronco would.

As with our drive in the hybrid-electric Wrangler 4xe, we found that driving remote trails with silent electric power provides an experience nearly like hiking, and we snuck up on and spooked a fox while driving to prove it. And while hiking might sometimes be more fun, at 12,600 feet, it is probably just as well to let the truck do the work.

The Rivian has three off-road driving modes to help optimize the suspension, steering, and traction control for the conditions at hand. They are Off-Road Auto, Rock Crawl, and Rally, and each changes the ride height, throttle response, and power delivery to target those conditions.

On the road, the R1T is perhaps even more of a revelation. There, it has All-Purpose, Sport, Conserve, and Tow drive modes. The truck employs the same Tenneco cross-linked hydraulic damper system used by McLaren supercars (with some changes for off-roading), and the system that works so well on sports cars provides nothing short of miraculous results in a truck

Not only do the dampers contribute to the R1T’s off-road ability, but by adjusting them every 5 milliseconds, the truck’s on-road comfort and handling are astonishing. Sport mode stiffens the suspension for maximum handling, but we found that the All-Purpose setting delivers practically the same handling without the ride quality sacrifice of Sport.

Conserve saves battery power when the truck is running low, and Tow is for using the R1T’s 11,000-lb. towing capacity.

Towing would quickly sap the truck’s EPA-rated 314-mile driving range, though we found the truck has more than enough range when driving without a heavy trailer.

Base price for the R1T is $67,500, and our tested Adventure trim model lists for $73,000. Average price for a pickup truck in 2021 is $55,600, so the EV premium here is not that much. We expect that factory to be running at full speed to meet demand for the R1T.

Debating Diversity on the Trade Show Floor

Image: Friends Stock/Adobe Stock businesspeople in a footrace

I think it’s fair to say, simply as an observation, that women and people of color are underrepresented at plastics industry events. That’s not to say there are systemic reasons or malign intent in this underrepresentation — although some will argue that there are — but it is a fact, and the question we have to wrestle with is this: What should we do about it? The Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) is taking a bold step in getting this conversation started with roundtable discussions at upcoming Plastec and Advanced Manufacturing events organized by Informa Markets – Engineering, which also produces PlasticsToday.

Described by Informa Markets – Engineering as “an engaging mix of keynotes, panel discussions, 'TED Talk' style sessions, audience interaction, and networking opportunities," the roundtables will address how top companies are fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in their organizations, the business case for DEI, how to lead by becoming a change-maker, and more. The first roundtable is scheduled for Advanced Manufacturing East, which includes several co-located shows including Plastec East and Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) in New York on Dec. 6 and 7, 2021. The conversation will continue in Anaheim, CA, at Advanced Manufacturing West in April 2022; Charlotte, NC, in June; and Minneapolis in November.

The demographics of most plastic industry events are consistent with the most recent data from the US Census Bureau and Department of Labor showing the composition of the workforce in manufacturing overall and the plastics industry specifically, Patrick Farrey, SPE CEO, told PlasticsToday. According to that data, while women make up roughly half of the total US population, they represent 29.5% of the national manufacturing workforce. It’s worth noting that they are a slightly greater percentage of the plastics products manufacturing workforce at 33.4%. The nonwhite population in the United States stands at 39.4%, but holds only 20.3% of manufacturing jobs and 19.6% of plastics manufacturing jobs. “This very fundamental data is consistent with the attendance demographics we observe at most plastics industry events,” said Farrey. “The audiences there are largely comprised of white males, with females and people of color underrepresented when compared with the overall population and the overall employment population.” Having this conversation, however, should not be misconstrued as “taking away opportunity from anyone,” stressed Farrey.

SPE/CanvaPatrick Farrey, SPE CEO

“I’m old enough to remember when affirmative action was weaponized in the workplace, taking opportunities for employment and advancement away from certain people and giving them to others just based on race,” Farrey told PlasticsToday. “This is clearly not that! SPE, and any organization appropriately committed to the tenets of DEI, share the goal of creating more opportunity for more people. We intend to encourage and empower people from underrepresented groups to seek employment opportunities in the plastics industry, and to support them so they may achieve equitable success within those careers.”

Promoting greater diversity within work environments also reaps business rewards and is an essential component for companies that want to attract younger employees to replace an aging workforce. Farrey points to “a ton of current research” showing the benefits for businesses that embrace the principles of DEI. He cites an article in the September issue of Plastics Engineering magazine, written by editor-in-chief Pat Toensmeier. He writes: “There are many (business) benefits to DEI strategies. Research indicates that businesses with a commitment to DEI achieve greater product innovation, higher market share, improved cash flow, and increased profitability than those without such programs, or which lag in their implementation….”

A commitment to DEI principles may also be a critical factor in recruiting young workers. “Anecdotally, I hear from SPE’s young professional members their desire to work for companies with a social conscience on matters like DEI and the environment. A July survey from Glassdoor reported that 76% of employees and jobseekers believe that a diverse workforce is an important factor in deciding what company to work for. Even if your company isn’t paying attention to DEI, your future workforce is,” said Farrey.

The particulars of the roundtables as well as participants is a work in progress, but Informa Markets – Engineering has announced that the DEI sessions will take place over two days at the events, with a half-day of discussions on day one followed by a reception, and a full day of presentations and lunch the second day of the event. More information will be posted on the DEI page of the SPE website as it becomes available.