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5 for Friday: The Full Impact of Digital Transformation; a New Robotics Hub? Sustainable Expectations

July 28, 2023
Machine Design takes a look at the past week, and a look ahead to the issues facing the design and manufacturing sector.

1. Transforming More Than Manufacturing

Machine Design’s bias is to view digital transformation from the paradigm of the plant floor—the design and operations teams collaborating through the use of data intelligence to improve productivity. In the first of a two-part interview with PTC Executive Director and Chief Technical Officer Steve Dertien, we discussed the impact of digital transformation done well, culminating at the end of the manufacturing process.

“I think we all kind of generally prefer to tailor things the way that we want to buy them,” Dertien said. “And that’s kind of prolific in the marketplace. That actually is a good strategy for return on capital. But at the same time, it takes everybody to kind of lean in in a particular way to say that this corporate objective is worth the effort to kind of get there. That’s fueling a lot of the growth that we have. But it’s delivering a lot of value to customers as well. They’re seeing their quality improve. They’re seeing customer satisfaction certainly increase—and ultimately, at the end of the day, brilliant products in the market.”

Here's a link to the full Q&A of my interview with Dertien.

2. A New Identity for Pittsburgh

Once the Steel City, Pittsburgh is aggressively rebranding itself as a hub for start-up robotics companies. In a city with the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie-Mellon, a consortium led by Innovation Works in collaboration with the Pittsburgh Robotics Network and the Southwestern Pennsylvania New Economy Collaborative, aims to build an ecosystem for robotics startups in the region.

As Machine Design reports this week, the group’s new Robotics Factory has brought together six companies—Aquatonomy, Cell X Technologies, Grasp Robotics, Leaficent, Velo AI and Voaige—to be part of the Accelerate program.

“The point of the Robotics Factory is to solve real-world challenges that can be addressed by robotics solutions,” says Kevin Dowling, interim managing director of the Robotics Factory for Innovation Works. “These six companies are doing just that. There are existing issues with growing food efficiently, producing regenerative medicines, making transportation safer, exploring underwater and carefully handling various products.”

Pittsburgh also will be the host city for the International Robotics Safety Conference Oct. 9-11 and presented by A3.

3. Sustainable Expectations

While sustainable design continues to gather momentum as both a business and environmental imperative, the challenge is to fully define our terms and refine our tools and our processes to meet the overarching goals of sustainability.

As Eryn Devola, vice president of Sustainability for Siemens Digital Industries, points out in a new Machine Design commentary, those goals cannot be achieved using today’s toolbox.

“The traditional manufacturing approach is not well-equipped to address the number of variables on the path to sustainable production. Instead, a digital twin methodology that includes sustainability along with other operational parameters provides the detailed insights into the production process needed,” Devola writes. “To be successful, this approach should incorporate the collective intelligence across the entire value chain of a product and its lifecycle. Solutions must grow beyond plant-level optimizations, linking and analyzing data across the entire industrial operations—including supplier and partner ecosystems.

While not starting on the path to sustainability isn’t an option, Devola also cautions against creating unsustainable expectations. “Tackling all of that at once is not feasible for every manufacturer, let alone entire industries,” she writes, “so it is important to understand some of the general concepts to implement in stages along the journey to sustainable production processes.

4. Plan First, Succeed Later

All of these technological advancements won’t simply achieve their goals without a solid foundation to build on—and I’m not talking about the concrete floor at your plant. Success requires a sound plan as the first step. Chad Champine, the industrial client leader for the southeast region at BHDP Architecture, emphasizes this in a recent article in IndustryWeek, a Machine Design partner.

“Without properly identifying the root cause, manufacturers in many cases can become increasingly unable to fulfill their customer orders and frantically chase a backlogged pipeline, attempting to remedy the situation,” Champine adds. “Temporary solutions can lead to hasty decisions involving increased capital assets, short-term facility expansion efforts and construction of additional manufacturing facilities.”

5. IDEA Awards Voting Continues

You have a little more than a week remaining to vote for your choices in the 2023 IDEA Awards. Voting ends Aug. 7 in a showcase of the best manufacturing innovations developed and presented in the last year. Your insights into the best of these products will help shape the future growth of manufacturing, and we invite your vote before the deadline.

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