During Canadian Manufacturing Week/WeldExpo 2010, Rob Wildeboer, executive chairman and co-founder of Martinrea International, discusses how ongoing technological investment, innovation and automation are key to survival and growth.
The highlights from IMTS 2010 include news from the show floor, plus product demonstrations from Igus, KUKA Robotics, Lincoln Electric, Yaskawa Motoman and FANUC Robotics.
Manufacturers and their supply chain partners have been much more concerned with overall inventory levels over the past decade. The tech bubble recession in 2001 and the credit crunch recession in 2009 both led to large inventory write-offs. As a result, financial and credit analysts have become extremely sensitive to companies carrying what is perceived as too much inventory. Furthermore, there is growing evidence that levels are increasing due to a number of factors, including: • The lead times necessary for offshore production necessitate larger order quantities; • Set-up costs dictate the need for large run sizes; • The rise in transportation costs necessitates large order quantities; and • Market volatility is pushing purchasers to buy and store in order to eliminate market uncertainty. Managing inventory in a multi-channel network presents major challenges. One is the failure to achieve true network inventory optimization, because replenishment strategies are applied to one channel without regard to its impact on the other channels. A 30,000-foot view of inventory usage across the chain is absent. Another possible pitfall is basing replenishment decisions on inaccurate demand forecasts. These errors will result in negative consequences, including: • Excess inventory in the form of overly high safety stock or reorder quantities; • Adequate inventory exists in the network, but is not ready to be shipped because the inventory is not in a completed stage or it's in the wrong location; • Customer delivery locations experience stock-outs even though service between channels is accurate; • Erroneous allocation decisions are made for products with long replenishment cycles; and • Suppliers' deliveries are over/under because they have received inaccurate demand projections. The key to managing all of this is inventory optimization - the application of technology and techniques across the supply chain to improve visibility, management and control of inventory levels. And the key to planning for inventory optimization is a profit-driven analysis. Planning Pareto analysis is applied to classify the profit levels of each item and to rank them based on their individual contribution to the overall profit of the enterprise. Policies are then put into place designed to lower the inventory levels of the low contributors and raise the levels of the high contributors, all with the objective of lowering the overall levels. The core of optimization technology is the engine whose function it is to analyse inventory across the supply network, and to concretize fluctuations in lead time and demand uncertainty. Inventory optimization allows for interaction with variable policies, which are now date and time-period sensitive. Seasonal demand fluctuations and supplier reaction time are provisioned for, as evidenced by lead time to order fulfillment. Re-order points and safety stock levels are no longer fixed, but are variable along the time continuum. Furthermore, inventory policies are directed at the most basic element - the item/warehouse level. A multi-channel approach The true value of inventory optimization is the ability to properly handle a multi-channel enterprise. The primary goal in this situation is to minimize inventory in all channels, while customer service meets customer demands. In this situation, inventory is the main focus, while at the same time warehousing costs, minimum order sizes and transportation costs are kept in line because these costs form part of the optimization policies. With a multi-channel approach, demand forecasting and inventory replenishment decisions are made at the top level in a single optimization iteration, rather than in a series of iterations for each channel. A multi-channel approach should: • Account for all lead times and any discrepancies; • Monitor and manage the bullwhip effect, which causes variations between nodes and distribution centres; • Avoid multiple independent forecast updates in each channel; • Enable visibility up and down the demand chain; • Synchronize order strategies; • Offer differentiated service levels; and • Correctly model the interactive effects of alternative replenishment strategies of the different levels. Benefits By using a multi-channel approach, the enterprise is able to make optimal replenishment decisions for every item across every channel. This enables the enterprise to attain or exceed service goals while keeping inventory requirements in the total network in line. Inventory is properly balanced between the channels to reduce total levels without sacrificing customer satisfaction. Reduced inventories equal reduced costs. Working capital for the enterprise is freed up. Plus, cash flow is increased, leading to better earnings performance and an increased level of customer satisfaction. A multi-channel distribution network, although complex to manage and distill, provides opportunities for inventory optimization that offset potential increases in transportation, warehousing and run size costs. To achieve these savings, it is imperative to use a fully integrated inventory optimization, multi-channel strategy. The multiplicity of factors and constraints on inventory make this strategy complex to put into place and follow, but certainly worth the effort. The results are better customer service, with less inventory. Joe Kislowicz, M.B.A., is a senior partner with Alyson Software Solutions Inc., a supply chain partner with SYSPRO ERP software in Toronto, Ont. Kislowicz has more than 25 years of experience in automated computer-based inventory control systems. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. 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Choosing the right air conditioners for enclosures can have a tremendous impact on the overall performance and efficiency of industrial operations. Proper and efficient air conditioner cooling can significantly prolong the life of installed equipment, save energy and utility costs, and protect against unscheduled downtime. Although cooling is sometimes an afterthought during the course of planning a project at the enclosure layout level, with careful consideration and the right information, it can truly become an asset for increased productivity and profitability.    This paper identifies different factors that should be considered when choosing air conditioners for industrial enclosures, including internal heat loads, the various methods used to rate the cooling capacity of enclosure air conditioners, the impact of humidity and other ambient conditions, and energy efficiency. Understanding air conditioner performance diagrams and sizing tools in relation to application requirements is also covered.                        Factors to consider Internal heat load: The internal heat load is the amount of heat energy produced by the electronics inside the enclosure, and it comes from the unused electricity running through the components. In order to specify the right air conditioner capacity for an application, it is critical to know the amount of heat energy (in BTU per hour or in Watts) that will be created by the equipment housed within the enclosure.   Determining the amount of heat energy to be removed: There are multiple ways to determine the heat load inside an enclosure. One way is to add up the heat loads of all of the installed electronic components as specified by the component manufacturers. Another approach is to add up the electricity consumed by the electronics and then multiply it by the efficiency of the system. The resulting number equals the need for cooling capacity. For example, if an electronics system is consuming 500 Watts of power and it is 20 percent efficient, the system is only using 100 Watts of electricity for its actual function. The remaining 400 Watts is dissipated in the form of heat energy.    Impacting cooling capacity: In the world of electronics, cooling capacity is the maximum amount of thermal energy that a climate control product can remove, and it is shown either in Watts or BTU per hour (if necessary, to convert Watts into BTU per hour, multiply by 3.413). The cooling capacity, or performance, of a specific enclosure air conditioner not only depends on its overall design, but also on various application-specific factors. These factors include the ambient temperature, the maximum allowable internal temperature, and the operating frequency (in Hz).   The ambient temperature (Ta) can significantly affect the cooling capacity of an air conditioner. If an air conditioner operates in high ambient temperatures, it provides less cooling capacity. This is because air conditioners work by pulling the hot air from inside the electrical enclosure and transferring the thermal energy away from the cabinet to the surrounding environment. The hotter the outside air is, the ability of the air conditioner to transfer the enclosure heat energy out through the condenser coil is diminished. As to be expected, the opposite is true when air conditioners are placed in areas with lower ambient temperatures, since the heat transfer through the condenser coil into the ambient air is quicker, consequently raising the cooling capacity of the air conditioner.    The maximum allowable internal temperature (Ti) is also relevant to the cooling capacity of an air conditioner because it determines how much thermal energy needs to be removed from an enclosure and can vary from application to application. Typically, air conditioners operate by maintaining temperatures that do not exceed a specified set point. A recommended set point for two enclosure air conditioners lies between 86 and 104 degrees F, depending on the electronics installed in the enclosure. Lower temperature set points can easily lead to excessive condensation and should be avoided.   The third factor that influences the cooling capacity of an air conditioner is the operating frequency. Here in North America, 60 Hz is the norm, but throughout much of the world, 50 Hz is used. This is why, for example, most Rittal TopTherm Plus air conditioner models are dual-rated, meaning that they can operate at both 50 and 60 Hz. A dual rating allows for the same air conditioner to be used all over the world, where different power systems supply different frequencies. When an air conditioner is operating at 60 Hz, the fans and compressor actually rotate faster than at 50 Hz, resulting in higher performance for the air conditioner at 60 Hz.   When evaluating an air conditioner stated to have a certain cooling capacity, it's important to consider under what temperature conditions, and at which operating frequency, that cooling capacity is provided.    Why do some manufacturers determine cooling capacity differently than others? In North America, no formal standard for testing or publishing cooling capacity exists, so most manufacturers use the maximum temperatures at which the air conditioner is designed to operate as reference points (maximum internal and external temperatures). The maximum operating temperatures can differ between air conditioner models, as well as manufacturers. Typically, a maximum operating temperature is at 131 degrees F. If indicated, the rating temperatures could be shown as L131/L131 or Ti 95/Ta 95 or 95° F/95° F. Traditionally, the first number stands for the internal temperature.   In Europe, a standard called DIN 3168/EN 814 part 500 (European standard for enclosure climate control) is used. This standard levels the playing field, and provides a more realistic measure of performance, by requiring all manufacturers to use the same temperature conditions to determine cooling capacity - allowing users to make true one-to-one comparisons.     Helpful tools Air conditioner performance diagrams: To determine the cooling capacity of an air conditioner, a performance diagram can be used. These charts show the cooling capacity of an air conditioner per the requirements of DIN 3168, as well as under different temperature scenarios - including maximum operating conditions. This will help users to determine how a particular air conditioner will perform in a specific application.  Air conditioner sizing: When selecting an air conditioner, the easiest way to figure out how an air conditioner will perform at given temperatures is to use sizing software. These convenient tools typically walk users through the various factors that impact an application, and then determine the need for cooling.   Calculating air conditioner efficiency: Reducing power consumption and increasing efficiency are vitally important to protecting the environment, and to saving money during the operation of air conditioners at the end-user level. The formula to determine the efficiency of an air conditioner is simple - it's the ratio between useful cooling capacity and power consumption. The higher the cooling efficiency factor, the more efficient the air conditioner is.   Calculating the impact of humidity: An unavoidable side effect of using air conditioners is the dehumidification of the enclosure's interior air. As it cools down, part of the humidity contained in the air condenses on the evaporator coil. The reliable discharge of this condensate from the enclosure is important to consider, and is achieved by using condensate hoses and collection bottles in conventional units, or via condensate evaporators in more advanced products. The amount of condensate that is created depends on relative humidity, the air temperature in the enclosure, the evaporator coil, and the air volume present in the enclosure. It's always recommended that control panels be operated with enclosure doors closed, and that all sides of the enclosure are properly sealed and gasketed. In addition, it is advisable to use a door switch that interrupts the operation of the air conditioner while the enclosure door is open, and to set the internal temperature of the enclosure only as low as is actually needed.   Conclusions Selecting the right air conditioner for an industrial enclosure application is crucial to maximizing efficiency, performance and overall return on investment. Knowing what factors to consider, and taking the time to properly evaluate the products available, can save money by reducing utility costs, drastically improve the life and reliability of installed equipment, and solidify operations as a whole through increased productivity and reduced unplanned downtime.           Judith Koetzsch has been with Rittal since 2001, first working for Rittal GmbH & Co. Kg. in Germany as a part of the international climate control product management team, and then joining Rittal Corporation in the U.S. as product manager for Climate Control Products in 2006.       
THE COMPANY: Freybe Gourmet Foods is a Langley, B.C.-based manufacturer of ham, bacon, salami and other quality meat products. Founded six generations ago in Stettin, Germany by patriarch sausage master Johann Carl Freybe, the company is still owned and operated by the Freybe family and produces more than 120 award-winning varieties of sausages, ham and specialty deli meats. THE CHALLENGE: Before Freybe initially implemented IFS Applications, its immediate goal was to get onto a standard system that could handle its mixed-mode manufacturing requirements. According to Cinqcon Consulting Systems Analyst Ilona Pretorius, who supports Freybe's instance of IFS Applications, the heavily customized legacy system Freybe used prior to implementing IFS Applications was putting the enterprise at risk. "We needed to move away from an archaic system that was over-customized by developers who would simply make system modifications on request," Pretorius says. "There was no way the legacy vendor could support or upgrade our old system, so we were always heavily dependent on having IT available on site at all times." Because Freybe manufactures food items that start out as recipes or formulas but end up as discrete, manufactured products, they are running in mixed manufacturing modes, including both process and discrete. They needed an enterprise software package that could, without modifications, support their end-to-end business processes. Furthermore, according to Pretorius, the fact that Freybe is dealing with perishables further complicates their enterprise software needs. "All products are code date sensitive, with different product having different shelf lives; and each customer has different requirements for code date on product when it arrives at their dock," explains Pretorius. "Furthermore, the product is a mix of fixed weight - like sliced ham, sliced salami [and] packaged wieners - and open weight - like full whole muscle ham and half whole muscle ham." THE STRATEGY: In 2005, Freybe implemented IFS Applications, and has since been enjoying usability, efficiency and supportability advantages over their heavily customized legacy system. "Now, we are on a standard system with standard support and upgrade processes that still meet our diverse needs," says Pretorius. In 2010, as part of a gradual process of bringing on new IFS Applications modules, extending the solution to new areas of the business, Freybe implemented enhanced functionality for Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). THE RESULTS: "With close to 60 percent of the volume of customer orders picked in the warehouse originating from EDI for chain customers, the number of transactions and support for this functionality keeps on growing," Pretorius explains, adding that given the diversity of stock keeping units (SKUs) Freybe handles, EDI is a real challenge. "A number of the items ordered by these customers are custom pack sizes. To reduce SKU proliferation, inventory is repacked into customer-specific master cases once the customer order has been released in the system. As these items are ordered in less than pallet quantities, the orders are processed as standard customer orders. We can track the customer pallet creation as well as pallets staging for shipment. Using IFS' shipping management software, we have set up a customized Advanced Shipping Notification (ASN) that is then forwarded to the customer." This arrangement has allowed Freybe to meet the needs of EDI trading partners that want to have the ASN notice. It is also flexible enough to allow for human intervention and hands-on management of shipments to non-EDI partners. This was all accomplished without major changes to the way orders are selected and processed in Freybe's distribution warehouse. "Major changes in our processes were needed to make this work, but the complexities were dealt with in the software, not by the end users in the distribution warehouse" Pretorius says.
Pricing is one of the most powerful - yet underutilized - strategies available to businesses. A McKinsey & Company study of the Global 1200 found that if companies increased prices by just one percent, and demand remained constant, on average operating profits would increase by 11 percent. Just as important, price is a key attribute that consumers consider before making a purchase. The following 10 pricing tips can reap higher profits, generate growth and better serve customers by providing options. 1. Stop marking up costs. The most common mistake in pricing involves setting prices by marking up costs ("I need a 30 percent margin"). While easy to implement, these "cost-plus" prices bear absolutely no relation to the amount that consumers are willing to pay. As a result, profits are left on the table daily. 2. Set prices that capture value. Manhattan street vendors understand the principle of value-based pricing. The moment that it looks like it will rain, they raise their umbrella prices. This hike has nothing to do with costs; instead it's all about capturing the increased value that customers place on a safe haven from rain. The right way to set prices involves capturing the value that customers place on a product by "thinking like a customer." Customers evaluate a product and its next best alternative(s) and then ask themselves, "Are the extra bells and whistles worth the price premium (organic vs. regular) or does the discount stripped down model make sense (private label vs. brand name). They choose the product that provides the best deal (price vs. attributes). 3. Create a value statement. Every company should have a value statement that clearly articulates why customers should purchase their product over competitors' offerings. Be specific in listing reasons...this is not a time to be modest. This statement will boost the confidence of your frontline so they can look customers squarely in the eye and say, "I know that you have options, but here are the reasons why you should buy our product." 4. Reinforce to employees that it is okay to earn high profits. I've found that many employees are uncomfortable setting prices above what they consider to be "fair" and are quick to offer unnecessary discounts. It is fair to charge "what the market will bear" prices to compensate for the hard work and financial risk necessary to bring products to market. It is also important to reinforce the truism that most customers are not loyal - if a new product offers a better value (more attributes and/or cheaper price), many will defect. 5. Realize that a discount today doesn't guarantee a premium tomorrow. Many people believe that offering a discount as an incentive to trial a product will lead to future full price purchases. In my experience, this rarely works out. Offering periodic discounts serves price-sensitive customers (which is a great strategy) but often devalues a product in customers' minds. This devaluation can impede future full price purchases. 6. Understand that customers have different pricing needs. In virtually every facet of business (product development, marketing, distribution), companies develop strategies based on the truism that customers differ from each other. However, when it comes to pricing, many companies behave as though their customers are identical by setting just one price for each product. The key to developing a comprehensive pricing strategy involves embracing (and profiting from) the fact that customers' pricing needs differ in three primary ways: pricing plans, product preferences and product valuations. Pick-a-plan, versioning and differential pricing tactics serve these diverse needs.  7. Provide pick-a-plan options. Customers are often interested in a product but refrain from purchasing simply because the pricing plan does not work for them. While some want to purchase outright, others may prefer a selling strategy such as rent, lease, prepay, or all-you-can-eat. A pick-a-plan strategy activates these dormant customers. New pricing plans attract customers by providing ownership options, mitigating uncertain value, offering price assurance and overcoming financial constraints. 8. Offer product versions. One of the easiest ways to enhance profits and better serve customers is to offer good, better and best versions. These options allow customers to choose how much to pay for a product. Many gourmet restaurants offer early-bird, regular and chef's-table options. Price-sensitive gourmands come for the early-bird specials, while well-heeled diners willingly pay an extra $50 to sit at the chef's table. 9. Implement differential pricing. For any product, some customers are willing to pay more than others. Differential pricing involves offering tactics that identify and offer discounts to price-sensitive customers by using hurdles, customer characteristics, selling characteristics and selling strategy tactics. For example, customers who look out for, cut out, organize, carry and then redeem coupons are demonstrating (jumping a hurdle) that low prices are important to them. 10. Use pricing tactics to complete your customer puzzle. Companies should think of their potential customer base as a giant jigsaw puzzle. Each new pricing tactic adds another customer segment piece to the puzzle. Normal Normans buy at full price (value-based price), Noncommittal Nancys come for leases (pricing plans), High-end Harrys buy the top-of-the-line (versions), and Discount Davids are added by offering 10 percent off on Tuesday promotions (differential pricing). Starting with a value-based price, employing pick-a-plan, versioning and differential pricing tactics adds the pricing related segments necessary to complete a company's potential customer puzzle. Offering consumers pricing choices generates growth and increases profits. Since pricing is an underutilized strategy, it is fertile ground for new profits. The beauty of focusing on pricing is that many concepts are straightforward to implement and can start producing profits almost immediately. What better pricing windfall can your company start reaping tomorrow morning? Rafi Mohammed, Ph.D is the author of The 1% Windfall: How Successful Companies Use Price to Profit and Grow (HarperBusiness). He has been working on pricing issues for the last 20 years. Mohammed is the founder of Culture of Profit LLC, a Cambridge, Mass.-based company that consults with businesses to help develop and improve their pricing strategy.
The quick climb of the Canadian dollar is making many manufacturers quite nervous, and not without cause - our price advantage over the U.S. due to a lower valued dollar has been eliminated. Volatility in the exchange rates has created uncertainty and risk for Canadian companies who, because of U.S. sales, have working capital that consist of U.S. dollar assets. As the value of the Canadian dollar rises, the comparative value of U.S. cash and receivables decreases, resulting in companies reporting significant foreign exchange losses. In most cases, the U.S. cash and receivables are periodically converted to Canadian funds to cover operating expenses, fund capital expenditures and service debt. The result is that these are not merely accounting losses, but true realized losses. These losses also affect suppliers, as manufacturers with less money to spend seek out salary concessions and reduced pricing. All this, coupled with rising U.S. sentiment of "buy domestic," means troubled times ahead for Canadian manufacturers. There are, however, ways to mitigate financial risk. 1. Develop a hedge strategy Enter into a forward exchange contract to help mitigate risk. This is an agreement to sell a pre-determined amount of U.S. dollars on a pre-determined date at a pre-determined rate. Taking out the uncertainty in transacting in American dollars is the first step in being able to plan with more accuracy. For businesses where sales are predominantly made in U.S. dollars, companies will generally forecast their periodic need for Canadian funds for operational purposes and enter into contracts to sell the required amount of U.S. funds. Having a better understanding of your operational costs can go a long way by ensuring only the required amount is converted, and keeping the rest in U.S. funds. Another hedging strategy is to offset U.S. dollar assets with U.S. dollar liabilities. If your U.S. dollar assets are decreasing in value against the Canadian dollar, so are your U.S. liabilities. Losses on assets become gains on liabilities. Most companies require a credit facility to fund receivable balances. In many cases, these loans are negotiated in Canadian funds, regardless of the currency of the asset being financed. Consider negotiating the terms in U.S. dollars. This not only creates a hedge against potential exchange losses, it reduces the need for Canadian funds since the principal payments and interest expenses are funded in U.S. currency. 2. Improve the collection process With the recent downturn in the economy, the majority of companies have experienced an increase in the aging of their receivable balances. But, the longer it takes to collect, the longer a company is exposed to the risk of an exchange rate change. Close the gap between the U.S. sales and the funds being received. Tightening up your credit policy is also good business practice. Periodically assess the credit limits of your customers. Slow payment not only increases exchange risk, it can be a signal of financial uncertainty. Incentives for paying early, such as discounts, are one option to change payment habits. We are an attractive buy Canada is fiscally strong. Our banks are solid, our economy is improving and our natural resources are bountiful. This is a formula for a strong currency. However, this does not have to translate into a weakened export sector. An adjustment to business strategies may be needed to make sure this sector holds onto its brawny stance in the Canadian economy. Graham Williams is an accounting and assurance partner with Toronto-based accounting and business advisory firm Stern Cohen LLP.
Thanks to a range of developments in technology, systems based on terahertz technology are poised to enter and create significant new markets within the decade. Of the many potential applications of terahertz radiation, manufacturing is potentially the most promising.     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.    J. Scott Moore, Ph.D., is president of Thintri, Inc., a full-service consulting firm based in New York. You can reach him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
The manufacturing sector is battered and bruised, but it’s fighting. And it’s fighting hard. 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.
G.N. Plastics is a leader in the design, development and manufacture of thermoforming machines and tools. After moving to Chester, N.S., from Austria in 1968, the company now produces plastic products and packaging for the foodstuffs industry (which is 95 percent of its customer base). Between 70 and 80 of its systems are sold yearly. Today, customers in more than 60 countries trust in G.N. Plastics' solutions. The Maritimes-based machine manufacturer offers common development and production of prototypes as well as application-specific support. "Although G.N. is involved in a niche industry, competition in the global marketplace is strong with the largest competitors based in Germany, Italy and the U.S.," G.N. general director Georg Nemeskeri explains. INCREASED EFFICIENCY Thermoforming machines are normally used to process plastic sheets that are first heated and formed and then cut and stacked. From wrapping for fine foods to sweets, all types of packaging can be produced. "In the past, we often used several different solutions for our machines, which increased the time required for programming and commissioning," Nemeskeri says. High-quality plastic packaging is the result of a multi-layered production process. High forming speeds and precise positioning of the plastic are important factors when processing various foil materials. In cooperation with B&R Automation, G.N. Plastics was able to combine progressive machine design and maximum performance in a very short time. In 2005, G.N. Plastics began collaborating with B&R. Using its Automation Studio software, the company greatly simplified management and control of the automation system. It was then possible to considerably reduce the programming time required for the various components - and annoying interfaces became a thing of the past. G.N. Plastics and B&R's first joint project was the fundamental reconstruction of a robotic stacking unit. This was followed by the development of a new automation system based on a B&R Power Panel and ACOPOs servo drives and servomotors. Advantages of the new concept include its "extraordinary user friendliness and reliability." A MULTI-LAYERED PRODUCTION PROCESS "In particular, the use of Automation Studio allows simple integration of a control solution that can be ideally adapted to all of the requirements of our thermoforming machines," Nemeskeri explains. Additionally, Christian Kastinger, an applications manager with B&R in Mississauga, Ont., says the new 15-inch, colour HMI provides an enhanced graphical representation of process parameter and diagnostic information, and the B&R System Diagnostic Manager provides web-based access to diagnostic information. Additionally, G.N. "reduced cabinet space and wiring effort due to the power panel technology" with the combined HMI and PLC and by using compact X20 slice I/Os. The main steps for plastic processing include: • Heating the plastic material: The plastic is unwound from a roll and fed into the forming area. Here it is trapped in place by a double toggle mechanism that closes the forming press. Compressed air is injected through the mold ensuring complete contact of the plastic material with the heating plates. Adds Kastinger: "Besides a higher throughput (parts/min.), the new B&R software-based temperature controller provides outstanding stability of the temperature zones [that] is crucial for the product quality." • Forming: As the plastic material reaches the optimum forming temperature, air is exhausted from the mold. Air pressure is then applied through thousands of tiny holes in the heating plate assembly. This forming pressure forces the plastic into the mold cavity. • Cutting the formed plastic: As the forming air is vented, a second toggle movement forces the knife blade of the cutting die through the plastic sheet. • Ejecting the completed part: After cutting, the press opens and the formed parts are ejected using pressurized air. • Material transport: The formed parts, which are still connected to the material web, are transported to the stacking station. • Stacking: The stacking units can easily be attached to any thermoforming machine in order to accurately count, stack and deliver the formed parts. The integration of B&R technology ensures consistency. In addition, the components' modularity makes it possible to quickly adjust machine solutions to specific requirements. As for challenges, the biggest came to testing the control program. "All possible operator inputs at any step of the process had to be tested in order to ensure highest possible reliability and repeatability of the thermoforming process," Kastinger says. The first updated machine was shipped to a European customer familiar with G.N.'s machines and with high expectations. "The machine has been working well since Day 1 and satisfied the customer's expectations," he adds. It was even possible for G.N. technicians to monitor production parameters of a machine operating across the Atlantic Ocean and to even implement and download minor program advancements. "Because of the success of our partnership during the projects, we decided to use B&R components for all of our machines' needs in the future," Nemeskeri says, a process that is well underway. "Based on modularity and the excellent availability of all the B&R components, we are now able to make powerful systems available right on time," he adds.
What you can't see sometimes can hurt you - and your bottom line. This is evidenced by the precise manufacturing processes required in the solar-cell market, poised to experience exceptional growth. This market's continued success will require manufacturers to drive production costs down. Automated optical inspection using machine-vision systems will play a key role in this cost reduction by speeding production and reducing waste. The challenge is to have the right vision system for each inspection task. The solar cell industry has already seen a 35-percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) since 1998 and is projected to remain at a 20 to 30-percent CAGR through 2011. A key factor that could limit this growth, however, is the cost of photovoltaic energy. Sunlight is free, so the solar panels' price will be the dominant factor in setting energy cost. Panel prices must drop significantly in order for photovoltaic energy to be competitive with traditional alternatives. Given the political climate, lower panel costs will increase market growth, even without cost parity. Advantages of automated optical inspection To reduce panel costs as well as meet growing demands, manufacturers will need to increase production efficiency. Automated optical inspection (AOI) can help in several ways. Understandably, it's faster than manual inspection, allowing developers to speed their production process by removing the inspection bottleneck. It also offers high reliability, precision and accuracy. This permits detection of errors earlier in the production process, reducing waste. It also allows safe handling of thinner wafers while reducing production delays caused by wafer breakage and subsequent cleanup. The vision systems performing the inspections can provide immediate quantitative feedback on the location, type and quantity of errors detected to support continuous process monitoring and improvement. One company leading the charge in this area is Laval, Que.-based SynergX. The company's SGI Glass-Scan system provides solar-glass producers and solar-panel manufacturers with a turnkey yield management and quality control system for the inspection of both continuous float glass (web inspection) and cut sheet glass. Founded in 2004 by Ken Wawrew, president and CEO, and Stéphane Lemieux, general manager and vice-president, SynergX is an industrial-technology company with its core competency being AOI and machine vision. The company designs and manufactures application-specific machine-vision systems, specializing in two industries: inspection for the glass industry (automotive glass and solar panels) and the inspection of bottling applications for the beverage industry. SynergX uses DALSA's line-scan camera technology in its SGI Glass-Scan system to increase productivity, reduce the need for human inspection and guarantee the quality of the solar panel product by inspecting the glass prior to its lamination to the solar panel. "With the ongoing interest in alternative energy supplies, such as solar power, the use of solar glass is rising," Wawrew states. "Solar-cell manufacturers are under immense pressure to drive down costs in order to have solar energy become roughly equivalent to the cost of conventional power; this is called 'grid parity.' Automated optical inspection is one way to both increase quality and drive down costs." How the system works The solar-glass market is one where quality is paramount and a major differentiator. It is important that the glass being produced is monitored for both process control and quality. Solar-panel manufacturers typically provide a warranty of 25 years with their panels, and poor quality glass could cause a failure in the field. The Glass-Scan system helps the producer guarantee quality by detecting and classifying defects in the glass, such as black stones, white stones, closed and open bubbles. The system also helps the solar-glass producer optimize the cutting of the glass into sheets by identifying and marking defects that are out of spec and then cutting around these defects, ensuring only the highest quality glass is shipped to customers. Productivity is further increased by replacing a large number of human inspectors previously used for this task. Solar glass is fabricated on a continuous web. In a typical inspection, the glass sheets pass through the SGI inspection system at variable speeds where the cameras acquire an image at a frame rate relative to the actual speed of the glass web. As the images are acquired, the signals from each camera are sent to front-end processing boards where raw signal is filtered to isolate areas suspected to have a glass defect. These suspected areas are then sent to the post-processing boards, where they are automatically analyzed and classified. The defects are sent to the supervisory control board where the decision to reject or not to reject will be taken according to the settings establish by the line operators. Finally, the position of the out-of-specs defects will be sent to a glass-cutting system with the objective of optimizing glass cutting. As the glass is produced, the SGI Glass-Scan system has a number of line-scan cameras covering the width of the web or glass production line. When a defect in the glass is detected, the system communicates with the line-control system and the defect location is marked. The manufacturer uses this information in the glass-cutting process by cutting around defects to ensure that defective glass is not shipped to the customer. For the solar-panel manufacturer, the system integrates fully into the production line, providing an in-process inspection point after washing and drying, before the glass panel is laminated to the solar panel. The system provides yield management, ensuring no defective glass panels are laminated to a solar panel and thus wasting a significant amount of production material and capacity. Image acquisition: the key factor An integral part of the Glass-Scan system is the image-acquisition portion, which is managed by DALSA's line-scan cameras. Currently, more than 200 systems are installed and working in the field. "Over the years, DALSA's camera technology has proven to be highly reliable and highly effective in meeting our application needs," Lemieux says. "Our systems' success is dependent on camera speed, sensitivity and throughput, and the DALSA cameras deliver on these attributes. "The nature of glass inspection requires a well-developed line-scan platform that can be adapted to both continuous glass web inspection and cut sheet glass inspection," he adds. "In some cases, the edge of the glass is ground, which can also require inspection. The DALSA line-scan camera has formed the basis of the SynergX Glass-Scan systems, meeting all the requirements for both surface scanning and edge inspection. And, as higher speed manufacturing and tighter defect specifications necessitate faster and higher resolution systems, these cameras have kept pace with the all our technological requirements. As a result, SynergX is able to deliver reliable, high-performance glass-inspection systems covering a wide range of glass tints and textures." The solar cell market faces an exceptional opportunity for growth, but production costs will set the pace and extent of that growth. Increasing production speeds and yields, with corresponding reduction in cost, will require use of automated inspection methods at a variety of points in the fabrication process. Inspection systems such as the SynergX Glass-Scan are assisting in the adoption in solar power, with advances in automated inspection. Philip Colet is the vice-president of sales and marketing at DALSA in Montreal. He can be reached by email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or by telephone at (514) 333-1301.
An all-in-one machine and motion controller is helping an innovative machine builder set new levels of performance in the stone cutting sector.  Farnese Australia has been manufacturing stone cutting and polishing machines for 10 years. For its latest product, the Quantum bridge saw, the company switched to an Ethernet-based controller from Baldor Electric Company. The controller provides all of the resources required for the real-time interpolated control of four servomotor axes, all of the I/O on the machine, plus an ActiveX interface to the unique Windows user interface that Farnese developed to simplify stonemasonry. The new Quantum bridge saw provides X, Y and rotational motion for the fast and efficient shaping of stone kitchen and bathroom surfaces. Four servomotors control the motion of the rotary saw tool, which moves over the worktable on a gantry. Two synchronized axes are used to drive the gantry along the worktable because of the weight and rigidity of the tool that is required for precision sawing over such a large operating area. The other two axes provide transverse movement along the gantry, and rotational motion of the tool head. The latter axis eliminates any need to reposition the workpiece or tool to change cutting direction, and can make angular and circular cuts to radii as small as 10 mm. The four axes employ single-phase Baldor MicroFlex e100 drives, driving the company's BSM series servomotors. These axes, plus all of the sensors and actuators required on the machine, are controlled by Baldor's all-in-one motion and machine controller, NextMove e100. This controller uses the deterministic real-time Ethernet Powerlink Network. Baldor's controller was selected for three main reasons: It provides a single-box motion and I/O control solution for this four-axis interpolated machine; Farnese makes a range of cutting and polishing machines, and Baldor's controller makes it possible to use the same platform for almost any conceivable new machine or cell, with up to 16 interpolated axes; and Baldor's development environment, Workbench, comes with the controller, and includes support for ActiveX, making it easy to interface with Farnese's existing PC/Windows-based user interface. Programming the real-time motion control was made easy by Baldor's Mint language, which offers high-level keywords for the complex movements that Farnese requires, such as angular and circular cuts. Workbench also provides tools that allow Farnese to provide remote support for its machines, allowing diagnostics to be run and drives to be tuned. The user interface is a key feature underpinning Farnese's success in its home markets of Australasia. It makes selection of the right shape cutting process very easy, avoiding much of the risk of operator error. A range of pre-programmed shape cutting sequences are provided to cover common requirements, eliminating the need for skilled operator programming by the kitchen and bathroom surface suppliers that typically purchase these machines. The interface also supports more complex applications, allowing programming using G-code, as well as manual control. "We've used Baldor controllers for many years," says Alessandro Farnese of Farnese Australia. "The latest Powerlink controller gives us a really versatile platform to help develop our machine building business." "The NextMove e100 provides a very versatile and economic platform for producing three- and four-axis machines, such as those from Farnese Australia," says Jason de Souza of Baldor. "In this case, the multi-axis control capabilities and the I/O that comes as standard provided all the control resources needed, keeping the bill-of-material costs very low. It will also operate standalone, or in conjunction with a PC host, providing great flexibility of application for the small machines sector." Farnese Australia is currently in the process of starting up a manufacturing plant in Vietnam to produce machines for the global market. 
While Europe offers a clear direction when it comes to machine safety standards, North America does not. The onus, therefore, is on Canadian manufacturers to make sure they're keeping their employees safe.
In our June cover story, MA`s editorial board discusses ways in which manufacturers can make the most of the economic recovery. Here`s a sneak peak of what they had to say.
Manufacturing AUTOMATION showcases the latest products featured at the Machine Automation Safety Congress

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