Here we are again: another August, another installment of our annual “Executive Outlook” section. What’s different, of course, is the theme of this year’s Outlook (and what essentially has turned into the overall theme of this month’s magazine)—”Is reshoring for real?” Continue Reading →
How effective/efficient is your com-pressed air system? Take a few minutes to visit your compressor room. It’s probably noisy, hot and dirty. Look at the compressors, note their vibrations and heat, then try to evaluate the health of the equipment by feel. Not working for you?
How about checking the compressor gauges? Unfortunately, pressure, temperature and, perhaps, a maintenance-warning message are typically the only parameters indicated. No luck there.
The fact is most compressed air systems incorporate no convenient means for determining how much air is produced—or how well it’s done. Measurement of your system is crucial: To embark on improvements, you must correctly baseline your key system inputs and outputs and assess how your system is meeting your plant’s needs. The first step is to use accurate instrumentation and develop a baseline. That’s the starting point for future optimization efforts.
Baselining your compressed air system can reveal how efficiently it operates. For example, if you knew your compressors were rated to produce air at a specific power of 20 kW per 100 cfm, but that your system actually was consuming 75 kW per cfm, wouldn’t you be curious? The specific power of a system is like an automobile’s gas mileage: When things go wrong under the hood or the vehicle is driven incorrectly, the miles per gallon you expect from your vehicle will suffer.
A baseline can also provide valuable information on how your compressed air is used. Consider this: What if you discovered that 50% of the average compressed air produced by your system was flowing during periods of non-production (i.e., on evenings, weekends and holidays)? This knowledge could lead you to make some improvements in your operating regime—and help your operations capture welcome cost savings.
Finally, baselining can help you gauge how effective your system is in providing compressed air pressure to end-users. Operators often are very surprised by what they learn during system assessments. For example, that 120 psi they’ve been fighting to maintain in the compressor room might—due to undersized piping, filters, regulators and fittings—turn into only 70 psi (or less) at a critical compressed air-powered tool.
Remember that careful measurement of a compressed air system isn’t merely about documenting areas of common concern. Rather, it’s the first thing to do when you get serious about optimizing your system.
Need help? Most compressed air system suppliers can assist you in assessing your system. Many firms and organizations across the country also provide independent audits as part of their normal product offerings. To help you choose the right partner, the Compressed Air Challenge (CAC) has developed “Guidelines for Selecting a Compressed Air System Provider” available on our Website at http://www.compressedairchallenge.org/library/guidelines.pdf. Don’t forget to check out the Website’s Toolbox section for calculation tools that can help generate a DIY estimate of your system’s baseline and potential savings. Attending CAC training can also go a long way in helping you better understand compressed air systems. MT
While today’s Web-based and EAM-integrated computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) are light years beyond their forebears, their purpose (i.e., to systematize and schedule maintenance activities, track inventory and record equipment history) remains the same as 30+ years ago. The same goes for how well these systems are understood and used. According to our Maintenance Technology Reader Panel, this valuable tool can still be vexing to users. Continue Reading →
Is manufacturing moving in the right direction? Are jobs really coming back home? Continue Reading →
While there’s some evidence that offshore manufacturing is slowing and, in some cases, reversing to onshoring, in my opinion, the practice of offshoring U.S. manufacturing and service jobs will continue in the coming years.
Growing up and working in the “Motor City” gave me an early and first-hand perspective on the effects of offshoring manufacturing jobs. I fondly remember the time that GM was not only the biggest car manufacturer but also the biggest company in the world. If you don’t already know the answer to “Who’s the biggest company now?” look it up. It isn’t a manufacturing company.
My first job out of college was at a large Detroit-area automotive-parts factory, where I worked as an engineer. I used to spend a lot of time with the maintenance crew trying to figure out why so many parts were out of spec and defective—maintenance actually recognized these types of problems early on.
Our maintenance department did its best to keep things operational with broken-down auction-purchased equipment, few resources and a run-to-failure management attitude. Ultimately, poor quality output and stalled customer assembly lines resulted in business failure and the eventual offshoring of the production. Over one thousand jobs were lost. That happened nearly 30 years ago, in the early 1980s—offshoring continues today and seems on track to even increase in the future.
At my own company, CyberMetrics, we work with many automotive, electronics, pharmaceutical and biotech manufacturers, supplying and supporting them with our FaciliWorks® CMMS software products. Nearly all of our larger and many of our mid-sized customers have offshore or at the least, near-shore facilities (and those counts are rising). Though operations are offshore, our customers still want to make sure manufacturing equipment and facilities are properly maintained, regulatory compliance is met and MRO inventories are adequately stocked. Fortunately, our cloud-based CMMS software makes both local and offshore deployment fairly quick and easy for our customers.
Political parties will continue to debate the question of offshoring for votes and mindshare—it evokes emotion. Yes, there will be some minor onshoring of a few jobs and the debate will fade, only to resurface once again, of course, during the next campaign.
Like it or not, offshoring is here to stay and, most likely, will only grow with time. Why? We always want the lowest price—always. MT
Today’s global economy allows companies to design, source, manufacture and sell from an intricate web of locations based on a variety of factors, including customer sites, talent base, supply quality and availability and logistics costs. Fluke is a global corporation serving a global customer base with a global footprint. We operate every one of our facilities worldwide on the same lean manufacturing principles and to the same high standards of quality.
As a developed economy, the United States and its manufacturing base have been faced with the challenge of doing more with less for some time: operating older factories at higher levels of output, with increasing amounts of automation that, in turn, requires continuous training for operations and maintenance teams who carry ever-broadening job descriptions. The U.S. benefits from a smart, lean, experienced talent pool. This has certainly helped it compete in a dynamic global marketplace—and has been an important variable in many companies’ decisions to bring manufacturing back to this country. Maintaining that competitive edge in the future will require building and replenishing this talent base.
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education, experience and mentoring is critically important for preparing the future generation of technicians, electricians and engineers. Rising to this challenge will require the U.S. to bolster its STEM education in K-12, attract talented youth into targeted vocational training, as well into four-year and advanced degree programs, and leverage on-the-job training/mentorship.
Fluke supports a variety of different workforce training initiatives—including K-12, post-secondary, trades and continuing education. The manufacturing sector needs a larger supply of people trained to think on their feet, to troubleshoot and diagnose and to communicate across teams. Starting with the essentials of math and science on up to secondary programs that couple hands-on training with in-class instruction and then to employer-sponsored training programs, education is at the root of America’s future success as a continued global manufacturing powerhouse. MT
As a global company, Gates Corporation recognizes the importance of manufacturing in local economies for local consumption, and is committed to meeting market demand—wherever it may be. Our manufacturing in the U.S. has been strong for our entire 101 years, and with over 50 years in both Canada and Mexico, our North American manufacturing continues to be the main source for our North American customer base.
Because many of our customers are expanding their stateside operations, we need to be proactive and prepared for the anticipated demand growth that will certainly impact our operations. I see reshoring as an opportunity for Gates and other manufacturers with operations in the U.S. to evaluate current processes and technologies and invest in increased automation, productivity improvements and training and education.
The influx of new production means that now—more than ever—it’s crucial for manufacturers to adopt Lean Manufacturing principles and put robust sales and operation planning processes (S&OP) in place to tie commercial demand to delivery expectations. The Commercial organization must clearly communicate market demand to Operations, creating a downstream process for assessing the raw materials and workforce needed to successfully meet and manage any impending increases.
At Gates, we continue to invest in product process and productivity improvements. We have built a Continuous Improvement culture that incentivizes and rewards our associates for identifying opportunities to create efficiencies and reduce overall costs. Beyond this, we document and share key best-practice processes and methodologies across our global teams and facilities.
Reshoring notwithstanding, knowledge sharing and communication are imperative. Training initiatives need to be viewed as critical as any HSE investment. As the experienced, technical, skilled workforce dwindles, we need to ensure that retiring employees share their knowledge with the younger, inexperienced generations. Now is the time to take education in-house, and reinvest in internships, apprenticeships and on-the-job training programs.
Gates provides Leadership, Education and Development (LEAD) training and a Supervisor Training Excellence Program (STEP) to create leaders who drive our culture and are equipped to educate and inspire our employees. We also provide ongoing Lean Manufacturing training to ensure employees are properly applying our processes. In fact, some of our customers have asked us to assist them in implementing and optimizing their own Lean Manufacturing processes.
Ultimately, it’s cross-team communication and cross-company collaboration that will help the U.S. manufacturing industry improve its infrastructure and ready its workforce for a period of sustained growth.MT
GE CEO & Chairman Jeff Immelt often discusses how global growth and demand from overseas customers represents a tremendous opportunity for U.S. manufacturing and innovation. (In fact, GE has already discussed its plans for creating approximately 15,000 new U.S. jobs since 2009.) I strongly echo that message.
The largest exporter in the state of Nevada, GE’s Bently Nevada line has been synonymous with machinery protection and asset condition monitoring for more than 50 years. We recognize that behind every great product is a team of great people—and are extremely proud that a vast majority (more than 90%) of our products are still locally manufactured in Minden, NV, by the most experienced team in the industry.
More than 800 strong, our U.S. team remains committed to investing in the technology solutions that have made GE’s Bently Nevada the resilient American company that it is today—namely, our continuous online condition-monitoring systems that customers know and trust to protect their most valuable and critical plant assets.
But like any competitive industry leader, GE continuously strives to uncover new sources of innovation—both here in the United States and around the world—to create smart, differentiated technology solutions that help our customers remain at the forefront of their industries. That commitment to our customers was demonstrated by the 2011 acquisition of New Zealand-based Commtest Instruments, a company recognized globally for its leadership and innovation in portable vibration analysis and monitoring instruments. This strategic acquisition has enabled us to provide customers across the oil, gas and power-generation industries with an enhanced suite of integrated condition monitoring solutions that take into account the health of the entire plant.
And it doesn’t stop there. In addition to launching a new series of innovative, portable solutions, we continue to make forward-looking technology investments. We have plans to unveil more distributed systems and software in the near future, along with a number of exciting new technologies that align with our vision to unite all of our offerings into a comprehensive, plant-wide condition monitoring experience for our customers.
Building on our strong American heritage, we look forward to both the challenges and opportunities ahead in leading the world in condition monitoring best practices, setting new standards for tomorrow and delivering health care for our customers’ most valuable plant assets in ways never before imagined. MT