Digitisation To Rise In US Manufacturing

  • Monday, 05 June 2017 00:00

Manufacturing in the United States (US) would be the ninth-largest economy in the world, when taken alone. The manufacturing industry was valued at US$2.1 trillion in 2014, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, International Monetary Fund. By Jonathan Chou

The US contains numerous major players in various manufacturing sectors. On the aerospace front, Boeing has its headquarters in Chicago, while automotive manufacturer General Motors has headquarters in Detroit.

The United States (US) contains numerous major players in various manufacturing sectors. On the aerospace front, Boeing has its headquarters in Chicago, while automotive manufacturer General Motors has headquarters in Detroit.

As such, the machine tool industry in the country is also very substantial, being a top-five producing country in 2013, and just barely missed being in the top five in 2014 and 2015, according to Gardner Business Media. American machine tool manufacturers include Haas, Hurco, Gleason, among others.

Expansion & Research

Manufacturing growth in US has been very robust in recent years. The purchasing managers’ index (PMI) is an indicator of the economic health of the manufacturing sector, with a PMI of more than 50 generally indicating expansion. The manufacturing PMI in the United States averaged 53.67 from 2012 until 2017, reaching an all-time high of 57.9 in August of 2014 and a record low of 50.7 in May of 2016.

Additionally, the research intensity of US manufacturing has increased significantly in recent years. In 2000, US manufacturers spent eight percent of sales on research and development (R&D), a figure that rose into the 11 percent range starting in 2008. US manufacturers spend more on R&D, relative to value added, than those in other large manufacturing countries, with the exceptions of Japan and South Korea.

The vast majority of manufacturing firms in the country are quite small, however. According to a census carried out in 2014 by the US Census Bureau, over three-quarters of the 251,901 firms in the manufacturing sector have fewer than 20 employees.

Home Of IMTS

Traditionally, machine tool builders had trade associations, which have assisted with establishing industry standards and training programs for the industry. America is no exception, and the most prominent example is the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT). Originally founded in 1902 as the National Machine Tool Builders’ Association, the Virginia-based association represents and promotes the interests of American providers of manufacturing machinery and equipment.

The association owns and organises the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS), which is held on even-numbered years in Chicago. The 31st edition of the event was held in 2016, and was the third largest in number of registrations at 115,612 and with an exhibit space of 127,300 sq m. The show also hosted the highest number of exhibiting companies since its inauguration, a total of 2,407.

Technology Trends Identified

The organisation also presented a series of technology trends, describing the current use of each technology along with its level of research and known challenges.

Automation & Robots

Automation and robotics, comprised of sensing, processing, and integration, are at the centre of recent advancements in manufacturing technology. Areas of progress include embedded tactile and vision sensing systems. Higher fidelity cameras, faster communication, and improvements in safety are solidifying the reliability of robotics and also allowing for robots and humans to work side by side in a more collaborative manner.

Current research is focused on increasing collaboration of robotics with humans and the range of robot manipulation, including improved dexterity for flexible materials. These applications are beginning to be realised through more industrially accepted standards in safety and safety-integrated system solutions.

One current challenge for flexible automation and robotics within a manufacturing facility lies with the need to better understand operations at every level—individual machines, entire production areas, the shop floor, and even the entire facility. While some progress has been made through open standards, there is still a growing need for more than just machine tools to be enabled for visibility and connectivity to other pieces of manufacturing technology, such as integrating robots and lathes.

Digital Factories

Digital factories encompass coordination of all ‘smart’ machines and instrumentation throughout the manufacturing process, as well as better enabling discrete process visibility. A specific trend has been an increase in incorporating and deploying machine tools with standards like MTConnect.

The ultimate goal of the digital factory is the realisation of the advanced manufacturing enterprise (AME)—a holistic connection of the digital tapestry throughout a product’s lifecycle. As digital capabilities improve, the entire lifecycle of every machine and part, down to individual nuts and bolts, will be tracked. Creating this ‘digital footprint’ for these physical pieces will allow better data and insight into a product’s best features, points of failure, and other characteristics—giving manufacturers the opportunities to improve design and functionality in ways that previously were not possible.

Research is investigating the continuous link of the digital model throughout the life cycle of the product (rework, reuse and recycle), cyber security, and process control and mapping to improve the end product and its features. Cyberphysical security is among the top manufacturing research areas due to manufacturing’s increasing digital nature.

A challenge of digital factories is to better integrate computer-aided design (CAD) with finite element modelling (FEM), which may better optimise computer-assisted manufacturing (CAM). In addition, the predictive capabilities of FEM need to more closely represent the true as-built phenomenon occurring between workpiece and tool.

Other areas preventing the industry from optimising within the digital enterprise are the ability to obtain actionable information, realise the advanced manufacturing enterprise, acquire sufficient cyber-physical security, and improve end-user operation.

An additional challenge includes the implementation of AME, the industry name that encompasses the lifecycle of every machine, part, process, and practice to deliver better performance by the manufacturing enterprise.

Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing (AM) or 3D printing (3DP) has practical possibilities and significant economic impact. First patented in the US in the 1980s, AM is nearing its technology maturation. It is perhaps unique among manufacturing technologies due to the attention it has gained in popular media, particularly as it has gained prevalence in a variety of settings— from industrial to academic to hobbyist. Improvements to that first patented process have allowed for its use in homes and classrooms, in addition to its growing ubiquity as an industrial solution.

While the majority of AM’s end-use during these past decades centred on rapid prototyping and tooling, there have been early adopters that have begun inserting AM into all levels of the supply chain. Advanced materials and improved control systems are increasing the value and potential of AM.

One of AM’s greatest strengths is its potential for design complexity, which may accelerate its adoption. However, overall acceptance for AM seems to be controlled by the technology’s capabilities related to industrially accepted materials and processes.

Some AM and 3DP challenges include materials, capabilities, processes, and equipment certification and qualification.

Having realised its value, the AM and 3DP industry would benefit from reliable material databases and specifications to further design capabilities; improved CAD tools for capturing designs and generating machine build files; robust processing technologies and methodologies; and increased quality assurance for in-situ and post-processing.

Lastly, the industry would benefit from the integration of AM with traditional processing methods (e.g. hybrid technologies) to yield a more optimal production capability.

APMEN Feature, Apr 2017

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