Friday, August 29, 2014

California's Biggest Obstacle To Clean Manufacturing--Its Environmental Laws?

Tesla's steady surge into the fabric of American manufacturing is poised for a milestone in its plan to build a giant lithium battery plant-a "gigafactory" that they claim would guarantee homegrown creation of at least 6500 new jobs.  Naturally numbers like that will have states bidding like crazy for the project, and Musk's group has narrowed their choices for the site down to five states: Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and California.

While taxes are always going to be a factor, that doesn't seem to be the primary hurdle Tesla is looking at for which state is suitable for the project.  Musk seems to have time on his mind:

"Timing for the gigafactory is very important,” Tesla spokesman Simon Sproule said Monday. “So all five states in the running for the gigafactory need to demonstrate, among other factors, that they can help us deliver the factory on time.” (Los Angeles Times, August 12, 2014)


Lithium ion batteries similar to the one above will be
manufactured at Tesla's proposed factory.
This may have very well been a direct message to California, which among the states, has the greatest California Environmental Quality Act- signed into law by Ronald Reagan- that state and municipal boards review any project sites for environmental impact before construction is allowed to begin.  While CEQA's intention was to preserve California's unique and fragile environment, its critics point out it may be hindering environmental efforts more than helping.  Because it vastly empowers local government, many neighborhoods have used it to turn down projects that could help the state ween itself off fossil fuels, such as wind farms and solar fields.  CEQA has become a tool of NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) sentiments, instead of green business expansion.

The Governor's administration is considering waiving the requirements of the regulation hurdles to clear.

However, there's an understandable concern in relaxing regulations around what is essentially, despite Tesla's green reputation, a battery plant.  While it's true there is precedent for CEQA being waived for large-scale projects (it was suspended when the NFL had proposed a football stadium in Los Angeles), lithium batteries and the risks their manufacturing could have in damaging the local environment with excess hazardous material is precisely the kind of project it was designed to regulate in the first place.  

With Tesla's determination to meet the deadline of 2017, the rush to cut through bureaucracy has created in California an all too common conflict between public and private incentive. Yet seeing how it will play out in the alternative fuel market may test everyone's assumptions of clean vs. dirty and what will really help this industry grow into the 21st century.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.



Friday, August 1, 2014

Finding What Works





The Big M Conference in Detroit drew multiple manufacturing companies, big and small, this past month, and served as a prime venue to exchange new ideas on how to continue refining the industry to adjust to a 21st century world that is rapidly changing.

Two major companies, GE and sealing giant Freudenberg-NOK,  delivered messages targeted for the Conference that directly addresses those changes.  Comparing their platforms can be very useful in finding patterns of what the community as a whole is trending towards as an overall philosophy.Starting with GE, which recently published an article in GEreports boiling their approach down to "four pillars": Virtual Manufacturing, Intelligent Machines, Flexible Factories, and  Reconfiguerable Supply Chains.  All four provide the ground for "brilliant factories"; plants more organic in operation and valuing smart data as a needed element, not just a supplemental advantage:

"To build what we call a Brilliant Factory—or a 21st century digital model—each of the four pillars will need a strong IT infrastructure that ties the manufacturing supply chain together and creates data highways for information to be transmitted wherever it needs to go. It also will require a common software platform that can integrate all of the data systems of a company’s manufacturing operations. These are both pieces GE is building to provide that IT support network"

Compare this to Fredenberg-NOK CEO Dr. Theodore G. Duclos's talk at the Big M, emphasizing  the company's Six Guiding Principles to steer it towards an evolution from the days of "lean manufacturing" to a more sophisticated, data-driven model of sustainability:

"Ultimately the six Principles – value for customer, responsibility, innovation, leadership, people and a long-term orientation – will provide the framework needed for Freudenberg-NOK to embrace the industrial evolution taking place in manufacturing, and the company will continue to meet and exceed customer demands and prosper", Duclos said.

"Whether we realize it or not, our journey to lean processes has been leading us to sustainability all along," Duclos concluded. "The principles of lean systems will inevitably lead us to create manufacturing processes that can close the carbon cycle that has been unsustainably open for many years."

Both long-term outlooks tend to hit on a few notions:

-Flexibility is key to sustainability.  Both companies value the notion of being able to customize, whether it be for clients or for employees.  GE essentially goes so far as to acknowledge this level of flexibility will most likely change the assembly line model for good ("The assembly line represented a huge leap in productivity for factories, but try to make data-driven system-optimal real-time adjustments and changes to the production process and you will find it difficult to do.")

-Automation over traditional labor.  Yep, the robots are here.  With the kind of affordability goals GE desires (20 percent increase in manufacturing and supply productivity), and its pillar devoted to factory-floor machines that operate within a real-time data network, the emphasis of automated labor over human is pretty much in black-and-white.

Freudenberg-NOK is very intriguing in its desire to see production cycles parallel those of the biological world, but again, this is also reflective of a general aversion to relying on human hands on the 21st century factory floor. While this may sound like bad news in the short run for employment numbers, one can hope local governments wise up to where the labor demand will obviously show itself: design, development, and thought-based skills to keep global-sized digital networks not just surviving, but thriving.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The New Switcharoo--Burst of Growth Continues for US Manufacturers



The Commerce Department's Report states that US manufacturing is growing at its most consistent pace. Major job growth in heartland states like Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan are coupled with a fledgling apparel and food manufacturing boom in Brooklyn, of all places.  This news and a contribution of 12.5 percent to GDP through 2013 adds to the widespread feeling that American manufacturing has not only recovered from the effects of the Great Recession, but has evolved into a dependent industry that differs from its pre-Recession identity since 1998 is of course very good news.  The numbers are healthy, no matter which way you look at it; 646,000 jobs created since 2010, with over 200,000 more needed to be filled.

In examining why, it's always crucial to look toward China's parallel trends, and it reveals just how joined at the hip (a hip the size of the Pacific Ocean) the two countries are.  Though most recent reports are showing an expansion in manufacturing on the continent, it's telling to see the average worker's wage rose exponentially by 187 percent in the past decade.  The trade-off of creating a middle class consumer society- higher wages- has finally rubbed out the labor advantage Chinese manufacturers enjoyed, to the point that the country is seeing its own outsourcing trend in nearby regions of  Cambodia, Myanmar, and Vietnam.  The shrinking wage discrepancy as well as the effect of automation and sustainability cycles adopted by American manufacturers all make that long supply chain across the Pacific not so cost-efficient anymore.  Not to be forgotten is the contradictory paths the nations' energy scenarios have taken.  China's electricity has risen in costs by 66 percent the past year, while US shale-gas innovation has kept costs contained well below that rate.

It all adds up to one massive role-swap.  US goods become cheaper to buy in China, especially as the yuan rises in value (30 percent since 2004) as the American manufacturing system becomes more efficient and cheaper to remain competitive.  The next decade may see China's middle class mimicking 20th century America's, buying goods produced by a steadily rising American manufacturing industry.  If this seems disheartening to the American worrying that a China with more capital to spend must mean a US with slave labor wages on the supply end, keep in mind China's true expansionist efforts are reflected in the over $14 billion it invested last year in the US.  There are still an abundance of Chinese manufacturers targeting American consumers and setting up factories and production centers all over the US.  The "who leads" argument may sound entertaining on CSNBC or Fox Business, but reality shows a growing interdependence in trade between both nations, which can translate very soon to substantial global growth.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Paralyzed Man Moves His Hand With the Help of Bionics


Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center/Ohio State University Wexner Med
Read more: Bionic Breakthrough
Ian Burkhart last felt his hand move in 2010, before he accidentally dived into a sandbar and was paralyzed from the elbows down.  Severed spinal cords are one of the great mysteries of the medical world; without an electric current flowing through the body, the nervous system is useless, and the spinal cord is so specialized and unique, the body can't regenerate cells that can reactivate it.

However Battelle, a non-profit technology research organization, has come closer than anyone to bypassing this problem.  Nick Annetta, an electrical engineer for the group has worked with Ian to reach a breakthrough in medical as well as manufacturing science: creating a bionic apparatus that sends brain signals to a paralyzed limb, successfully moving it.  From the Washington Post:

"...doctors opened Burkhart’s skull. They crowned his head with a small metal cylinder, attached to bone by screws, and ran a wire between it and the chip they stuck like Velcro to his brain.

....The doctors knew the chip was in the right place to pick up the brain signals. The engineers knew their algorithm was translating his thoughts to movements. They believed the film strips strapped around his forearm, which they called a sleeve, would stimulate his muscles to make those movements a physical reality."

Three times a week, Burkhart would practice online with Battelle experts, concentrating on digital "drills" that were essential visualization exercises.  When it became time to try the tech out, Burkhart was able to visualize his hand opening and closing and with the help of the chip in his brain and the sleeve around his forearm, was able to turn his thoughts into motion.
Technology to send electrical impulses to limbs immobilized by spinal cord injuries is rapidly expanding
This is an astounding breakthrough for so many industries.  The medical world may have found a device that can help victims of spinal cord damage become self-autonomous, decreasing the need for expensive round-the-clock care.  The world of neuroscience has inched even closer to harnessing the miraculous possibilities of the brain, and the digital software world has blurred the lines further between computerized and biological thought.  Firms and investors most certainly should take the results of Mr. Annetta and Mr Burkhart's seriously enough to look at how fast the tech can be refined enough for efficiency and cost-effectiveness.  Although the medical aspects are clearly expensive (brain surgery is not getting fit for a dental retainer), the basic concept for the software is quite simple to reproduce, and the training aspects for the patient can only get better as more is learned.  The doctors involved in the experiment speculate as to the future of bionics, bringing up ideas such as portable smart phone apps that would decode and recode the brain signals, instead of a stationary computer system, or wireless chips that would obviously be less cumbersome in practice.

These are all developments that may be down the road, but take this into account: soon after the initial experiment, Burkhart demonstrated the ability to grab a spoon and release it, without any prompt or drills required.  His brain, and the computer, learned faster than anyone anticipated.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Researcher Finds Cheaper Way To Make Nanostructures: Diamonds


All innovations generally center around three principles: making things simpler, making them better in quality, and making the process easy to repeat.

In the ongoing world of nanotechnology, innovation is highly valued.  Moreover, because it's an industry that relies on materials that have to be artificially created on a microscopic scale, there is ample room for innovation in cost-efficient techniques.  Enter Hongyou Fan, a researcher at Sandia National Laboratories, who has received accolades from industry experts for his recently published paper in Nature Communications.  In it, he details a distinct method for creating nanostructures that shun the accepted but complex use of chemicals and embraces basic physics. As Phys.org elaborates:

"The pressure, delivered by two diamond plates tightened by four screws to any controlled setting, shepherds silver nanospheres into any desired volume. Propinquity creates conditions that produce nanorods, nanowires and nanosheets at chosen thicknesses and lengths rather than the one-size-fits-all output of a chemical process, with no environmentally harmful residues." 

If those principles are to be followed, Fan's research has hit all three checkmarks.  Instead of complex chemicals, which not only require time and skill to use, but maintenance and storing as well, Fan has simplified the process to using old fashioned embossing techniques.  Yes, it's never cheap when one of the components are diamonds, but that beats hazardous, chemical by-products any day.  Using this method also provides the opportunity to customize the type of structure, an automatic upgrade in quality over chemical methods.  Finally, though the novelty means it's unrefined, the long-term cost-efficiency of safer ingredients and a template that can be easily made in a generic factory setting is sure to draw interest.

The next step in products will be semi-conducters, and Fan's team is working to develop them as well.  If his work catches on, it could translate into a less expensive way for more investors to jump into a technology only beginning to show its true potential.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.

Friday, May 23, 2014

2nd Gen Solar Powered Plane Prepares For Round-The-World Trip

The Solar Impulse on a night flight
The world recently got its first look at the second airplane to fly completely solar powered.  Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, partners and co-creators, rolled out Solar Impulse 2 in Switzerland as they prepare it for what is only to be their latest undertaking.  The two entrepreneurs- Piccard, a doctor and renowned explorer, and Borschberg, an MIT-graduated engineer and pilot, have now spent more than a decade proving to the world that solar power can indeed be integrated into aviation (although they make it a point to state they're not pushing an agenda of exclusively using solar-powered aviation).  Their public endeavors have taken them from test flights to night flights to crossing the Mediterranean on their prototype Solar Impulse in 2012, to a five-stop tour across the United States in 2013.  Now, Piccard and Borschberg, along with their 90-person-strong company is gearing up for the next and most harrowing flight yet: a round-the-world trip through the northern hemisphere.

The plane has a wing span exceeding that of a Boeing 757
Before anyone makes the mistake of assuming major airliners are ordering any Solar Impulses of their own to duck out of fuel costs, it's important to know the details of how far away from commercial flight this is.  Four motors powering a cockpit with just enough room for one pilot can reach a top speed of maybe 87 mph.  At 236 feet across, the plane's width exceeds a standard Boeing 757, with noticeably giant wings, and it needs every one of its more than 17,000 cells to operate.  "It's a pioneering project, not an industrial one,"  Piccard explains. "Protection of the environment is far too often boring and expensive...We want to show the opposite...Let’s be innovative and free ourselves from the old habits and beliefs that prevent us from inventing a better future.”

Four solar-powered motors provide the power
Clearly, Piccard is not alone in understanding the impact of demonstrating how far alternative energy can take us.  The project's major funding comes from corporate giants from different industries like Omega, Solvar, ABB, and Schindler.  A flight that crosses the Atlantic Ocean can burn 3.5 tons of carbon emissions; considering the thousands and thousands of flights that happen around the world in a single 24-hour span, it's only a matter of time that this reaches untenable.  This kind of technology can't directly supplant using fossil fuels, but think about how easy it can be to integrate it into the average commercial flight.  A hybrid airliner could have solar-powered flight during auto-pilot, or even just collect solar energy while in the air and carriers can sell it to utility companies on the ground for revenue.

The possibilities are there, and it will take innovators like Piccard and Borschberg to find them.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.




Thursday, May 15, 2014

Looking for inspiration on your next marketing program? Take a closer look at what you’re selling.

This may sound obvious, but marketers sometimes lose sight of this, particularly if they are promoting a technical service or product. In my experience getting close to what you sell---how it is engineered, processed and packaged—provides the foundation for the marketing story you want to tell. Whether it’s an update on your existing product line or the launch of a new service, this firsthand review of what you offer your customers can provide the critical spark needed to ignite an interesting and convincing marketing campaign.

Material for “job in progress” and “next job” staged
to keep presses running
For me, this inspiration comes from touring Rotor Clip’s factory in Somerset, New Jersey. We make retaining rings, wave springs and self-compensating hose clamps, for a variety of industries. All of the processes needed to produce these rings from engineering and tool making to packaging and shipping occur in our 238,000 square foot facility.

On this particular day I take my stroll with Rotor Clip Co-President, Craig Slass. I’ve been with the company for 30 years and I am still amazed at the new things I inevitably find on one of these tours.

Our first stop is the wire forming area where Craig enthusiastically shows me our new generation of presses. These have been designed to coil and stamp retaining rings much faster than conventional methods. This fits in well with our marketing message of being able to supply global demand for our product in volume and at the high level of quality our customers demand.




Rotor Clip eliminates tangling of its internal type of retaining rings thanks to this improvement, automatically stacking parts on wire at no extra cost to the customer

Finding ways to keep product moving in a logical flow reduce
 processing time and overall waste.
Our lean philosophy has taught us to find ways to streamline processes and reduce the time it takes for each. I see evidence of this everywhere I go. Areas have gotten creative in the way they handle product. Instead of the traditional batch and queue—making parts then piling them up in front of the next operation---pull systems bring only those quantities needed to meet customer demand for a given time.

I walk through our stamping press room and see outlined staging areas for material and tools needed for the next scheduled job. Having these items in a queue at the machine makes the transition to the next job seamless and efficient. I can see that the entire layout of the plant has been updated since my last walk a few
months ago to enhance process flow and eliminate waste.

Overall, I was impressed to see our plant making progress to produce reliable, quality products delivered on time to our customers. I’m psyched and ready to pump out some fresh new marketing ideas.

Like writing this blog entry.

Good luck with your next marketing campaign.

Joe Cappello is Director of Global Marketing for Rotor Clip Company.