Blog! Five Fast Things for December 15, 2006

By Bob Vavra, Editor, Plant Engineering December 15, 2006

1. Top Plant winners: Congratulations to this year’s Top Plant recipients %%MDASSML%% Toyota , BMW and Square D . The Plant Engineering staff hustled around the country to visit these facilities and get an on-the-ground view of excellence.

Our senior editor, Kevin Campbell, got a view of excellence at 140 mph behind the wheel of a BMW. I got a view of circuit breaker manufacturing at the Square D facility in Lincoln. Actually, the circuit breaker’s trip mechanism is a lot faster than 140 mph, but admittedly doesn’t have any leather seats.

What all the Top Plant winners have in common is not the size or speed of the product, but the quality of the manufacturing process. The proper mix between automation and human manufacturing delivers excellence. This year’s recipients, who will be honored at our Manufacturing Summit in March in Chicago, are prime examples of excellence in American manufacturing.

2. And if you want to see speed: This is a clip from BMW. It’s not the car that’s going 140 mph in this case. Click here to see what happened .

3. Education reform: One important part of rebuilding America’s competitive edge in manufacturing is rebuilding the way students are guided through the choices they have in school, and beyond school. A new report from the bipartisan Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce said that there must be a fundamental change in the way students are taught and teachers are compensated. The idea that a European approach to helping track students to career paths as early as 10thgrade is being reconsidered is interesting. Teacher groups are understandably concerned, as it changes the status quo. Manufacturers who are concerned about the “skills gap” in manufacturing jobs ought to pay very close attention and see how to drive such reforms forward.

Education, like manufacturing, is about producing a finished product on time and with high quality. Unlike manufacturing, education’s success rate is disappointing.

4. HMI market rockets ahead: Part of what makes the challenges for manufacturing so acute is that the need for skilled, computer-literate workers has never been higher. Thanks to advances in technology, the manufacturing floor needs equal parts computer savvy and human ingenuity.

That point is driven home again through a report from the ARC Advisory Group that the human-machine interface (HMI) software market is expected to grow from $650 million in 2005 to more than $1 billion in 2010. Thanks to the 7thgrade math skills I picked up from Mrs. Brigel, that’s a 54% increase in five years

“The last two years have been witness to growth rates near 20%.The corresponding effect on supplier’s market shares has been equally dramatic as some of the players shuffle positions in what has become a market separated by thousands of dollars,” said ARC analyst Stefan Surpitski , the principal author of ARC’s ” Human Machine Interface Software Worldwide Outlook

“Over the last two years, HMI software has been propelled into applications that have previously been custom or proprietary,” according to ARC research director Craig Resnick , “This has caused unprecedented market growth over the last two years, and we expect the momentum to continue.”

5. And a little Christmas cheer: As a kid growing up in Chicago, three classic short films that every child stopped what they were doing to watch %%MDASSML%% Suzy Snowflake, Frosty the Snowman (a jazzy version of the original) and Hardrock, Coco and Joe. By today’s standards, they are tame, a little grainy and very hokey. Of course today, you can find them online.