Industry leaders discuss the technologies they use to design and manufacture products.
Manufacturing companies of all types rely on technologies both to develop new products and add features and performance to those products. Machine Design asked CEOs and CTOs of several companies in a variety of industries about the technologies behind their innovations.
What technologies have been important for your company when it comes to designing, developing, and manufacturing products?
Jay Mendelson, Omega Engineering Inc.: Our most successful design technique has been 3D CAD. We plan to expand efforts in this area by incorporating the latest version of SolidWorks 3D CAD into our mechanical-design process. We also plan on upgrading our electronic CAD package to a one that can properly lay out and simulate high-speed communication circuits.
On the manufacturing side, we’ve relied on hard automation for assembling our broad line of thermocouple connectors. This technology lets us compete on production cost with factories in China. We intend to continue to expand this effort and invest in automated welding and laser engraving for many of our transducers.
What new technologies will you be embedding or using in future products and upgrades of current products?
Alan Wosky: We’ve been working on two primary initiatives. The first is to improve our welding to eliminate distortion by monitoring our state-of-the-art processes and fixtures, and our employees’ skills. This has let us handle new applications that require process surfaces that are extremely flat such as casting products onto belt surfaces.
Panel of Experts
The other initiative involves Teflon coatings on metal belts. We are working with suppliers to improve coating life, wearability, and resistance to corrosive chemicals. This initiative is being driven by our customers that make solar cells. They want higher productivity and increases in yield rate, and we help by supplying coated metal belts that last longer on soldering lines.
Jay Mendelson: We plan on upgrading our hardware and firmware in our transmitters, controllers, and signal conditioners to get better wireless communication and Internet access. It should also help customers get sensor information faster and make it easier to use software across the Internet.
Ken Lechner: The trend will be toward more complete systems combining motors, drives, encoders, gearheads, and brakes into the next level of customer assemblies. These cost-effective systems will make it easier for customers to focus on their own areas of expertise. Adding digital communications and user-friendly interfaces to motor drives will let customers quickly get motion products up and running in new applications.
New rotary and linear-motor products being developed will further improve circuit design, resulting in smaller, more-efficient, and more-powerful products without significantly increasing cost. However, the cost and supply of rare-earth-magnet materials will need to be taken into consideration as a major part of the cost and performance trade-offs made while developing newer permanent-magnet motors. New technologies that let motors meet efficiency and performance requirements using less-expensive magnets are key to the long-term viability of permanent-magnet motors.
Chris Nook: We are adding motors to more of our products, capitalizing on the rapid growth in the motor industry. For example, most of our linear actuators are currently shipped with a smart motor, letting us deliver an electromechanical actuator with a precision screw as the heart of the assembly. This gives customers an almost unlimited number of motion profiles for force, speed, and position.
And the electromechanical actuators we deliver today are truly on the bleeding edge of development. For example, we are coupling our new precision leadscrews with smart stepper motors to create a low-cost, high-performance actuator that is precise and clean for our OEM machine builders.
Where do you find the new technologies that go into new products? Similarly, where do you find the new high-tech tools to design and manufacture new products?
Ken Lechner: Staying ahead of the curve on new technologies and the design tools to implement them is essential to meet the competitive demands of the market. For motion-control technologies, participation in associations such as SMMA (the Motor and Motion Association), lets us network with key contacts in the industry and contribute to the future direction of motor technologies and design tools. Online resources and trade magazines are also essential for staying up to date with technologies in specialized areas such as motor design.
Andrew Wertkin, PTC: Many of our customers find inspiration for next-generation products in everyday consumer electronics and the conveniences they provide. For instance, features that were typically reserved for smartphones are now common in devices such as cars. In fact, the car has become the ultimate mobile device, providing connectivity and “apps.” Automakers are also intelligently engineering less-expensive vehicles with fewer features. Drivers then add capability over time with small upgrades. In fact, suppliers that were traditionally focused on consumer electronics are now seeing a tremendous demand from a broad spectrum of manufacturers trying to foster similar long-term relationships and brand loyalty.
Chris Nook: Most of the innovative technologies we leverage and capitalize on are found on the Web, in trade magazines, and by attending international trade shows. And we discover a surprising amount of innovative ideas when we explore industries outside our own.
Alan Wosky: Like many global companies, we communicate with customers and suppliers through trade shows, e-mail, and even print advertising. But working electronically through our Web site is critical. Many current and new customers come to us through our partners’ Web sites like Machine Design and GlobalSpec to name a couple. Once a potential customer visits our Web site, they get a much better understanding of our capabilities and have a good idea on whether our products can be adapted to their applications.
Jay Mendelson. We use a variety of research tools to find new technologies. Our engineers, for example, have online subscriptions to magazines such as Machine Design. Our employees in engineering societies such as IEEE and ISA use those Web sites to read articles about new technologies.
We also partner with consulting engineering firms to design some products. The resulting interaction between our engineers and consultants is one of the best ways to understand new design techniques. That’s how we get recommendations for new CAD packages. Sometimes we attend online seminars sponsored by major electronics-component manufacturers, or have their salespeople visit us to discuss their newest products. Lastly, our staff periodically attends industry trade shows such as Design 2 Part, or ISA Measurement Science Conference, attending seminars, or visiting the booths of manufacturing companies.