“Wow." That’s the reaction that Douglas K. Woods, president of AMT-The Association For Manufacturing Technology, the organizer of IMTS 2012, wants you to have when you leave McCormick Place after your visit to the show.
“If people don’t walk out saying, ‘Wow, this is the coolest industry in the world,’ we did something wrong,” Woods says.
He’s confident that the organizers have done things right, ranging from the Emerging Technology Center (Booth N-650) to the IMTS Job Center (Booth W-200) and plenty in between. He’s confident that the array of new technologies on display is impressive and compelling. What’s more, they’ve coordinated with Deutsche Messe so that the Industrial Automation North America event is being held in parallel to IMTS at McCormick Place and attendees can see an entire suite of productive equipment and systems.
Woods was appointed president of AMT in 2009, so the 2010 show was his first—as an AMT executive. With many years experience as an executive at various manufacturing technology firms, 2010 wasn’t Woods’ first IMTS by any means. As he compares the state of the economy that existed at the time of IMTS 2010 with that of IMTS 2012 he explains, “In 2010, things were starting to get good, but now all indicators are very positive.”
He ticks off a number of metrics, from equipment utilization rates to on-going equipment replacement rates, and says that, directionally, things are looking up. Consequently, IMTS 2012 is ideally timed for those manufacturers who are looking for the ways and means to become more productive, he says. And more competitive.
While Woods acknowledges that not every sector of the economy is growing as well as durable goods, he suggests that there are reasons to be optimistic.
But he points out that many people are being more realistic than had been the case at other periods when the economy began to rise out of slumps. Take hiring. While the employment numbers have not been particularly notable, “before, people would hire willy-nilly,” Woods says. That wasn’t particularly efficient, as it didn’t result in having people with the skill set required by modern manufacturing. So employment numbers in and of themselves aren’t a really solid indicator of how well companies are doing.
“People I know could hire four people, but now what they’re doing is hiring one or two to see how they do” and to see how well the business holds up, Woods says. Then if things go well, the other two are added.
There is a greater emphasis on risk management. Such a measured approach allows companies to grow and prosper in the long-run rather than in short bursts.
Another aspect of managing risk that Woods sees occurring is that companies are beginning to deploy different but related technologies within their facilities. This could take the form of multitasking or multifunctional machine tools or even additive technology systems.
“They’re asking, ‘How can we be positioned for extended, long-term growth? If there is a dip in the economy, what separates me from the average bear?’” What’s the competitive advantage that a given company can have over its competitors in a different field—an advantage that likely takes the form of providing customers with something extra, as in the ability to perform more operations?
Woods says it is important that manufacturers become not only cognizant of, but also familiar with, new manufacturing technologies to maintain a competitive edge in a global economy that is becoming all the more challenging.
“From an economy reality standpoint, if you’re good at making something with knee mills, lathes and grinders because you have great toolmakers and technicians, the truth is that those parts will be made on new technologies,” he observes.
For example, if company A is using three separate machines (mill, lathe and grinder) and company B is using a multitasking machine that can perform all three operations, then company B is going to be at a competitive advantage.
While there may be some concern regarding the complexity of the multifunctional approach versus the simpler one, Woods, who previously headed a company that designed and built special machines, notes, “With the improved reliability of subcomponents, integrating devices doesn’t turn into a nightmare.” So the capability comes along with the confidence that it will do what needs to get done.
One tool that he sees getting greater use among the manufacturing community in the U.S., by shops small to factories large, is MTConnect (mtconnect.org), the open, industry standard that enables shopfloor machines to not only be integrated but to also exchange data with analytics software. What is notable, Woods says, is that various companies are using the data they’re collecting from their machinery and equipment to great advantage. For example they’re able to determine things ranging from spindle uptime to energy use such that not only are they able to optimize existing capital equipment, but they also can determine areas in their operations where new equipment would be advantageous.
MTConnect’s capabilities are readily leveraged by MTInsight
, which AMT offers to help turn data into various reports.
“By performing analytics, people can leverage knowledge, which is a home-run for U.S. manufacturing,” Woods says, explaining that the digital tech savvy that’s common in the U.S. isn’t as prevalent in other parts of the world.
In fact, he thinks that by supplementing the increased productivity of various types of machine tools and related tooling and equipment with digital capabilities that lead to better analysis of operations and overall performance and effectiveness, U.S. manufacturers can be highly competitive with manufacturers anywhere in the world, even in places that have low wage rates. Add in factors like complex supply chains and shipping costs, and the “reshoring” that is talked about with increased frequency becomes a sensible economic reality.
“We’ve worked hard to make this IMTS a really cool thing,” Woods says.
What’s possibly cooler is the fact that, by taking advantage of the technologies that are on display and in action, you have the opportunity to gain an economic competitive advantage, whether you’re competing with someone in Syracuse, Stockholm or Shanghai.