Author Archive | Jane Alexander


8:32 pm
October 18, 2016
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Schneider Electric Speeds, Simplifies Utility-Operator Decisions with Predictive Asset Analytics Suite for Power Generation

screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-1-28-45-pmNews from the Schneider Electric “Maximize Return on Assets” Users Group Conference in Chicago this week includes today’s announcement on the release of Predictive Asset Analytics Suite for Power Generation. Built on the company’s Avantis PriSM platform, the product helps utility operators minimize outage disruptions, improve cross-department collaboration, and increase operational agility.

According to the Lake Forest-based manufacturer, this Asset Performance Management (APM) solution can drive safer, more reliable, and sustainable operational efficiency while providing a digital framework to transform business value.

How It Works
Predictive Asset Analytics Suite for Power Generation provides a closed loop performance management framework to let decision makers contextualize real-time performances across their fleet, perform causal analysis of any non-conformity, and then create a template of the resulting knowledge for later use, thus reducing downtime from future non-conformity incidents. Part of Schneider Electric’s comprehensive Enterprise APM platform, it bridges skills and process gaps with smart technology, by combining advanced predictive analytics with knowledge management, and decision support to maximize asset availability. Schneider Electric notes that the solution offers a simplified and enriched data-analysis and reporting framework, delivered by way of a single user interface with an integrated flow of intelligence. By digitizing operations and decision-support knowledge, power generation operators have new opportunities to transform their businesses along with their workforce.

As Doug Warren, vice president, Industry Solutions at Schneider Electric, explained the new offering, “Power-generation operators must increasingly operate with greater collaboration across departments, driving a need for a single version of the truth across stakeholders and an ability to better manage information across multiple systems, people, and processes.” Predictive Asset Analytics Suite for this sector, he said, enables information-sharing by connecting multiple systems with context to ensure process rigors are followed in terms of ownership, which ultimately simplifies collaborative decision-making.

Schneider Electric notes that it has worked closely with utility providers to deliver reliable power to homes and businesses since the end of the 19th century. Predictive Asset Analytics Suite builds upon that knowledge, adds subscription-model pricing options, and is bundled with a comprehensive Customer FIRST maintenance and support program. As a result, power generation operators can incorporate intelligent information into their processes and digitize that knowledge to achieve and sustain operational excellence.

To learn more, CLICK HERE.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The 2016 “Maximize Return on Assets” Avantis User’s Group Conference runs through Wed., Oct. 19, at the Loews Chicago Hotel. For information on upcoming Schneider Electric Software  events, including the company’s “Empowering the Mobile Workforce in Process Industries” conference in Houston (Dec. 5-7, 2016), CLICK  HERE.



3:13 am
October 16, 2016
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Festo Opens Logistic & Assembly Operations Near Cincinnati


The manufacturing and distribution (assembly and logistics) operations at Festo’s recently opened Regional Service Center in Mason, OH, (RSC Mason), near Cincinnati, are within a day’s drive (10 hrs. by truck) of 70 % of the company’s North American customers. (Photo: Festo AG & Co. KG)

(Photo: Festo AG & Co. KG)

Festo’s recent opening of a 225,000-sq. ft. Regional Service Center (RSC) in Mason, OH (near Cincinnati), is said to have tripled capacities of the pneumatic and electric-automation giant.

Among other things, the $70-million state-of-the-art distribution and manufacturing (logistics and assembly) facility features a highly automated order-picking system, that, according to the company, is not only unique to the North American manufacturing landscape, it’s as sophisticated as the warehouse systems that keep today’s top retailers up and running. With a storage capacity of 65,000 bins, RSC Mason has seven high-performance picking stations and the capability to pick and pack 1,000 items per hour. The new operation allows for increased flexibility and speed, improved services, and plenty of space for future growth, while supporting Festo’s continued expansion in the NAFTA market (U.S., Canada, and Mexico). All of this seems well in line with a company that refers to itself as “the engineers of productivity.”

In addition to its investment in the new RSC, Festo U.S. is also continuing to increase its distribution network and sales force that, along with the Mason operation, will support ongoing industrial growth in Mexico, a market that’s fast becoming a heavyweight in the automotive sector. The site, in fact, has Foreign Trade Zone status, making it faster and more efficient for the company to support customers across the U.S. Canada, and Mexico from a central location.

Essential: Staying Close Customers
Festo has made it clear that its decision to locate the RSC in Mason wasn’t made lightly, but rather to help optimize the supply chain. While a major factor in the site selection was the region’s wealth of talent (thanks to a number of technical schools and colleges), its efficient highway systems, several airports, and the nearby, expanded DHL distribution facility were also strong selling points.

The result of being located in this “heart” of North American industry, explained Yannick Schilly, head of Product Supply NAFTA and RSC Mason, is that “we will be closer to our customers.” That’s something Festo considers essential. (As an example, the company is pointing to the fact that 70% of the North American customers for its thousands of different products, including drives, motors, controllers, valves, sensors, and other systems and components, are now within just a day’s drive [10 hours by truck] of the new facility.)

Another Essential: Technical Training/Workforce Development
RSC Mason is also home to the Festo Learning Center and a recently created two-year Mechatronics Apprenticeship Program (MAP2). The program is an initiative of Festo Didactic (the company’s technical training arm) in partnership with Sinclair Community College and five companies in the Cincinnati tri-state area (Art Metal Group, Clippard Instruments, Festo Inc., MQ Automation, and Nestlé). Built on the German apprenticeship model of dual education wherein participants learn in a classroom and while holding a steady job, the program’s mission is to help employers develop skills that are missing in today’s workforce by combining theoretical education with hands-on and on-the-job training.

The current (inaugural) MAP2 class includes 11 apprentices. Each week, they spend one day in classes at Sinclair Community College classes, one day at the Learning Center in Mason using state-of-the-art equipment, and three days working in their respective employers’ operations. This process and schedule allows them to take what they learn in class, practice it at the Festo Learning Center, and then use their new knowledge and skills in real-life work environments.

About Festo
Festo AG is a global manufacturer and independent family-owned company with headquarters in Esslingen, near Stuttgart, Germany. It supplies pneumatic and electrical-automation technology to 300,000 customers in over 40 industries. Festo’s products and services are available in 176 countries. For more information, CLICK HERE.





4:21 pm
October 13, 2016
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On The Floor: Pros and Cons — Panelists Discuss Succession Plans

By Jane Alexander, Managing Editor

Arbeiter in einer Industrieanlage - Raffinerie zur VerarbeitungThe Maintenance Technology editorial team travels a lot. No matter where we go or whatever industry event we attend, we can always count on concerns about replenishment of the skilled-worker ranks to surface (with an emphasis on reliability and maintenance professionals). While countless public, private, and academic initiatives, many of them supported by leading OEMs, are on the case, we wonder about the approaches that end-user organizations are taking. The topic seemed ripe for October’s Reader Panel discussion. To start the conversation, we posed the following questions.

— Did their organizations (or their customer/client organizations) have succession plans to fill key reliability and maintenance positions?

— If these plans were in place (or in the works), how were prospective successors identified and groomed?

— How did these organizations attract and qualify candidates and, eventually train them, if hired?

Our Panelists are encouraged to answer any or all questions with as little or as much detail as they care to provide. Edited, as always, for brevity and clarity, here is some of what they shared in this month’s responses.

Plant Engineer, Institutional Facilities, Midwest…

[Our institution] uses the Civil Service System to hire/promote trade employees. The system register lists all candidates that have taken and passed a Civil Service test for specific trade positions, along with full resumes (including required certificates/licenses). Each trade has a set of minimum requirements. Providing they meet such requirements, current employees can take a Civil Service promotional test to be added to that register.

Candidates listed in the Civil Service System promotional register could fill in for a higher position on a supplemental basis. That would give those candidates some experience for when openings occur. They would also be informed of any classes they might want to take to improve their qualifications.

As for attracting job candidates] the institution offers prevailing wages and tier-one benefits to employees in the trades (although some changes have occurred because of a state budget crisis and other issues.)

Engineer, Process Industries, Southeast…

No [we don’t have formal succession plans]. Since we have a small facility and staff, we use outside contractors and manufacturers for a lot of our maintenance work.

We have hired maintenance personnel from other area plants and from some of the same contractors that have worked on site with us.

Pay, benefits, and working conditions at our facility are in the top 50% for this area. We do send employees to specialized training with the manu-facturer of our equipment and have brought the manufacturer on site for training.

Maintenance Leader, Discrete Mfg, Midwest…

We have back-ups for some positions. A case in point would be for my position: I’ve recently been out recently [for personal reasons], and we’ve been able to bring in one of our other tradesman. He basically had a short training period working with me. From what I understand, he’s doing a great job. The only area where he is lacking is having a strong contact list (which took me a number of years to achieve).

We attract job candidates through the normal channels (employment services and also social media). I noticed that our company recently used Facebook as a way to reach potential trades and engineering personnel. When trades people are hired, they’re generally put with a senior person and evaluated by him or her for a short time.

I can say that in my 17 years here, we’ve only had a very small number of people that were not able to catch on and were released by the company. Overall, we have had a pretty good workforce!

Maintenance Supervisor, Process Industries, Canada…

No formal succession plans at this time. We’re currently working with just enough staff to accomplish our repairs. With not much time for PM or projects, they’re farmed out.

We tend to “grow our own” for the maintenance-manager positions. Others in production are hired from outside the company. We will use an outside firm to put together a prospective list of candidates for us.

Maintenance Engineer, Discrete Mfg, Midwest…

With our managers starting to retire, we’ve begun the succession-planning process. We’ve tried to hire from within, but some skill sets have caused us to hire a few individuals from outside the company. We also found some bad practices with the start of this succession planning and are trying to fix them on the fly.

We try to use past experience on our production floor for in-house personnel and often pull from our quality department (inspectors) to fill front-line supervisor positions. We often tried to use our better machine operators to fill machine technician roles, but found our machine training was lacking. So now we are paying to train new technicians and incorporate the updated training programs from here on out.

When we do hire from outside, a recuiting agency pre-checks candidates before any interviewing process begins. Our company has made hiring military veterans a priority.

College Electrical Laboratory, Manager/Instructor, West…

We have succession programs set up for several departments.

Senior maintenance staff members are assigned newer people to train as apprentices. My management position is covered by many of the senior maintenance personnel and in management training programs.

We try our best to promote from within. Most employees have attended Career Track interviews where we discuss what they want to do when they “grow up” in the organization. We then jointly set up plans for training and outside education to help them reach their goals. (We pay for their college classes and textbooks.)

To attract suitable staff candidates, we are involved in career fairs and recruiting seminars, and encourage refererrals from employees. Combined, these approaches supply a good group to consider for open positions.

Retired Plant Engineer, Industry Consultant, Canada…

In the plants I managed, trade succession was always an issue. Attracting prospective employees with sufficient experience on our particular systems was problematic. Those with vested seniority were unwilling to make the switch, and the less experienced were often doubtful we could provide them with the job security they already had.

We deliberated and argued, but eventually each plant settled on home-grown apprentices, with a defined path of promotion to [the positions of] lead-hand and supervisor. I learned that my own promotion was unlikely unless I groomed a lieutenant, and after setting up the trade training, I ensured that I could likewise move up (or out).

We decided that college graduates were the best pool to consider, and devised several auxiliary tests to narrow that group. We occasionally head hunted, but for the most part, the individuals we found weren’t permanent; they continued to be hunted.

Those plants (and many of my previous clients) are currently struggling with immigrant trades and college technicians to fill the gap left by retirement. But the pickings are slim.

A significant problem [as I see it] is that most immigrants have not had the solid technical schooling that we had when Europe was the primary source of immigrant trades. With a crowded curriculum, colleges seem to allow their grads to fall short of the “enabling’ skills that we previously took for granted.

What could improve the situation?

Plants should have in-house, hands-on classes that identify and gap-fill critical skills that enable mechanics to perform more complex ‘terminal’ tasks, i.e., having the discriminatory skills to identify the wear on a chain or sprocket as being within allowable limits, or the torque to be used when tightening packing glands on a pump.

One major factor that too many plants ignore is that the experience and skill of their best workers are transitory—gone with the products shipped or services provided. Their lasting legacy is the skills and knowledge they can pass on. Every plant should identify who has what and make it mandatory that be captured for posterity in a process that ensures it can be delivered to the next successors. That is what apprenticeships are designed to do, even in places where they are not officially recognized as a critical trade. A plant that retires any of their valuable employees without capturing their ‘special’ skills and knowledge is “throwing the baby out with the bath water.”

*Paper tests are valueless! Mechanics, electricians, technicians, etc., use tools and equipment on mechanisms and/or circuits. Thus, a test should be typical of a tough task that makes a difference to the plant’s performance. The time it takes and the number of wrong moves should also be taken into account.

I used a competency test for every hire, It took up to six hours and the plant paid the test-takers at the advertised rate. I also insisted that they bring their own tools so that I could gauge how well they cared for them and what level of skill they had at using their own property. (It’s too easy for people to make excuses about unfamiliar tools.) I also wanted see if they used adjustable rather than combination or box-end wrenches; if vise grips were their go-to tool; and in what condition their tools and toolboxes were. MT

This online post of the October 2016 installment of “On the Floor” is an expanded version of the material in the print magazine.


7:26 pm
October 10, 2016
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Consider Your Air Compressor’s Maintenance Budget


Forgetting or deferring maintenance can cause annual air-compressor costs to skyrocket. Updated annually, an air-compressor’s maintenance budget can reveal maintenance patterns that help you schedule and perform future preventive work.

Large capital purchases, such as compressors, require careful planning and financial forecasting. After the initial cost, many organizations still have to pay down interest and principle. While they typically include those line items in their budgets, they often forget to factor in another crucial cost: annual maintenance. According to Atlas Copco’s Trey Ragsdale, while maintenance only composes about 5% to 10% of annual compressor-related expenditures, those costs can increase exponentially if maintenance is forgotten or deferred, causing unexpected and expensive downtime.

Compared with the overall life-cycle cost of compressor ownership, maintenance expenditures are minimal. A sound maintenance budget will help ensure they stay that way. To develop an accurate picture of these costs, Ragsdale, who’s with the company’s Compressor Technique Service (CTS) division in Rock Hill, SC, says it’s important for end users to pay attention to these seven aspects of their compressor systems:

Type of compressor
The type of compressor(s) you run can greatly affect service costs. For instance, oil-lubricated compressors have more oil to change than oil-free compressors, thus increasing the cost of service.

Installation conditions
Equipment installed in severe-duty applications may require more-frequent service. If your compressor is housed in a hot, humid, or dusty area, take that fact into account when planning your maintenance budget.

Operating cycle
If your equipment operates on a cyclical schedule—seasonal production is a good example—your maintenance schedule will need to be adjusted accordingly. Remember that your equipment should never go more than a year between service interventions.

randmDegree of utilization
Generally, maintenance requirements grow with increased equipment-operation hours. If you have back-up compressors and auxiliary equipment, operating hours can be cycled and the maintenance schedule lengthened.

Cooling system
Your cooling-system’s maintenance requirements should be evaluated separately from your compressed-air equipment. The type of cooling system also affects the compressor service schedule. If you house an open cooling tower or air-cooled compressors in a space with dust, particulates, or lint in the air, the compressor’s coolers could need more frequent cleaning.

Auxiliary equipment
It’s not just your compressors that have to be serviced regularly; dryers, filters, and other associated compressed-air equipment also require service. Keep in mind that auxiliary equipment often needs more-frequent servicing than the compressors.

Safety levels
An organization’s safety policies also define how often its equipment must be serviced or inspected. Knowing your company’s requirements up front can help you avoid unforeseen costs later.

In addition
Ragsdale said it’s important to review and restructure your air-compressor’s maintenance budget each year. Changing conditions, i.e., added compressor units, increased air demand, and other factors, may alter how much money you need to set aside to keep equipment and processes running smoothly. Annual maintenance can also reveal inefficiencies in equipment that is underperforming or overworked. Generating and updating this type of budget can reveal patterns that will help you schedule and perform future preventive work.

Regarding the service-agreement approach: High-quality agreements will detail a plan that covers regular maintenance, machine upgrades or improvements, and breakdown repairs at a fixed annual cost. A baseline of your annual compressor-maintenance costs can show you if a service agreement is worth your time
and money. MT

—Jane Alexander, Managing Editor

For more information on compressed air systems and services, visit


7:03 pm
October 10, 2016
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Milwaukee Tool Cordless, Self-Priming M18 Transfer Pump Meets Water-Removal Challenges

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-12-58-49-pmWisconsin-based Milwaukee Tool (Milwaukee) says the company’s recently introduced M18 Transfer Pump for water removal is the first self-priming, cordless pump of its type.

Completely self-priming, it’s designed with a flexible impeller that, once turned on, starts pumping water instantly from inlet to outlet without the need for additional priming assistance. This flexible impeller also helps create a powerful pressure difference that can produce an 18-ft. lift.

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-1-10-46-pmWith a capacity of 480 GPH (gal. per hr.) and head height of 75 ft., the M18 Transfer Pump is suitable for a variety of water-removal challenges. Equipped with the manufacturer’s advanced REDLINK Intelligence system, these units are protected against dry pumping by their ability to switch themselves off when an application is complete. This capability helps protect the motor, thus maximizing service life and allowing users to perform other tasks without worrying about damaging the pump.

The battery connects to the pump in a splash-proof compartment on the back of the unit. This compartment is large enough to fit all M18 battery packs. In addition, a clear viewing window provides better visibility to the impeller, allowing the user to quickly troubleshoot blockages or other issues.

The M18 Transfer Pump comes with two ¾-in. brass threads to fit all major brands of hose connections. It’s offered as a bare tool (pump alone) or as a kit (which includes an M18 REDLITHIUM XC Extended Capacity Battery and M18 & M12 Multi-Voltage Charger).

For more information, CLICK HERE.


5:46 pm
October 5, 2016
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Schneider Electric Wonderware LIVE Spotlights Groundbreaking Offerings

screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-1-27-12-pmThe Schneider Electric Wonderware LIVE North American User’s event in Orlando this week put the spotlight on a number of new Wonderware offerings. Announcements, among others, included release of information regarding:

The launch of Prometheus, a vertical configuration tool that’s expected to “redefine the industrial control industry.”  The company characterizes Prometheus as  “the industry’s first configuration tool for defining, programming, and documenting all components in an industrial control system, from the Manufacturing Execution System (MES) to the I/O.”

By removing the complexity and tedious burden of updating multiple applications, Prometheus is said to drive greater agility across automation-control systems, thus ensuring that plants run the most efficient and up-to-date processes. And it can configure each of these components, beyond the capabilities of existing controllers and SCADA/HMI software, regardless of type or brand, which, in itself, signifies another industry first.Prometheus will be available in January 2017.

The introduction of Wonderware Online InStudio, an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) offering that changes the way software engineers, systems integrators, and end users can provision, develop, test, and maintain their HMI and SCADA applications. InStudio is part of the evolution of Schneider Electric’s Wonderware Online cloud platform built on the Microsoft Azure platform. This collection of industrial data aggregation, storage and visualization functionalities is now called Wonderware Online InSight.

As the latest addition to a growing portfolio of Wonderware Online cloud-first, mobile-first technologies, the secure InStudio cloud subscription service lets systems integrators overlay a next-generation infrastructure that is highly available and scalable. According to the company, the offering supports improved collaboration during the development process across geographies and roles. Potential benefits include improved user experiences, optimized delivery of software engineering services, enhanced application designs, faster user adoption, and lower project costs.

Research suggests that cloud-based Infrastructure-as-a-Service and other offerings have considerable potential to deploy less energy and natural resources, such as through the reduction of hardware requirements for software development testing.

Wonderware Online InStudio will be available in November 2016.

The Wonderware LIVE event runs through Thursday, Oct. 6. For information on Wonderware and other software-related offerings and events from Schneider Electric, CLICK HERE.


6:36 pm
October 4, 2016
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Baldor Rolls Out ‘Passport’ Selection Tool for Baldor-Dodge Products

br2001_passport_webBaldor Electric Co. (Fort Smith, AR) has introduced Passport, a new selection program for Baldor-Dodge mechanical power transmission products. According to the company, this web-based tool uses an intuitive process to guide both novice and expert users through quick and accurate selections.

How It Works
During the selection process, Passport offers real-time pricing and availability that help end users make cost-effective selections of readily available components. After selections are complete, it offers add-to-order capability that seamlessly allows customers to convert selections into orders thought the PT Place e-commerce platform. Passport also delivers a comprehensive summary that includes part numbers, supporting technical performance data and indexes product selections for future reference. (CLICK HERE for a short YouTube video.)

Currently, Passport supports the selection of shaft mounted reducers, and V-Belt and synchronous -belted drives. The company says that future Passport capabilities will incorporate additional Baldor-Dodge mechanical power transmission products, as well as offer an application-based approach to developing packaged solutions for a wide range of common industrial applications such as conveying and air handling.

To access Passport, CLICK HERE