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Thriving companies at IMTS are investing more in technology

IMTS Day 3: Aerospace and standards highlighted at Chicago conferences.

By CFE Media September 11, 2014

Thriving companies invest in technologies more than companies that are holding their own, and than those in decline, according to Karen Kurek, partner, McGladrey LLP, citing "The 2014 McGladrey Monitor" report, in the Global Automation and Manufacturing Summit (GAMS), part of the Industrial Automation North America show at International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS). GAMS is presented by CFE Media, Control Engineering, and Plant Engineering.

The annual McGladrey report looks at the state of the industry and how thriving companies succeed. Survey size for 2014 was 1147 with 80% from the U.S., and 20% in Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Mexico, and U.K. Respondents were chief executive officers and chief financial officers of mid-sized companies.

Among key findings: 36% of those describing themselves as thriving invested more in information technology, machinery, equipment, and R&D than those companies "holding their own," or in decline. Thriving companies also are looking at mergers and acquisitions, continuous improvement in processes, focus on supply chain, and they regulation and compliance better than others.

The future of advanced aerospace composite materials

Composite materials and their future in the aerospace industry were key topics in the keynote speech from Dr. Greg Hyslop, vice president and general manager for Boeing Research & Technology, at the TRAM Aerospace Conference at IMTS 2014. Composite materials have grown rapidly and are being used widely in commercial and military applications.

Hyslop said his department at Boeing, as well as other successful firms he’s worked with, focus their technology investments on extreme affordability, breakthrough performances, enduring sustainability, and being environmentally responsible. Hyslop mentioned a recent example where Boeing partnered with Russell Athletic, a company that makes sports equipment, and used some excess carbon fiber to provide them with shoulder pads that are 10% lighter, but are stronger and more durable.

"Aviation’s history is written by pioneers who looked to go higher, faster, and better," Hyslop said. "And today’s pioneers have to carry on that responsibility as they continue their research."

He closed his keynote speech about the manufacturing industry as a whole and its impact on research and development and the impact it will have on all industries, beyond aerospace.

"For years, manufacturing was frowned upon and dismissed, but the recent economic revival as well as the technology changes have changed things," Hyslop said. "There is a manufacturing renaissance happening, and I believe manufacturing will be taking the lead in product development."

Turning engineering dreams into careers

Former NASA astronaut Wendy B. Lawrence knows too well about how to turn a childhood dream into a lifetime career. Lawrence spoke on the Smartforce Student Summit at IMTS 2014. She pointed out the importance of exposing students to STEM career opportunities while they are still in school. "We need to make the connections between the seemingly boring science textbooks with the amazing job opportunities in the manufacturing industry and guide our next generation to map the future."

Lawrence pointed out the "leak" in the STEM education pipeline. 70% of 4th grade students say that they love math and science; however, the passion wanes as they grow older. Only 21% of 8th grade students say that they want to pursue STEM careers. To fix the "leak", Lawrence suggested showing students the stories of successful professionals and dispel the stereotypes that STEM careers are hard, boring, and usually held by men. "Scientists and engineers don’t have green eyes and two heads, they look just like us, you and me, and their jobs are not boring. In fact, their jobs are darn fun and amazing," said Lawrence. She then showed the stories of a wood chemist, an amusement park design engineer, a robotic engineer that made robots react to surprises, and of course, her own story of becoming one of the early female astronauts.

ISO standard used to improve machining efficiency

Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) systems have provided a challenge for machining processes because there isn’t a simple way for end-users to communicate high-level process information from different CAM systems to cutter manufacturers. Presenters Jim Kosmala from Okuma and David Odendahl from Boeing explained how STEP-NC at the TRAM Aerospace Conference at IMTS 2014, can be used to improve communication between end-users and cutter manufacturers.

STEP-NC is an ISO standard (ISO 10303-2381 and ISO 14649) that can be used to communicate machining process info between end-users and cutter manufacturers from different CAM systems from different companies in a more synchronized, streamlined process. With STEP-NC, end-users can transfer data between a CAD/CAM to a CNC or a CAD/CAM to a CAD/CAM. This is especially useful, Kosmala said, given technology’s prevalence on a day-by-day basis.

Mark Hoske, Chris Vavra and Joy Chang contributed to this article.