Manufacturing Trends (11)
The poor scope for technological innovation coupled with growing market maturity has motivated major industrial product suppliers to concentrate efforts on achieving growth through alternative channels. In this context, the potential for industrial services takes centre stage, both from the standpoint of industrial vendors interested in market expansion and end users aiming to maximize profitability.
The definition of the terahertz portion of the electromagnetic spectrum has varied but is generally considered to be the band between infrared and microwave radiation, usually running from 300 GHz to perhaps 10 THz, overlapping those bands commonly referred to as the submillimetre and far infrared.
Terahertz radiation has long been an important concern in astronomy, given that approximately one half of the total luminosity of the universe and 98 percent of the photons emitted in the history of the universe lie in the terahertz portion of the spectrum. In addition, terahertz waves are not readily scattered by gas clouds in space, facilitating imaging at these wavelengths.
Terahertz radiation offers capabilities generally unavailable in other bands. For example, terahertz technology offers the ability to image through a tremendous variety of materials. While the waves are reflected by metallic surfaces and absorbed by water, both of which remain opaque to terahertz signals, most other materials are transparent to some degree to terahertz radiation in at least some portion of the band. Terahertz systems can provide both images and spectroscopic data (possibly in the same measurement), as well as ranging data that can measure structures like coating or layer thicknesses, even in structures of many layers. The systems are generally non-contact, and so measurements can be performed on materials in-process, such as wet paint, or layered structures like roofing material.
The capabilities offered by terahertz radiation have long been well known; the problem has been in their exploitation. The strengths of terahertz radiation, such as the ability to penetrate so many materials, has also made their generation and detection difficult and costly, relegating terahertz technology to specialty research applications, where there are no other options.
However, a number of technical breakthroughs in photonics, electronics and nanotechnology achieved since the early 1990s have brought terahertz technology within striking distance of significant commercial markets like security, communications, manufacturing, medicine and electronics. Where bulk and ease-of-use have been longstanding issues, recently developed systems are as easy to use as an oscilloscope, and some are so small and robust that they can be delivered through the mail. Most importantly, costs continue to decline, making terahertz technology increasingly economically competitive with conventional methods in a number of applications.
While development must continue on systems and components such as sources, detectors, waveguides, and lenses, attention is shifting to development of applications that are now ready to take advantage of the extraordinary versatility of the terahertz band. Indeed, application and market development are now the primary hurdles in the way of creation of commercial markets for terahertz systems in such promising areas as manufacturing.
Most applications take advantage of terahertz radiation's ability to penetrate an extraordinary range of materials. It has been used to image through drywall to locate studs and wiring; to measure the moisture content of packaged cigarettes; to image through plastic, paper, cardboard and most common fabrics.
Another interesting aspect of terahertz radiation is in its interaction with matter, which takes place generally via the motion of groups of relatively large molecules, like those encountered in biology. This opens up the possibility of detecting the signatures of an enormous number of specific chemicals as well as investigating biological processes.
One thing that makes this part of the spectrum so fascinating to many is that it is the range where nanoscale machinery has resonant frequencies. The most significant form of nanoscale machinery is, of course, biological molecules like proteins or DNA. Thus, there is the possibility of using spectroscopy in this range to distinguish one kind of DNA from another, or one protein from another.
The versatility of terahertz radiation has opened up important opportunities in inspecting and evaluating materials and products during and after manufacture, to ensure that quality standards and technical specifications are met. Inspection can be conducted on finished (and often packaged) products or materials, or at an intermediate stage of manufacture. Of course there are many materials that are not amenable to terahertz inspection, but the sheer number that can be inspected is enormous.
Pharmaceutical inspection (primarily for tablets) is one promising application for terahertz systems, primarily because the application has already been commercialized by TeraView, which has sold commercial systems into that sector.
For the billions of pharmaceuticals produced every year, quality is a critical concern since not only their effectiveness must be established but their safety as well, and both can suffer from incorrect concentration or even distribution within a tablet.
In manufacturing tablets, pharmaceutical manufacturers need to ensure that the active ingredient is the right amount and that it is evenly distributed, and that coatings and other structures are intact. With recent warnings that ingesting crushed tablets can be hazardous because active ingredients will be absorbed into the bloodstream too quickly, the same threat could be found in tablets whose coatings are not intact or uniform, or have other structural flaws.
Terahertz imaging can provide a three-dimensional chemical and structural map of a tablet without destroying it, even after the tablets have been packaged, and provide information on integrity of structures, uniformity of ingredients, etc. Faulty processing can also be detected, whether or not structures are intact. For example, the terahertz absorption spectra of some common pharmaceuticals will change significantly after the sample has undergone heat treatment, where the far infrared spectra remain virtually unchanged in the same circumstances. Inspection can also be used to establish the authenticity of a product, since counterfeit tablets often have inferior coatings.
Inspection of finished products is an obvious potential high profile application for terahertz systems, but inspection of materials at an intermediate stage of product fabrication may be at least as important. Detecting defects like cracks or non-uniformities in materials is a natural fit for terahertz systems and allows real-time correction of manufacturing processes.
One of the most potentially profitable applications for terahertz systems lies in materials evaluation, where the technology is under investigation for many applications such as semiconductors, solar cells, composite materials, polymer films and dielectric films.
The non-contact nature of terahertz inspection is a big advantage in inspecting materials that have not finished processing. For example, demonstrations have been made using terahertz radiation to measure the thickness of wet paint. In another demonstration, voids in ceramics were detected before the material was cooled off after thermal treatment. This avoided the need to wait for more than an hour for cooling before process parameters could be adjusted to prevent the voids, as would be necessary for the conventional method, ultrasound imaging. The same benefits are likely in plastics manufacture.
Applications in semiconductor manufacturing are especially appealing, given the large potential market. Terahertz spectroscopy has already been demonstrated to yield semiconductor wafer parameters including mobility, conductivity, carrier density and the presence of plasma oscillations.
Fault analysis remains a critical task in the manufacturing of advanced semiconductor circuits. These faults can occur in both the substrate wafer and the circuitry. Terahertz systems have been demonstrated to reveal defects in these materials, and could find significant markets in that sector. The viability of terahertz semiconductor wafer and circuit inspection has been a controversial topic but appears to have largely proven itself, at least for interconnect inspection, where similar (millimetre wave) technologies are well established and the transition to terahertz systems would be smooth.
In terms of potential market volume, the manufacturing market in process control, product inspection, material evaluation and related applications is probably the most promising of the emerging terahertz applications. Even in the worst case scenario of relatively slow technical progress, markets can be expected to grow significantly. Terahertz technology can address very real and specific needs in manufacturing, and offers the sector capabilities that in many cases cannot be duplicated by competing technologies.
That was the consensus at Manufacturing AUTOMATION's fourth annual editorial board roundtable. The board brought a variety of perspectives to this year's table, namely from the education, government, association and private sectors, and each seemed relatively certain that a recovery is upon us, albeit a slow one.
"Last year around this time, people were cautiously optimistic. This year, there's a pretty solid sense of optimism out there," says Al Diggins, president and general manager of the Excellence in Manufacturing Consortium (EMC). "Companies are starting to hire people back, work share is winding down. Things are looking up."
Cheryl Jensen, vice-president of technology, apprenticeship, and corporate training at Mohawk College agreed, saying that the hiring of grads and co-op students is one of the college's best barometers for feeling out the state of the economy - and companies are starting to hire again.
"Last year we saw a drop in the number of co-ops that were available for traditional manufacturing jobs," she says. "This year, demand is coming back - and much more quickly than we thought it would be."
While things weren't rosy last year, Jensen believes the situation wasn't as grim as the recession in the mid-1990s - at least from a co-op standpoint.
"In a downturn, co-ops are the first to go," she says. "We didn't see that this year. Most companies knew they needed their young people to stay with them and they went to great lengths to do that."
While this recession isn't the worst on record, it caused quite a bit of devastation. Many manufacturers who weren't able to adapt to the new global marketplace didn't survive the downturn. Others were forced to employ less popular measures to stay afloat - including reducing payroll. Even more continue to cling on for survival.
This notion of survival seemed to be the unofficial theme of the discussion. What are the things that companies can do today to not only make it through the remaining portion of this recession, but thrive as well? Below are our board's thoughts.
1. Get to know your customers better.
In an effort to trim costs, many manufacturers have opted to reduce the amount of product sitting on their plant floors. The problem with this strategy is that instead of "just-in-time", reduced staff and inefficient production processes have resulted in "not-quite-in-time" delivery. This has put a lot of strain on the supply chain.
"Right now, we can't get parts. Suppliers are reducing inventory and they're short on parts," says Bill Valedis, manager of automation and training for Precision Design, Build and Services Inc. "We're not even talking specialty items - it's the off-the-shelf items we're having trouble with. The supply chain isn't communicating - companies aren't listening to their clients."
The board recognizes that, while it doesn't make sense to keep an over abundance of product in stock when times are tough, enhancing communication lines would go a long way. Many members believed that suppliers should be on top of their clients' forecasts and stock their shelves accordingly, if they're going to reduce their inventory.
Getting to know your customers a little better can help your business thrive in other ways, too.
"Companies have to know who their customers are and what their needs are," says Sherman Lang, industrial technology adviser at the National Research Council Canada. "The more successful companies have taken that understanding of their clients and uncovered new markets with it."
Uncovering new markets - whether they're geographical or another client base - is one of the most cost-effective means of survival. You're essentially producing the same product for a different group of customers without dishing out a lot of extra cash, Lang says.
Understanding customer needs and markets could also lead to new partnership opportunities - a chance to reach a brand new market by combining your efforts with another supplier and offer a completely unique experience.
2. Hire more students.
While more companies are opting to hire co-op students, that number should be higher, according to the editorial board. The thinking is that those companies that are going to survive this downturn - and the changing manufacturing landscape in general - are going to need access to a fresh set of eyes, and individuals with a lot of working years ahead of them.
Fresh out of school with no previous habits to unlearn, students see things differently. They can shift your organization's thought processes outside of the box.
"If you want innovation, hire more students," says Valedis. "It shouldn't be something companies are afraid of."
Lang agrees. "Many companies are underinvesting in IT right now. Young people are the perfect solution to this," he says. "They excel at navigating social media and Enterprise 2.0."
Some of the board members recognized that it's not always easy to hire students - especially when co-op programs don't coincide with varying economic climates.
"It comes down to timing - and getting the right people at the right time," says David Green, managing partner at Stratmarc Associates. "Often, by the time you get students out of school it's a downturn and you're unable to hire them."
Jensen agrees, but said that colleges are constantly working toward finding a solution to this common problem.
"Colleges need to be more responsive to the changes in the economy. I think right now colleges are good, but they need to be better," says Jensen.
She adds that Mohawk - along with other colleges - is working on becoming more responsive to changes in the economy. To truly succeed at this, however, a strong partnership is needed between education and industry. She encourages companies to get involved with their local colleges.
Jensen has seen the benefit of this cooperation first hand. Through this type of partnership, Mohawk has tweaked its programs - and launched new programs - to ensure local industry is getting the type of students it needs. A couple of examples of strategic partnerships include the Golden Horseshoe Strategic Energy Alliance - where Mohawk is collaborating to make Southern Ontario the nation's solar sunbelt - and CANMET, Canada's largest research centre for clean, renewable energy.
3. Invest in your existing workforce.
While it's important to bring new blood into a company, investing in your existing workforce is important too. And that's something companies are beginning to realize as they slowly emerge from this recession.
"We realize that over the last year and a half a lot of things had to be put on hold," says Valedis. "Companies are finally realizing that they needed training yesterday."
Training employees - whether it's on new equipment, safety practices or skill sets - is important not only to ensure a smooth-running company, but for employee engagement as well. Whether you opt for a private training company or the "continuing education" arm of a local college, allowing your employees to learn updated skills can increase their productivity and give them a new perspective on their jobs.
Similarly, more companies are opting to enrich the jobs of upper management by joining associations like the EMC - where they have the opportunity to learn about lean best practices and other business strategies from other member companies.
"We've seen a lot of new members recently - maybe a 12-15 percent bump in membership," says Diggins. "This is an indication that people are starting to see the value in sharing ideas - in sharing best practices."
4. Take advantage of government programs.
While they appear to be laden with more red tape than they're worth, government programs can help your company save a lot of money and prepare for the future.
"All those improvements your company made during the recession qualify for the SR&ED program," says Lang. "A lot of companies find that, while it's quite a bit of effort to apply for the program, in the end it forces them to put more discipline into record keeping and documentation, which only helps their business in the long run."
The EMC offers resources for its members to help them make successful SR&ED claims - oftentimes helping their members get more money back than they would get with a large accounting firm, primarily because the association has a deep understanding and experience with manufacturing-based businesses.
Other programs - such as AIME (Achieving Innovation & Manufacturing Excellence), which is a joint effort by the Yves Landry Foundation and the Ontario government - offers added incentive to companies.
Jensen, who is an assessor of proposals for the project, thinks it's a great way to encourage companies to move forward on the innovation front.
"Essentially the program offers maximum $50,000 grants to qualified applicants," she says. "Companies can submit proposals regarding how they'd like to make their company more efficient and productive through innovation. They have to show what they've committed to the cause themselves - whether it's through training in lean manufacturing or investing in new equipment. We're seeing a lot of well-executed programs."
While a recovery is definitely on its way, members of the editorial board agree that it's not going to be a fast and easy one. Many believe we won't see pre-recession levels anytime soon, due to the extreme decimation that ensued over the last year. That being said, confidence is up - and confidence, it seems, is contagious.
Historically there have been no metrics associated with energy in industry, especially when there was plenty of business to go around and companies could afford waste. Ever since manufacturers started migrating far beyond North American borders, however, those remaining at home have had no choice but to be more effective, more efficient, leaner and greener.
Energy management has two parts: measuring how much energy is consumed, where and at what times; and then doing something about it. You can't have one without the other, though some have tried.
"Some facilities put meters on almost all of their equipment, but then what?" says Tien-Khanh Ngo, an energy efficiency solution engineer with Schneider Electric Canada. "What they do with that data and how they manipulate it, many just don't know."
Ngo has also seen the reverse scenario - not bothering to measure energy usage but going straight to a solution. Investing in a higher-efficiency furnace, for example, won't help cut energy costs if the problem turns out to be drafty doors and windows. Measuring at the outset helps focus on solutions that match the problem.
Making changes in the plant to reduce energy costs isn't all about capital expenditures. Nor does it have to happen all at once. Rather than replace every pump and motor, for example, facilities can instead commit to gradually adding high-efficiency technology as old equipment needs replacing, and eventually integrating "smarter" capabilities to their existing measurement tools.
First things first
So where should you start your energy management endeavour? While it's important to take things slowly, there are certain steps that any plant, big or small, can implement right away:
• Commit to energy management as a corporate initiative. Making a commitment in writing to consuming and wasting less energy at all levels of the plant is a good first step. In his January, 2010 report entitled, Driving Value in Industrial Environments with Energy Management, Ivan Romanow, manager of business development at Gescan Automation, says that besides tracking energy consumption through utility bills, energy management is also about "how effective companies are when it comes to considering energy in operational decision making." Energy management must be an enterprise-wide corporate social responsibility initiative.
Romanow says that in some plants, up to 25 percent of total operational costs are energy-reliant. And that has business managers - eco-conscious or not - starting to pay attention.
• Get a formal, third-party energy audit. Experts recommend a formal energy audit every five years. The energy audit will certainly identify areas where you can immediately cut down on wasted energy.
• Embark on some general housekeeping. Take a look around your facility and consider these simple methods of reducing energy waste:
• Fix leaks in compressed air systems and HVAC ducts, windows and doors, etc., and have a consultant make sure your HVAC system is balanced. Also, if your production cycles allow it, consider turning off the HVAC on weekends or weeknights.
• Lubricate motors and conveyors, because smoother running machines have less friction, cause less downtime and use less energy.
• Identify areas in the facility where there is too much light, or unoccupied areas where the lights don't need to be on.
• If safe to do so, there might also be opportunities to turn off or slow down dust collection and ventilation systems to match production rates. There is no need for dust collectors to run at full capacity while everyone is out for lunch.
• Measure energy use. "Visibility" has become a buzzword in energy management - because gone are the days of blindly consuming. Access to both real-time and historical energy data allows employees to understand the plant's energy usage trends and how they compare with other facilities and industry standards.
"You can't correct what you can't visualize," says Romanow. A company might, for example, wait until a pump is broken before replacing it. But if the company had the metrics in place it might discover that the pump, while functioning, is faulty and wasting a lot of electricity.
"Wouldn't it make more sense if I'm aware that it's using twice as much energy as it needs to, and that it's better to replace it now?" he says.
• Match supply with load demand. Manufacturers need to get over the "bigger is better" mentality. Ngo says it's "the North American way" to buy the biggest motors and other equipment, perhaps with the logic that they will be safer or reduce downtime. The new, improved approach is to match the motor to the load.
It's time to find alternatives to the traditional method of plugging something in, flicking a switch and running a machine full bore. Adopt a new mindset of always determining when and where you need more or less power. Rather than use a motor at full capacity, consider ramping it on slowly or backing it off once it's rotating.
• Understand peak demands. Your utility bill is based not only on how much energy is consumed in the plant, but at which times. Understanding peak demands can save on those costs. "When people come into the plant in the morning and all turn on their machines at once that creates a big demand," says Ngo. "Accounting has to pay for that without knowing why it costs so much."
He recommends having a peak demands schedule that allows staff to stagger their equipment start-ups. "Team A would turn on their equipment, then after one to five minutes, Team B would turn on theirs, and so on," says Ngo. "Doing it in sequence allows you to avoid peak demand."
The same applies to things like treating ovens, which can be run at night instead of in the daytime when power costs more.
Acquire the right tools
Energy measurement devices come in the form of power monitoring systems, which measure both power use and power quality. They generally consist of meters to record data; software to gather, manage and display the data; and a way for the two to communicate. Advanced metering solutions verify the accuracy of utility bills with a comprehensive report, "including sags and surges, and the ability to measure power factor, harmonics and other parameters continuously," according to a white paper released in November 2009 by ARC Advisory Group.
To make energy consumption data visible and easily accessible, the SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems already installed in many facilities can function as part of the energy management infrastructure. A SCADA system can show energy consumption data from equipment such as pumps, conveyors, fans, compressors, boilers, co-generators, combined heat and power systems, and furnaces.
Besides measuring and displaying consumption, technology can help facilities control that consumption by automating and regulating equipment. "Smart" controls don't require a major plant retrofit but can be integrated into technology the plant already uses.
"It's not a new system they need to put in," says Ehab Rofaiel, product marketing manager at Siemens Canada Ltd. "It's an expansion on the existing system." Rofaiel says customers are often pleasantly surprised to hear that they already have much of the necessary technology in place to get started. In companies of all sizes, it is often a revelation to operations managers that they already have the resources to make significant changes in their energy consumption and costs.
Motors, for instance, are often the most common source of energy inefficiency, especially in applications such as fans, conveyors, pumps, and compressors. Variable frequency drives (VFDs) can save energy on rotating equipment such as fans, pumps, conveyors and machine tool drives by controlling the speed of a motor.
According to the ARC white paper, "Replacing an old motor with a properly matched energy efficient motor and variable frequency drive (VFD) combination can sometimes provide an ROI measured in months."
Other smart systems that address inefficiencies in motor loads include soft starters and overload protectors, which a plant can integrate with its automation system.
Automation and smart technology can also regulate a facility's HVAC system, increasing or reducing flow as needed. The same applies to lighting; a step beyond energy-efficient bulbs, automated lighting and control systems includes sensors that can, for example, automatically turn off the lights when they detect enough natural daylight coming through the windows.
Moving from low to high efficiency devices, says Ngo, can save a plant from five to 25 percent, depending on usage. Implementing smart control systems saves a further five to 15 percent. The next step is to continuously track energy use to ensure the facility maintains those savings.
Even before investing in energy management tools, having the right processes, procedures and practices and reducing waste from existing equipment will make a difference. When a plant goes leaner and greener, the planet wins, the company wins, the manufacturing sector wins. Yet Romanow says industry in general has yet to catch on.
"Should you be concerned?" he says, "Hey, if it's 25 percent of your operating costs, if I was a financial guy I'd say, yes, you have to get a handle on it."
Michelle Morra is a freelance writer based in Toronto.
OTTAWA, Ont. - The surest way for Canada to boost its productivity is through investment in physical and human capital, according to a recently released Conference Board of Canada study, Sluggish Productivity Growth in Canada: Could the Urbanization Process Be a Factor?.
Manufacturing AUTOMATION recently put together an editorial advisory board consisting of six experts representing different segments of the industrial automation industry in Canada. This summer, we hosted the first editorial advisory board meeting at our office in Aurora, Ont., to discuss trends and challenges in the industrial automation industry. The result was a lively discussion on Canadian productivity, with a laundry list of challenges facing Canadian manufacturers. But there is hope, according to our board members. Before we delve into this deeper, introductions are in order.
“That equipment purchase can be a costly decision. Entrepreneurs need to anticipate growth and do some long-range planning first,” says Mary Gagliardi, Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) Vice President and District Manager, Southern Ontario. Gagliardi has seen many companies unexpectedly pick up new contracts and buy new equipment without carefully assessing their needs. “In capital-intensive sectors such as manufacturing, if you have an unusual blip in production, you need to know whether that’s just temporary and how new equipment will serve your business.”