Fabrisonic
Fabrisonic's new facility

5 for Friday: Building Redundant Systems, Widening the Talent Pool, Moving Out of the Basement

Jan. 13, 2023
A look at the week past, and a look ahead to the issues facing the design and manufacturing sector.

1. Department of Redundancy Department

The Jan. 11 meltdown of the FAA’s warning system to pilots forced a nationwide ground halt of flights. The disruption was blamed on a computer glitch, which might seem the least ominous of the possible scenarios, until you consider that everything, everywhere runs on computer systems.

The events of the last three years should have steeled us to the idea that our operations teams need contingency plans, back-up plans and system redundancy. The concept of “crisis management” either can focus on the first word or the second. It requires an understanding that even in the best designs, things break.

For example, if the power goes out after a natural disaster, do you have a back-up power supply? How about if there’s just a power surge? After all the supply chain challenges of the last 18 months, have your fortified your own supply chain again breakage? When it comes to machine safety, are you building in redundancies that ensure a safer environment should an event upset the process?

We shouldn’t wait for an event such as grounding our air travel system to think about what happens when things go wrong. Part of effective design is designing for operational effectiveness, and that includes those days when your system decides to take an unscheduled break.

2. A Wider Talent Pool

When wrestling with the continuing job shortages in manufacturing, attention often focused on underserved or under-represented groups. One that Rehana Begg focused on in her new Machine Design article is the training of developmentally disabled individuals to fill specific plant needs.

Ithaca, Mich.-based Hutchinson Aerospace & Industry, Inc. has found success by partnering with Mid-Michigan Industries (MMI) to help train and employ individuals with complex needs. MMI is a not-for-profit that partners with organizations throughout central Michigan by providing vocational services in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act.

As the article notes, it is not a simple process to qualiffor the program. David Gnegy, MMI’s director of Employment, notes the need for clear thinking as a company explores participation in such a program. “Once the scope and available number of participants are established, the two partners can collaborate on job duties and scheduling, just like any other contracted work,” he said. “The main thing to keep in mind from both the service provider and the business involved is to keep an open mind throughout the site establishment phase of the partnership, so that both parties can do their best for the other.”

But the program has produced tangible benefits for the company and for the workforce. Read the full article here, and then contemplate exploring similar programs across the country and in your state.

3. Is That a Crosswalk? Now You Know Who to Blame

Among all of the life-changing innovations and fun little doodads on display at CES 2023 in Las Vegas, there also was thew announcement of the 50th class of the National Inventors Hall of Fame. In 1973, Thomas Edison was the only inventor selected for inclusion in the hall, and past recipients have spanned improvements in our lives that are both obvious and subtle.

One honoree jumped out at me, however, though his name is unlikely one you’ve ever heard, unless you’ve been part of two-factor log-in to a website. Luis von Ahn is the computer scientist who invented Completely Automated Public Turing test for telling Computers and Humans Apart, also known as CAPTCHA. He’s the guy who makes you look at a grid of 16 squares and you try to tell which ones have a stoplight, or a crosswalk, or a motorcycle in order to prove that you’re human when accessing a site.

So now “Luis von Ahn” is the answer to the question, “Who’s the guy who thought up this thing?” On the flip side, his bio on the list of inventors in this year’s class also points out he’s the guy who developed Duolingo, the online language-learning platform.

The complete list of inductees into the National Inventors Hall of Fame are listed here. You won’t need CAPTCHA to access it.

4. “Moving Out of Mom and Dad’s Basement”

Across the U.S., there are manufacturing incubators and consortia working with small manufacturers to turn big ideas into sustainable business, and to harness a collective brain trust to find solutions faster.

One great example of such a success story comes from central Ohio, where Fabrisonic LLC—which specializes in 3D metal ultrasonic additive manufacturing and 3D printing applications—has moved its operation from The Ohio State University campus to a new 30,000 facility in a Columbus suburb. In 2011, Fabrisonic partnered with incubator EWI on the Ohio State campus, and the success was so great, it was time for Fabrisonic to fly on its own.

“The across-town move does not adversely impact Fabrisonic employees, allowing the company to maintain access to its current talent pool and attract new employees to accommodate growth,” said Mark Norfolk, Fabrisonic president and CEO, in a press release announcing the move. “Although it’s time for us to spread our wings and move out of mom and dad’s basement, we’re staying close to our Buckeye engineering roots.” 

EWI has been providing  engineering services for companies since 1984. Programs such as this give fledgling manufacturers a technical resource they might not be able to afford on their own. It’s an R&D department without the massive capital expense. It’s also a model currently being replicated across the country, most notably among the Manufacturing USA group, which provides similar incubator services and test beds focused on every modern discipline in manufacturing.

EWI says its overall mission is to “improve public/private collaboration, strengthen U.S. manufacturing supply chains, and make U.S. manufacturers more competitive on a global scale.” The limit of such ambitions is only that more manufacturers of all sizes don’t take greater advantage of such opportunities. The Fabrisonic success story is one example of what can happen when all those platitudes meet action and commitment.

5. The Time has Come for Time-Sensitive Networking

Machine Design has published a number of stories on the concept of—and value of—Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) as a protocol for data management in manufacturing. We even developed a webinar on the topic in 2022.

Our Endeavor Business Media colleagues at Control Design have another excellent piece this week from Roy Kok, a senior partner and alliance specialist, e-F@ctory Alliance, at Mitsubishi Electric and one of the leading evangelists for TSN.

In this month’s article, Kok notes that one of the keys to TSN is its ability to operate with existing Ethernet connections, making its use both efficient and cost-effective. “Convergence provides the infrastructure to merge different traffic types onto a single network without affecting the determinism of critical control communications. This is fundamental to sharing operational insights and hence increasing process transparency across an enterprise, which can then be used to derive insights to optimize manufacturing facilities and entire organizations,” Kok wrote. “TSN extends standard Ethernet allowing TSN-based devices to coexist with already installed Ethernet devices and networks.”

Bob Vavra is senior content director for Machine Design.

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