MMS Blog

As commercial aviation expands to accommodate a new class of international travelers from emerging markets such as China and India, demand on small and midsized aerospace suppliers to expand production capacity is placing a premium not just on automation or skilled labor, but on the supplier’s overall scalability.

The challenge of accommodating for growth and increasing throughput is different today than it was just a few years ago. With a shrinking supply of skilled manufacturing workers responsible for increasingly automated and complex machining processes, scaling up now favors knowledge sharing and the systemization of operations over the traditional goal of simply boosting employee headcount.

Automated manufacturing facilities are full of physical barriers — guarding and fences — because of our fears.

That is, because of our entirely legitimate fears. Automated systems, industrial robots in particular, are capable of moving fast and unexpectedly, imperiling a human who comes too close. A fence is a reasonable precaution. However, Patrick Sobalvarro points out that fences are far from fully effective as safety measures. People are quick and clever, and often too effective at finding workarounds for physical barriers. He looks forward to the day when people can work safely alongside even powerful robots without fences because vision technology and artificial intelligence (AI) provide for greater safety than a physical barrier can deliver.

There was a time when machine shops were routinely organized by operation. There were separate departments for turning, milling, grinding and so on. The arrangement was meant to bring together people who were alike in their specialization by equipment type. By contrast, cross-training and diverse equipment are more valued in shops today. Though similar machines might locate near one another, a variety of machines fill the shop, and employees are valued for their ability to engage across that variety.

Yet Spirit AeroSystems is going a different way, at least partially.

Registration is now open for the Additive Manufacturing Conference + Expo (AMC 2019), scheduled for August 27-29, 2019. This year, the event is making its first trip to Austin, Texas, at the Austin Convention Center. The event will feature more speakers, exhibitors and networking opportunities than ever before, including tours of Essentium and EOS headquarters. Attendees and media can register now.  

“Austin is a boomtown for additive technology,” says Dave Necessary, event director. “The area is home to major 3D equipment manufacturers and hundreds of shops using additive technology. SLS was invented at the University of Texas at Austin. Hosting AMC 2019 there is a perfect fit for demonstrating how far the technology has come and how far it can go.”

On the surface, R&D Manufacturing may look like any other 100-employee U.S. manufacturer working in sectors like aerospace or automotive, designing and producing metal end products. But R&D Manufacturing manufactures jewelry parts for brands like Tiffany and Co. and Bryan Anthonys, which may order as many as 1 million pieces a year. Not all of the company’s customers are that big; many are artisans who bring new design ideas with orders requiring as few as 25 pieces. Regardless of material and size, jobs often require moldmaking. 

Starting off as a new company in 2003, R&D Manufacturing grappled with a jewelry industry that had experienced a twofold change. Enough machine, engineering and moldmaking capacity had moved overseas that there was a noticable loss of knowledge and skill as experienced model carvers for jewelry molds had aged out. 

RSS RSS  |  Atom Atom