Automation in Action
Mar. 17, 2015 - Siemens Canada is hitting the road for its 2015 Innovation Tour, travelling to cities across the country to showcase its latest in PLCs, HMIs, IPCs, networks, RFID, drives, motors and industrial components.
Feb. 23, 2015 - When you think of innovation, what names come to mind? Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson? Or you might think of companies like Apple, Google or Zappos — companies that have set the bar through the continuous introduction of new products and services, both inside and outside their niche.
Sept. 29, 2014 - Andy Mavrokefalos calls himself a dreamer. But he is more than that.
The Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) Tax Credit claim program, administered by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), underwent many changes at the beginning of 2014. A SR&ED tax credit claim can have a substantial impact on a company’s cash flow, providing a refundable tax credit on eligible R&D expenditures. It is, therefore, important to understand how the changes may affect your business.
Sustained innovation is a key objective promoted by the SME’s “Take Back Manufacturing” initiative toward maintaining and improving Canada’s global competitiveness in manufacturing. As R&D investments are made by private and government organizations to promote the invention and improvement of products and manufacturing technologies, it is crucial that Canada’s investments be protected so that Canadians can reap the rewards. Patents and other forms of intellectual property (IP) can help protect R&D investments in the manufacturing sector.  
With warmer temperatures finally sweeping across the country, the weather is not the only climate trending upwards. Small to mid-sized businesses are also looking to take advantage of favourable conditions for global expansion.
Apr. 25, 2014 - Design and manufacturing companies must adapt quickly to the demands of an increasingly global and competitive economy. To speed time to market for products, they need to be able to collaborate and manage design life cycles effectively with offshore, mobile and remote employees. At the same time, they have to maintain security and control over intellectual property even as their workforce becomes more mobile and distributed, and their computing environment becomes more diverse.
Not your typical widget, tomatoes are fragile, have a short shelf life and come in many shapes, colours and sizes. Processing the highly popular “cocktail cherry” variety was a challenge for Clifford Produce of Leamington, Ont. Varying weather conditions were creating ever-varying tomatoes, and it didn’t help that customers’ orders differed by the types of packaging they wanted and the combinations of same-sized or different-sized, same-coloured or different-coloured tomatoes to be packaged. Adding to this challenge was that in order to stay fresh, the produce arriving from the fields had to be processed quickly.
These days, manufacturing overseas has become the norm for many companies that produce high-tech products—but not for Avigilon, a Vancouver, B.C.-based designer and manufacturer of high-definition video surveillance solutions. Since its inception in 2004, the company has manufactured its cameras for a growing number of global customers at its facility in Richmond, B.C. And they’ve done it with much success. In fact, the company increased its manufacturing footprint by 150 per cent this year to accommodate growing customer demand.
The BLOODHOUND supersonic car is aiming to break the 1,000 mph speed barrier in the summer of 2015—and it’s getting a little help from 3D printing technology. One of the most critical components is the nose tip for the car, which will be the very first part to break through any new land speed record. The tip is subject to forces as high as 4,915 pounds per square foot. To cope with such loadings, a prototype tip has been designed in titanium and will be bonded to BLOODHOUND’s carbon fiber monocoque body, which forms the front-half of the car. Renishaw is providing a manufacturing resource to the project team to produce the nose tip with its laser melting machines, which use an additive manufacturing process to fuse together very thin layers of fine metallic powders to form highly complex, functional components. The prototype will be used by the BLOODHOUND team to evaluate possible manufacturing processes and carry out further engineering analysis. Dan Johns, lead engineer at BLOODHOUND SSC responsible for materials, processes and technologies, says: “We believe that the key benefit of using an additive manufacturing process to produce the nose tip is the ability to create a hollow, but highly rigid titanium structure, and to vary the wall thickness of the tip to minimize weight. To machine this component conventionally would be extremely challenging, result in design compromises, and waste as much as 95 per cent of the expensive raw material.” Simon Scott, director of Renishaw’s Additive Manufacturing Products Division, says, “With 3D printing having such a high profile in the media and political circles, it is fantastic that the only UK manufacturer of a metal-based additive manufacturing machine is able to contribute to this iconic British project which aims to inspire a new generation of engineers here and around the world.”
Canadian companies that focus on expanding into competitive global markets outside of North America—and orient their innovation efforts to compete globally—reap the best bottom-line results. However, only about one-sixth of Canadian firms adopt an innovation strategy that focuses on competing in international markets, according to “2012 Survey Findings: The State of Firm-Level Innovation in Canada,” published by The Conference Board of Canada's Centre for Business Innovation. "Few companies pick the most successful innovation strategy of expanding to provide products and services to new international markets, even though these firms earn between 10 and 30 per cent more net income than their counterparts using other approaches," said Bruce Good, executive director of the Centre for Business Innovation. "Most Canadian firms prefer to operate within provincial or national borders—or in North America—rather than competing in international markets."
When knowledge is your main currency, you’ve got to have a way to share what your employees know. The Institut National D’Optique (INO) is a Quebec-based technological research and development firm specializing in optics and photonic solutions and, for us, knowledge is indeed our specialty. In business for more than 25 years, we are home to the largest concentration of skills in our field and serve a global client base of companies of all sizes. Eighty per cent of INO’s workforce is highly educated, highly skilled scientists, technicians and engineers. From 2010-2011, we were awarded 12 new patents, for a total of 134 patents held on a variety of technological innovations. Because our business centers on expertise, knowledge and information, our competitive edge is found within our people and their intellectual property (IP). It’s what drives innovation within INO. Our work is all about information contained in people, projects, processes and systems, and it continues to grow exponentially every day. In fact, we have three times the amount of computers compared to the number of employees, so you can get a sense of the sheer volumes of information that need to be shared among our teams of scientists and technicians. After 25 years of doing business, it became impossible to do this effectively. Getting rid of the “water cooler”Our knowledge used to be shared mainly via a “people network”—that is, around the proverbial water cooler. INO employees would slowly learn “who knew what” during their tenure, creating a culture of “tribal knowledge.” A long-term employee would inherently “know” more than a new employee because he or she had learned where to go to for information. New employees were at a disadvantage; ramp up times were extended and their ability to contribute to the business was hindered by the time it took to learn “who knows what” and become part of the inner tribe. The inability to share important knowledge across teams and the business was hindering INO’s ability to more quickly innovate, serve customers and, ultimately, sell more. Beyond our informal way of sharing information, we also realized that the existing way our users searched for digital content was cumbersome and didn’t present an accurate view of all the knowledge of our employees. For example, I heard stories of employees accessing only 200,000 documents when searching for information on a customer project, when in fact we have more than 4 million documents that contain valuable knowledge that our scientists and technicians need to do their jobs. Looking back, our employees were only getting a fraction of the view of all knowledge, and were lacking the insight they needed to be more effective at their jobs. We came to the realization that INO needed a better way to share critical knowledge and information across teams, ensure an accurate, consolidated view of all information in near real time, and get new employees up to speed quickly. Solving the knowledge problemTo help solve our knowledge problem, we formed a steering committee comprised of a representative from each department that would ultimately help us select a new technology. The committee outlined its stringent requirements, with a specialized focus on security and permissioning, so that users could access various documents based on their level of access. Since we deal with vast amounts of private information under non-disclosure agreements with our customers, security was a big concern for us in the selection process. We needed to respect the security permissions we had set up in our systems, but also needed the flexibility to set up permissions to information based on project teams and roles within INO. This level of security is paramount to our business and how we operate, as is any company that depends heavily on intellectual property (IP) and innovation. The ability to easily configure and refine the solution by role and ensure personalized context was also critical to our decision. Because our employees work on different projects for various customers, what is contextually relevant to one project team isn’t necessarily relevant to another. There are various companies that offer solutions to help harness collective knowledge. Household names include Google and Microsoft, but we decided to evaluate a company called Coveo, a Quebec-based advanced insight solution with a strong history of helping Canadian manufacturers. We needed to be able to consolidate, correlate and present our collective knowledge in a unified way, while respecting security and permissions. Our selection committee immediately saw a direct return on the investment we would achieve with an advanced insight solution, and were able to calculate the ROI to be less than a year. We also needed the ability to refine facets and present contextually relevant knowledge and information by employee role. This greatly improves the efficiency of our employees. Our team quickly expanded our use from the original Proof of Concept to include what we considered to be our most important information and knowledge repositories and where INO IP, project documents, client information and research reside: emails, project, product, platform, group and process documents and fileshares. This was rolled out to all INO employees. We then expanded our project even further and indexed additional systems including our ticketing system, CRM system, ERP system, intranet and more. Currently, approximately 99 per cent of INO’s relevant corporate information is indexed by the system, giving scientists, engineers and all employees immediate, single-screen access to the most up-to-date information across all enterprise systems. Advanced search brings greater insight and collaborationUsing advanced enterprise search, we now have greater insight into all our corporate knowledge and information, our customers and their projects. This unified view of information helps us to better collaborate on projects, quickly understand who our subject-matter experts are, get our new employees up to speed so that they become productive faster, avoid the recreation of work that’s already been done and more. These benefits have an impact on our ability to innovate more quickly, which translates directly into better customer service. At INO, we were also able to report impressive productivity gains. Our CFO noted that we have significantly increased our efficiency and productivity numbers, with our average user saving two hours each week searching for information or recreating work that already exists, which translates into a five per cent improvement in productivity per employee. A five per cent productivity gain translates to big dollars for us. Our employees are very highly skilled people—engineers and scientists with masters, doctorates and post doctorate degrees— so our average salary is very high. A five per cent improvement in productivity translates into a lot of cost savings. INO has also integrated enterprise search into the company’s new hire training process. New hires get immediately trained for 30 minutes to help them get up to speed faster, understand subject matter experts and more within the organization, and quickly ramp up on customer projects and requirements. Our new hires come up to speed more quickly and are able to start contributing to the success of client projects right away. This has helped improve our customer service, innovation levels and more. The results of our project have earned INO awards and recognition—both internally and externally. Our internal awards program dubbed “INOvation” recognizes the outstanding achievements of teams who continue to push the boundaries of innovation and what is possible with technology. Our steering committee team was recently awarded an “INOvation award” for the project and delivering better insight into the company’s exceedingly growing and vast amount of critical knowledge. Pierre Bergeron is the process & compliance manager with Institut National D’Optique (www.ino.ca). This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.
Siemens Canada's national tour series stopped in Oakville, Ont., on May 16 to showcase the company's latest TIA Portal V12 software and next generation controller family SIMATIC S7-1500. Watch as Joris Myny, Siemens Canada Ltd. vice president, Industry Automation and Drive Technologies divisions, discusses how these innovations fit in with Siemens' overall innovation goals and how the company is become a true "software company." www.siemens.ca
Earlier this year, the Conference Board of Canada held the Business Innovation Summit 2013: Innovation for the Corporation. The two-day summit, held in Toronto, focused on how to re-think, re-new and transform innovation in Canada. One thing the participants were clear about: the time to innovate is now. If Canada is to prosper in the future, companies need to close the innovation gap. “One of the resonating themes of this Summit, that I agree with wholeheartedly, is we have many prescriptive reports about the nature of the innovation gap and how to close it. The real challenge is to get on with it,” Daniel Muzyka, president and CEO, The Conference Board of Canada, told attendees. “A focus on cost-cutting and efficiency has helped many Canadian organizations weather the economic turbulence, but this approach will ultimately render them obsolete. Only the constant pursuit of innovation can ensure long-term success,” he added. There are statistics that back up this need for innovation. Key findings of the Conference Board’s Innovation Metrics for Management 2012 survey found that firms that both allocate time for innovation and manage their processes get improved results. It’s time for Canadian manufacturers to take innovation to the next level. Implementing new technology and processes, along with creative problem solving are just a few of the ways companies can be more innovative and succeed in today’s economy. The stories below offer some advice to help manufacturers make it happen. Just call it “Innovation 2.0.” Related: The next dimension in manufacturingIt’s a small worldUpping your gameThriving in a new reality This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.
Resistance is futile. 3D printing is here to stay. And if you want to reap the benefits, like reducing production costs, time and waste, it would be wise to welcome this technology with open arms. 3D printing isn’t a new technology. It’s been around as long as the Internet. But it’s been garnering more media attention in the last couple of years thanks to expanding technology. The equipment has become more affordable, efficient and accessible, making it an intriguing option for progressive manufacturers. The idea of printing a replacement toothbrush from a desktop machine could entice home users to invest in their very own 3D printer. But hobbyist use isn’t what’s getting all the attention. Industry experts think 3D printing could revolutionize the manufacturing industry. Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing uses design information from a CAD file to build up a solid object, layer-by-layer, using plastics or powders. There are many processes that can be used to print materials made from metals, glass and even bio-materials, but the most well known process of fabrication is called fuse deposition modelling (FDM). This process uses a heated nozzle that deposits fine layers of plastic on a build platform. From a simple aircraft bracket to a complex organ to replace a failing one, the possibilities for 3D printing are endless. And there are unique processes used to produce this wide array of products. One 3D printer manufacturer, Stratasys, offers three types machines, using three different printing technologies. The first is Solidscape technology, which uses wax to make patterns and is often used in the dental and jewellery industry. The next is PolyJet technology, which employs an inkjet process to create objects from fine layers of photopolymers while simultaneously curing them with ultraviolet light. Finally, they employ the most common method, FDM technology. The latter is what Jeff DeGrange, vice president of direct digital manufacturing at Stratasys, calls the holy grail when it comes to potentiality. “[FDM] can be used for making functional prototypes as well as items that would be going into manufacturing, whether it be manufacturing tools or end use parts,” he says. Waste, cost, time reduction and customizationIncorporating 3D printing technology into the production line could reduce costs by reducing manufacturing waste. Traditional subtractive manufacturing creates objects by carving them out of blocks of material. This method leaves as much as 90 per cent excess waste materials behind, according to a report published by Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) titled “3D printing and the future of manufacturing.” On the other hand, additive manufacturing creates objects that retain all the materials used in the building process. An example of the cost savings from the report showed that by using FDM to build a specialty part, costs could be reduced from $10,000 to $600. Not only can costs and waste be reduced, but production time can also be significantly decreased. For example, a series of parts used to create the body of the Urbee, a two-passenger hybrid car, was printed in a matter of weeks. “[It] would have taken an estimated eight to 10 months of work for two people using a more traditional manufacturing technique,” says Vivek Srinivasan, Australia regional manager for CSC’s Leading Edge Forum and a contributor to the 3D printing report. While cost savings, waste reduction and decrease in production time are enough incentive to consider embracing 3D printing in your production line, Jarrod Bassan, a senior consultant with CSC in Australia and a contributor to the 3D printing report, believes we will see companies using 3D printing to gain a competitive advantage through direct manufacturing. “It will allow some manufacturers to offer customization where their competitors cannot,” says Bassan. “Or offer products that have some inherent advantage which is only possible because of printing.” An example of customization using additive manufacturing is Invisalign, a company that makes clear orthodontic retainers that are an alternative to metal braces. Patients are provided with a series of removable, customized retainers. Each retainer gradually realigns the teeth, and is changed every two weeks for a new, customized retainer. This is something that is only possible through 3D printing.Even airplane interiors can be customized using 3D printing technology. “You can actually make a very customized interior as far as closure panels that can then get decorative treatments to make them very customized for the pilot,” says DeGrange, who spent 20 years in the aerospace industry while working at Boeing. Mobile warehouses and keeping manufacturing at homeIf you’ve ever had an appliance break down, you know the nuisance of waiting for a repair person to come out to your home, diagnose the problem and book a return date after the faulty part has been shipped to their warehouse. DeGrange thinks 3D printing could eliminate the hassle of the wait time. With information like the model number of your appliance, the repair person can build the part that needs replacing right on the spot. “The van of the repair company could have a 3D printer and they can just download the file right there in their van and build the parts that they need to fix your dishwasher,” says DeGrange. Then there are cars. Depending on the make, its service life can be anywhere from five to 20 years and it will eventually need spare parts. “Rather than having a big warehouse of spare parts not knowing if you have too much or not enough, you can just pull up your CAD file and print out whatever quantities you need on demand where you need it,” he says.   If a manufacturer offers 3D printed replacement parts for their products, not only can they can save on storage and transportation costs, they are also able offer their consumers convenience, and happy consumers are repeat consumers. Another benefit DeGrange sees in 3D printing is keeping manufacturing right here in North America.  A lot of jobs are sent to low-cost countries like China, Mexico and India. “We do that for a host of reasons, but ultimately it’s cost,” he says. “And you have humans in that loop. [Additive manufacturing] is basically reducing the amount of humans in that loop.” Thanks to 3D printing, you no longer need to rely on cheap labour. All the information to build a product is in the CAD file. “You could integrate so many things in the CAD file that typically would take minutes or hours to assemble downstream and that’s why you ship things to China. Now you can bring all that home, integrate it upstream in a CAD design,” he says. DeGrange offers fuel injectors for jet engines as an example of how labour intensive some products are to build. To begin assembling a 42-part jet engine fuel injector, you put part one and part two in a welding station and weld them together. Then those two pieces go to another welding station and another two pieces are welded together. Now it’s a four-part piece. This continues from station to station with people welding at each one of these stations. “Now you can combine all 42 parts in a CAD design and build it with an additive process, in this case it would be a direct metal process,” says DeGrange. “It goes right from the CAD file to the machine that integrates all those parts together so you remove the need for having all the different tooling stations and all the people who would have to weld at those tooling stations.”Potential piracyWhile 3D printing is an exciting innovation, it’s not without its drawbacks. Since printing information is digital, it’s easily transferable. This means digital piracy is a possibility. However, the prognosis need not be bleak. Manufacturers can take steps to protect themselves, says Michael Weinberg, vice president of Public Knowledge, experts in copyright, telecommunications and Internet law. We see examples of successful management of digital piracy when we examine the last 15 years of online distribution. iTunes, Netflix and Amazon customers have proven more than willing to pay for digitized content, says Weinberg, as long as there is a way for them to do so. “The best and only real way to combat piracy is to give your customers an easy way to buy legitimate copies in the format they want,” says Weinberg.For example, manufacturers could offer downloadable CAD files for replacement parts that would cost less—not to mention take less time—to purchase and ship the part directly. That would be preferable over the litigious alternative, says Weinberg. While it can be helpful to register copyrights for things that are copyrightable, patent things that are patentable and trademark things that are trademarkable, Weinberg says that can’t be your only strategy.   “Suing individual users online is a strategy that failed for the music industry,” he says. “It is unlikely to start working anytime soon.”  Weinberg adds that manufacturers who choose to embrace 3D printing are much more likely to prosper in the long run. Tania MacWilliam is a freelance writer based in Milton, Ont. This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.
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