Blog! Five Fast Things for December 1, 2006

By Bob Vavra Editor Plant Engineering

By Bob Vavra, Editor, Plant Engineering December 1, 2006

1. The old one-two punch: December has arrived like a stack of post-Christmas bills, especially here in Chicago, where we’ve gotten a foot of snow. More on that in a minute.

The particularly bad news is that the Institute for Supply Management’s monthly Manufacturing Index dropped almost two points in November to 49.5. It’s the first time in three years the index has slipped below 50, which is ISM’s benchmark for a contracting manufacturing sector. You can read that cheery news here .

Along the same lines, a chilly autumn has morphed into expectations of a cold winter, driving natural gas prices up dramatically. The basics of that data is here , while Mary Beth Holley, Project Manager for TechSolve also offers a review of what this might mean for the manufacturing sector and, more importantly, what proactive steps you can take to combat it.

There are two issues at play here. One, things are tougher right now than they’ve been through the recession recovery. Two, it’s the manufacturer who works his way out of a problem who will survive this test. Engineering is about solving problems. Use an engineering discipline to solve energy problems, and manufacturing’s problems. Where is the next great idea coming from?

2. So who is making money these days? Well, Siemens is one, especially its Automation and Drives division. A recent analysis from ARC Advisory Group notes the following:

“Automation & Drives continues to be one of Siemens’ most profitable divisions and contributes the most to the company’s overall profit.

Check out the whole report here .

Automation is a crucial topic for Plant Engineering; it’s why we started AppliedAutomation in August. You’re going to see a lot more on automation in manufacturing. As you’ll also see in our December Top Plant issue, automation and people together that make for successful plant floors these days.

3. Alternatives on energy: Granted, Dow Chemical is a little bigger company than most. Still, it’s interesting to note their purchase today of a cogeneration facility from a subsidiary of American Electric Power Company “Purchasing this world-scale facility will enable Dow to generate power and steam via more energy efficient assets, while decreasing our use of older, less efficient equipment over time,” said John Dearborn, Dow’s global vice president for energy. “With domestic natural gas at high and globally noncompetitive prices, this state-of-the-art cogeneration facility will help to lower Dow’s energy costs, while making our Plaquemine, LA, manufacturing site more competitive.”

Generating energy, as we noted yesterday , is an issue that can be attacked in a number of ways. Buying your own power company is just one strategy. Are there any sound regional approaches that have worked for other manufacturers? Let us know about it , and look for our cover story in March on the topic.

4. And we once thought DOS was so great: Microsoft has introduced Vista , its first new operating system since Microsoft XP. The launch is more of soft landing, because XP will keep working for some time, and some folks will be reluctant to change , for a variety of reasons. The big thing for PC owners may be to hold off on that laptop or desktop purchase until 2007, because Vista will be installed on the new computers introduced going forward. It’s where the future is, but if your future is now, XP will do just fine.

5. Let it snow! Let it snow! LET IT STOP! Thursday’s travel entertainment around these parts was nothing compared to Friday’s trek. Postal carriers and magazines braved the storm; all others stayed home. O’Hare Airport was shut down through noon, and likely won’t get back to normal until Sunday.

We’re going to wind up with a foot of snow in these parts. So here’s what it looked like , and here’s how it’s measured, both by meteorologists and by everyone else .