What technologies will shape the future?

Dec. 16, 2013
A panel of experts discuss what technologies will drive their industries and how they will find the engineers they’ll need to be competitive.

Our panel

Gil Guajardo is a product marketing manager with Bimba Manufacturing Co., University Park, Ill., which specializes in electric actuator and motion-control products.

Milton Guerry is president of Schunk Intech Inc., Morrisville, N. C., a company that designs and manufactures automation and tooling/workholding equipment.

Tom Miller is the bearings unit manager for igus inc., East Providence, R. I., a firm that makes devices and components out of polymers including bearings and cable carriers.

Will Vinson is president of Dunkermotoren USA, Elgin, Ill., which makes motors, brakes, encoders, and gears.

Manufacturers in all industries will be relying more than ever on technology in the upcoming decade. We asked several leaders in a variety of industries about the technologies they’ll depend on in the next decade. We also quizzed them on where they plan to find engineers and technicians able to apply and use these technologies.

What newer technologies will be important to your company over the next decade?

Schunk can put data-matrix codes on its Tendo toolholders, which lets scanners identify them and ensure they are assigned to suitable tasks. The code forms the basis of database of toolholders, tracking their usage and machining parameters.

Milton Guerry, president of Schunk Intech Inc.: In the field of gripping and clamping for tool and workholding, the next decade will be particularly interesting. All equipment in workpiece gripping will be moving towards flexibility and adaptability. This will include stepwise advancements in technologies ranging from fundamental pneumatic devices with customizable sensing and controlling all the way to further development of multidegree-of-freedom devices that emulate the human hand. Automation and assistance equipment also have great potential in new applications from the factory floor to the hospital and home. Our aim is to provide and develop products to support these exciting developments.

Will Vinson, president of Dunkermotoren USA: The biggest challenge our industry faces today is keeping up with customer expectations when it comes to user-friendliness of our products and the overall customer experience. Our customers are accustomed to instant gratification from services offered in the business-to-consumer world and are increasingly demanding it in the B2B environment. We will need to heavily tap into new software and electronics technologies to provide the user-friendliness that customers expect.

Xiros plastic bearings from igus resist corrosion and withstand temperatures up to 302°F

, bearings unit manager at igus Inc.: Reducing costs for customers and working towards more environmentally responsible technologies will be important in the coming years. For example, by eliminating lubrication, we’re lowering maintenance and labor costs, and our products are designed to have very-long working lives, which means little downtime for customers and less profit loss from productivity issues. We and our customers want machines to be up and running all the time. Otherwise they’re losing money.

Gil Guajardo, production market manager at Bimba Manufacturing Co.: Technologies such as Ethernet/IP and other iterations of Ethernet such as EtherCAT lend themselves to interfacing with industrial automation vendors. They also provide a way for easily networking, interfacing, exchanging data, and collecting process data at speeds that allow for optimum real-time motion control within inherently safe installations.

Are there any older or current technologies that you plan on repurposing or “borrowing” from another industry? Why and for what purpose?

A dc-brushless servomotor from Dunkermotoren USA features CANopen over EtherCAT compatibility which gives uses the benefits of CANopen’s standardized DS402 motion profile with EtherCAT’s real-time fieldbus.

Vinson: Certainly. For instance, our products will need to adopt, at various levels, a lot of the technologies found in today’s smartphones. That includes greater processing power, App-style user interfaces, wireless protocols, and integrated sensors, all technologies that will greatly benefit our customers when embedded within our servomotors.

Miller: Rather than following our competitors and creating “me too” products, we go where the customer demand is. We see their needs and try to respond to them with our product development. For instance, if you had told me five years ago that we would come out with a line of ball bearings, I would have said, “No way.” But due to customer requests, we developed a line of polymer ball bearings. Changes and refinements to traditional ball bearings, like using special polymers and glass or stainless-steel balls, let customers have the movement and flexibility they need. We like to go over and above the trends, not just follow other industries or companies. We’re following our customers.

This air cylinder form Bimba has been updated with new technologies that double its life. It also is permanently greased, so it ever needs relubed.

Guajardo: Safety controls incorporated via a network interface is one technology that may play a larger role within the fluid-power industry. That’s because legacy fluid-power motion-control devices are widely used with networked valves and similar controls. As these networked controls grow in number and use, they will likely be incorporated into complete installations. These measures will increase the level of inherent network-side safety for operators, machines, and processed.

Guerry: Looking, learning, and borrowing technology that exists in the industry and in our own company is often just a starting point. For example, we have several developments that were targeted at research communities. These prototypes later become the foundations of advanced products.

Where will you get the personnel with expertise to work on and with these new technologies?

Miller: We work with various university programs, as well as with middle and high-school engineering organizations such as FIRST and BEST robotics, to help students in the Young Engineers Support (YES) and other STEM programs that are working with student engineers. Today’s students will be in the workforce before we know it. The aim is that developing these students’ passions for technology and engineering, in addition to work we do with on-the-cusp design houses, will keep the up-and-comers close to our company in the future. We supply technologically advanced product for them to use in their projects and they, in turn, will use their education and passions to create the next generation of products.

Guajardo: Newly graduated engineers who have grown up with social-media technology, networked gaming, and smart technology are natural candidates to embrace, support and implement this new technology. However, it is incumbent on these young engineers to draw upon the expertise of experienced fluid-power engineers to gain the knowledge required to blend the varied disciplines and achieve the end goal of safe, intelligent motion control.

Guerry: We are very proud of the technical and engineering talent in our company. A long-term concentrated effort on recruiting, developing, and training has been the differentiator. More than 12% of our worldwide employment includes apprentices and interns. Cooperative programs with universities and technical schools have also been a large part of our success.

Vinson: Because of the wide variety of technologies we use, the most sought-after talents required to develop future products come from all over the world. For instance, Germany remains one of the best countries when it comes to mechanical and electromechanical engineers. India and the U. S. are our best recruiting ground for software development and electronics engineering.

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