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.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Ford's Next Eco-Boost Engine Leads To New Jobs in Ohio-Based Plant

Ford EcoBoost engine: Saves energy, creates jobs
It's probably safe to say the sustainability mantra has permanently affected the auto industry, and now there's evidence of it supporting the growing trend of domestic job creation.

Ford Motors' new EcoBoost engine was a big reason why its F-150 pickup trucks are the company's best-selling vehicle. The lightweight, six-cylinder truck engine models save energy and drag without sacrificing any power with a turbocharged gasoline direct-injection system. Now, for its 2015 line, Ford is introducing the 2.7 Liter V6 EcoBoost engine for its F-150's; the lightest version of its EcoBoost models yet.  The move clearly indicates Ford wants to go further investing in its EcoBoost engine line.

But it's also worth noting the they've chosen to include the location of the engine's construction as part of that investment.  The Lima Power Plant, based in northwestern Ohio, already has about 700 workers building the 3.5 and 3.7 liter EcoBoost engines for the 2014 F-150's.  Ford plans to add an expansion to the whole operation for 2015's new models, a move that amounts to $500 million and 300 additional jobs for the plant.

Building on a good thing is to be expected.  Keeping that good thing in the US, despite constant grumblings over labor wages from general corporate community is a good example of Ford's forward-thinking.  Sustainable, gas-conserving, environmentally-friendly vehicles are fast becoming characteristics sought after by an increasingly informed consumer public.  A pick-up truck that costs less to fill up is always going to be a good buy, regardless of someone's opinions on how much the environment should factor into their day-to-day living.  On the flip side, Ford may have hit onto an important new consumer demographic: the environmentally-conscious, but rural-based driver who has no need of a smart car.  There are plenty of newly-developing cities such as Portland, Austin, Santa Fe, etc, that have communities wanting to embrace sustainability, but living on terrain that no Prius or Leaf could survive on for long.  Ford's Eco-Boost F-150's are a perfect answer.    

Perhaps the best part of this announcement is that Ford's effort to create a more eco-friendly bridge to heartland living will directly benefit the American job landscape.  The expansion to the Lima plant will give it a permanence and with the prolific numbers of the F-150, there's no sign it will run out of orders anytime soon.

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

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Robots Poised to Replace Manual Labor

In an interview recently with The Verge, President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation Robert Atkinson had this quote in response to how the US should handle the dilemma of automation investment at the expense of jobs:

"That's not really what our choice is...I think our choice is continued erosion of our manufacturing capabilities and the jobs that go with it, or a more revolutionary transformation."

Therein lies the sticking point.  Despite the positive trend in manufacturing jobs and operations moving back stateside, most experts agree the elements that make up traditional manufacturing- namely a labor-based supply chain- are slowly becoming an unworkable model.  Technology is the chief reason for this, as automatic labor has now become 50 percent cheaper than human labor (McKinsey Report, Sept. 2012).  And as The Wall Street Journal recently  covered, Google's partnership with Foxconn in developing new robotics is going to take advantage of this disparagement on an unprecedented scale.

 With a focus on electronic assembly, Google aims to build an all-robotic labor force.  Google also specified it intends to use automation in competing directly with Amazon's manual labor (Don't let the recent PR hype around drones fool you: Amazon's manual labor is still the driving force behind the company).  This is truly heading into unchartered waters, but if we're to look back on the past hundred years of technological advancement, it's pretty good odds that those waters are inevitable: robots will be a major part of factory labor, on every level, in almost every sector.

This really comes down to that "revolutionary transformation" Atkinson spoke about.  The issue is no one knows what that transformation is going to be.  What does an employment landscape without traditional manual labor look like?  How can you keep an economy going without it?  There's a real risk that if the US isn't prepared with ways of transitioning low-wage workers to new jobs of the future, the country will be stuck with a massive and permanent unemployment class- or worse, the entire economy collapses.
Robots are rapidly replacing traditional manual labor.

However, with the right kind of thinking (re:outside the box), it is also entirely possible we discover whole new jobs and industries as this new century continues.  Last year, Scott Winship made a valid point in an article regarding the long-term perspective of technology replacing labor.  He argues that of course, there is a correlation between insecure low-wage jobs and workers not given the opportunity to accrue employment skills.  While it would seem technology would only box in those low-wage workers and take even more opportunity away, he notes: "In all five decades from 1950 to 2000, the share of workers in high-wage jobs rose faster than the share in low-wage jobs, but the pattern was reversed from 2000 to 2007."

We've had technological improvements, specifically in computers and automation, since the early 20th century.  Yet, not only was employment unharmed overall, it had improved in wages up until the beginning of this century.  That's because up until then, traditional labor was being buoyed by technology; it's only the last decade that it's been surpassed by it.  So technology itself is not the culprit: it's the lack of investment by everyone, public and private, in manual labor that can complement said technology.  How to address this?

There's no smoking gun yet, but an updated education effort on the national level, a greater emphasis on thought-based jobs, and a willingness to rethink what should and shouldn't be a "job" in the 21st century, could all be a good start.

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