Bob Vavra, Editor

Articles

Compressed Air May 10, 2011

It’s time to turn optimism into action

As real as the recession was, the end of the recession should be just as real. Taking all the lessons we learned, we have to move away from the shallow end of the pool and ramp up for growth.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
IIoT, Industrie 4.0 April 1, 2010

One last word on the Changing World…

If you started in the back of the magazine this month, thanks for coming here first. I appreciate it. But for this month, head to our cover story first (starting on page 35). Don’t worry. I’ll wait… (We’ll pause here while you read “The Changing World of the Plant Engineer” study and Bob whistles, “We Are the World” quietly to himself.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Asset Management April 1, 2010

The Changing World of the Plant Engineer

Technology and an evolving global landscape have changed the plant floor

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Wireless April 1, 2010

Spring into productivity

There was spring in the air and a spring in the step of the winners of the 2009 Product of the Year awards dinner. The unseasonably warm weather in Chicago March 29 contributed to a warm atmosphere at the Hotel Sofitel, where the 22nd annual Product of the Year awards were presented. Fluke Corporation’s Digital Multimeter received the Grand Award, which is presented to the product that r...

By Bob Vavra, Editor
IIoT, Industrie 4.0 March 1, 2010

Rethinking conventional wisdom on manufacturing

With the conventional wisdom about manufacturing blown to bits by the scope and depth of the 2009 recession, ARC Advisory Group president Andy Chatha said there needed to be a new paradigm as manufacturing tries to move forward. “Most of us have been doing a lot of rethinking in the last year or so,” said Chatha at the opening of ARC's World Industry Forum in February in Orlando.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Lighting March 1, 2010

Who will write the new book on quality?

They literally wrote the book on quality management – and more than 50 other books have been written about their quality system. Toyota and quality have been synonymous for three decades around the world – much to the chagrin of American-based automakers. Then stories began to emerge in January and February about millions of recalled Toyota cars and trucks after problems with a gas ...

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Lighting February 1, 2010

Identify the opportunities for perfection

For people of a certain age, there was a certain way we learned how to do everything. To learn how to field ground balls and fly balls, I caught a lot of ground balls and fly balls. To learn to do multiplication, I ran down the multiplication tables. To spell, I got up in front of the class to participate in the spelling bee.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Lighting January 14, 2010

A light at the end of the tunnel

Just as people are not numbers, numbers are not people. Perhaps in no year since we’ve been doing the PLANT ENGINEERING Salary Survey has that been more apparent. The 2009 version of the Salary Survey was focused not just on how last year affected their wallets, but also on how last year affected their workplaces.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Lighting January 1, 2010

An end in sight?

There’s a light at the end of manufacturing’s long, dark tunnel. How well you can see it largely depends on where you are standing right now. For the first time, the most compelling statistic that came out of Plant Engineering’s annual Salary Survey had nothing to do with salaries. The manufacturing recession was the topic that generated the most interesting response in this y...

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Safety Standards January 1, 2010

There’s still time to get this decade right

There were a number of lists making the rounds at the end of 2009. I’d say there were about 2,009 lists, to be exact, all touting the greatest achievements of the last decade – best movie of the decade, best athlete of the decade, best album of the decade. There were also a large number of lists celebrating the worst of the decade, but I see no need to be negative, except to point o...

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Workforce Development December 1, 2009

The new year is a good time to begin anew

Technically speaking, 2010 is the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, and not the beginning of the second decade. I don’t know of very many people who aren’t willing to ignore convention and just start all over in 2010. However you view it, the past decade was a rough 10 years for our nation, our business community and for manufacturing.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
HMI, OI November 1, 2009

Celebrate the enthusiasm of innovation

For me, there are many exciting things about the annual Product of the Year issue. For one thing, it begins the process toward getting to hand out a lot of trophies at the 2010 Manufacturing/Automation Summit in Chicago on March 28. Handing out trophies is exciting. It also begins a six-month process where we look at all the crucial elements that make manufacturing work.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Energy Efficiency & Management October 1, 2009

Manufacturing success begins at the bottom

It was given a big word – interoperability – undoubtedly by someone in either marketing or IT. It simply means connecting your plant floor to your business systems in such a way that both sides know exactly what the other is doing at all times. The theory is that if the plant floor knows the business rationale for its decisions, and the business office knows the availability on the ...

By Bob Vavra, Editor
IIoT, Industrie 4.0 September 1, 2009

In these tough economic times…

Everywhere you turn these days, there is one prominent phrase dominating the news, the advertising, even the sports pages: "In these tough economic times..." It's an interesting phenomenon. The pressures and problems created by last year's economic downturn were severe. The pain inflicted on our economy and especially on our workers was profound.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Lighting August 1, 2009

Let’s reach for the higher-hanging fruit

Whenever we talk about solutions to our manufacturing problems – productivity gains, energy savings, process improvements and equipment reliability – the phrase that often gets used to describe quick returns on those solutions is “low-hanging fruit.” And it seems like such a good idea in theory.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Pumps July 1, 2009

What do you need to know, now?

In our Facebook-obsessed, Twitter-gone-mad world, you can find out anything instantly. It should come as no surprise that most of the stuff you find out is stuff you don't need to know. We now live in a world where professional athletes Twitter from the bench and one major news story – the death of Michael Jackson – can bring an entire system to its knees.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Arc Flash & Electrical Safety July 1, 2009

Virtual Manufacturing Summit attracts a global audience

Connecting the world of manufacturing in a new way, the Plant Engineering Virtual Manufacturing Summit convened Tuesday, June 30 to expand on the concepts presented at the 2009 Manufacturing Summit in Charleston, SC. Sponsored by IBM, Schneider Electric and Infor, the Virtual Summit attracted more than 900 registrants from 69 countries – literally everywhere from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Gears and Bearings June 1, 2009

The recession is over; what did we learn?

Fifteen months ago in this space, I first used the word “recession.” Many people had spent the better part of a year trying to avoid using that word. We were gearing up for a presidential election and we were trying to understand the depth of the issues we faced. Little did we know how bad it would get.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Mobility June 1, 2009

Energy, technology solutions take over the world stage

They talked of a manufacturing world without boundaries or trade restrictions, where innovation, skill and initiative would solve both the economic crisis and the global energy crisis. Cynics might contend that could happen about the same time penguins fly. Well, they've solved that problem, too. The opening of the 62nd Hannover Messe in Germany in April came with a firm acknowledgement of the ...

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Motors & Drives May 1, 2009

Time for some fundamentally good ideas

Juggler and comedian Michael Davis used to start his act by taking a single red rubber ball and tossing it straight up and down in his hand. It wasn't much of a trick, but that was the idea. “I do one thing,” Davis would tell the audience, “and I do it very well.” From there, his act involved juggling chainsaws, axes and bowling balls – simultaneously – but t...

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Pumps March 1, 2009

Spell it right: It should be ‘By American’

The so-called “Buy American” provision of the new economic stimulus package is like plastic surgery – it may make you feel better about yourself, but it’s simply cosmetic. And there’s always something that can go wrong during the procedure. The stimulus bill was designed to pump up jobs by pumping up badly needed infrastructure projects around the country.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Compressed Air March 1, 2009

Hannover Messe wooing U.S. manufacturers

Hannover Messe has a reputation as the world's leading manufacturing trade show. They are working to get this part of the world to come to Hannover Fair for this year's event.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
February 24, 2009

‘It’s not the technology. It’s the culture’

IBM pushes the idea of change at Pulse conference

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Workforce Development February 1, 2009

Plug the Skills Gap at a grass-roots level

There were 793,000 people in manufacturing who lost jobs in 2008. Here's a story about one person who got a job in manufacturing in 2009. Julie Nechchat is a student at Valencia Community College in Florida. She went from not knowing what she wanted to do after high school to the military, which is not an unusual career path.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
HMI, OI February 1, 2009

The Skills Gap

Rather than dwelling on the rising unemployment figures, the focus for the future shouuld be on how to attract young people to manufacturing and how to connect manufacturers with the business, civic and educational leaders who can drive the grass-roots effort needed to address the issue. The perception of manufacturing careers being unstable and in undesirable work environments is a perception that must change.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
IIoT, Industrie 4.0 January 1, 2009

Feeling the pinch

The 2008 Plant Engineering Salary Survey paints a vivid picture. The numbers are one story, but that story is not just about compensation. Manufacturing in America faces change coming in many forms – from a new federal administration to new challenges to grow in a tough economy. But Plant Engineering readers remain optimistic about their future and the future for their employees.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Plant Automation January 1, 2009

Squeeze play

They manage different kinds of plants of different sizes with different levels of complexity. Yet plant managers share a common language and face common problems. In 2008, one problem emerged as a major concern. They used words like “crashing” and “sagging” and “crisis” to describe the general state of the manufacturing economy they face each day.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Lubrication January 1, 2009

A long days’ journey into Azerbaijan

On his return trip from a recent trade show in Bangalore, India, editor Bob Vavra's flight took a couple of unexpected turns, increasing what was already an 18-hour flight to a two-day affair. While not a harrowing experience by any means, the trip afforded some object lessons that, when applied to manufacturing, are definitely food for thought.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Asset Management January 1, 2009

Sustaining an energy plan

Sustainability – the efficient use of today’s resources to avoid depleting future resources – is still moving past its buzz-word status to be a real strategic initiative. The inevitable link between energy and sustainability remains strong, and now may be the best time to focus attention on the issue.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Lubrication December 1, 2008

Success floats

Building a global manufacturing business is just the latest success for Quality Float Works

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Lighting December 1, 2008

Top Plant winners focus on thriving, not surviving

The show, “Survivor” is a reality TV game. It's not, however, real. “Reality television” is the greatest oxymoron ever created, easily outdistancing “jumbo shrimp” and “congressional oversight.” Nothing on television is real, so winning a show called “Survivor” is not really like having survived anything but being really dirty for a few weeks. Manufacturing's current challenges are many and daunting, but when I saw recently that one manufacturing plant was honored as “Survivor of the Year,” I was a little surprised.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Lighting December 1, 2008

2008 Top Plant

The two plants chosen as Plant Engineering's 2008 Top Plant award winners are quite different in the size of their facilities and their product offerings. However, both plants practice Lean manufacturing, work at making their plants sustainable and are committed to their workers in ways that stretch the time clock.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
November 1, 2008

A global economics lesson: We’re all in this together

Two weeks in Europe last month taught me two things. One is that while British newspapers the rough equivalent of American cable news channels – personality-driven, pointless and mind-numbing – European TV news is understated, fact-driven and smarter-looking than most anything we have here.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Gears and Bearings October 15, 2008

Maintenance on America is scheduled for Nov. 4

I have railed in the past about the “break-fix” mentality in manufacturing maintenance. The same holds true for the current federal plan, such as it is, to address manufacturing's challenges in the modern world. Break-fix doesn't work in Washington any better than it does on your plant floor.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Safety & PPE October 15, 2008

After the flood

The Cedar River is an old, meandering soul that weaves its way through Iowa’s cornfields on its way to the Mississippi River.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Pumps September 15, 2008

Spanning the globe, and finding our common ground

The completion of the Games of the XXIX Olympiad proved once again that the people of the world can come together peacefully in pursuit of a common goal. In the Olympics, it's sport. It's not always perfect, but sport doesn't demand perfection; only the effort toward perfection. In that effort, we find the best of who we are.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
IIoT, Industrie 4.0 August 26, 2008

Tips & Tricks

The collision of the creative and practical parts of the brain gives us the world's great inventions.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Asset Management August 15, 2008

Driving the point across: Break-fix isn’t a strategy

My car provides basic transportation, which is all I really ask of it. It is pleasant enough to drive. It gets reasonably good gas mileage. It has needed minimal major repairs. It has had very little unscheduled downtime – that accident a few years back being the prime culprit. I have managed to successfully coax my car through six Chicago winters.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Lubrication July 15, 2008

Today’s critical question: How are you managing?

It is the perfect storm of manufacturing challenges: a rush to reduce operating costs in an attempt to counter skyrocketing energy prices at a time of increasing global demand for both raw materials and finished goods. It costs more to make everything we want, and we want more of it, and there are more of us who want it.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
June 15, 2008

Wanted: a human touch to manage the robots

In a race between the humans and the robots, right now the robots are winning. But there's still time for the humans. It may well be part of the science of manufacturing, but it's no longer science fiction. The idea that robots can perform tasks deemed too dangerous or repetitive for humans is well beyond theory and deeply ingrained in practice in most every manufacturer in America.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Lean Maintenance May 15, 2008

Don’t get grounded by ignoring maintenance

Perhaps no single quote that came out of the Plant Engineering Manufacturing Summit last month in Chicago better summarizes the state of manufacturing right now than this one: “We are so busy trying to meet tomorrow's build requirements that we don't have time to improve.”

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Vision and Discrete Sensors April 15, 2008

Manufacturing excellence

Quality manufacturing is the sum of its thousands of parts, both human and mechanical. The best of both were on display at the Plant Engineering Manufacturing Summit, March 31 and April 1, at the Hotel Sofitel in Chicago.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Safety Standards April 15, 2008

There’s virtue in earning fiscal and eternal profits

The Vatican announced in March that pollution is a sin.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Compressed Air April 15, 2008

Plugging in the numbers

Some days, it takes all the energy we can muster just to deal with all the energy issues. We’re facing another summer of making the best of escalating energy costs. The issues of sustainability and energy efficiency are top of mind for manufacturers, and they were key issues at this month’s Plant Engineering Manufacturing Summit.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
IIoT, Industrie 4.0 March 15, 2008

Which way do you LEAN?

At its core, Lean manufacturing is about taking waste out of the manufacturing process. It means finding the hidden barriers to productivity through a systematic, system-wide approach to how everything on the plant floor gets done. It is measured, precise and unyielding.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Energy Efficiency & Management March 15, 2008

Commit to a Lean operation or commit to mediocrity

I have watched with considerable amusement the efforts by political and media types to avoid the use of the “R” word. It's a recession, folks. I'll even put it in big letters: RECESSION. It's here. Deal with it.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Energy Efficiency & Management February 15, 2008

Sustainability is more about the cause than the color

One of the toughest decisions we had this month in putting together our cover story on sustainability was figuring out how much green to use on the cover. These are ponderous decisions involving several departments within our organization, and many people offered opinions. “Going green” conjures up all kinds of warm, eco-friendly, environmentally affirming images.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
HMI, OI February 15, 2008

‘The art of the possible’

Once upon a time, a company needed to learn more about the reasons one of its manufacturing cells was under-performing. “This customer assigned individuals to review the data, manage the system and make recommendations for improvement.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Plant Automation January 15, 2008

It’s a numbers game, but you ought to play to win

We’ve been awfully nosy the last few months. We’ve been poking and prodding you for a lot of information. We’ve asked about how you do your job, how you do it well, what you earn and what you think about the state of manufacturing. We’re different from most of the pundits who comment on manufacturing in that we actually talked to plant floor managers before we offered ou...

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Workforce Development January 11, 2008

Global manufacturing salaries on the rise; job market tightens

The world is catching up. It’s not just in manufacturing output, either. The world’s manufacturing salaries are also on the rise. There is no question the complicated, evolving global manufacturing economy has changed the game for American factories. The typical complaint is that wages for manufacturing in emerging economies such as China and India create an unfair advantage.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Mobility January 11, 2008

Upward mobility

By every measure, manufacturing leaders continue to deliver high productivity even as total jobs in manufacturing continue to decline. Delivering that productivity is the daily job of the plant manager, and his compensation continues to be tied directly to meeting those productivity benchmarks. Those are the clear findings of the 2007 Plant Engineering Salary Survey.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Safety Standards January 11, 2008

Salary survey

The 2007 Plant Engineering Salary Survey is all about value. It’s about the value management places on the skills and abilities of the plant managers, and it’s about the value those plant managers place on their key employees in manufacturing. Even as more than 1,200 select Plant Engineering readers expressed concern about their ability to find and develop a future workforce, they e...

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Material Handling December 15, 2007

Top Plant: GEMA: Sticking with the game plan

Rows and rows of CNC machines stretch through the 1.1 million square foot Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance facility in Dundee, MI. Hundreds of yards of conveyors cut a path through – and in some cases over – the manufacturing floor.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Arc Flash & Electrical Safety December 15, 2007

Looking back is fine, but it’s time to look ahead

Over the past 12 months, we’ve brought you a look at how PLANT ENGINEERING was born, how it has grown and developed and changed and evolved in 60 years. We’ve looked at how much of what we face today in manufacturing are really just old problems with a new face. It is always instructive to see where you’ve been.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Gears and Bearings November 15, 2007

At the speed of light, the Web accelerates our communication

When PLANT ENGINEERING debuted in 1947, no one this side of Isaac Asimov saw how communications would change our lives. We had the radio and the telephone and some overseas cabling. And there was this new box you could bring into your house that produced a fuzzy picture of Milton Berle.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
IIoT, Industrie 4.0 November 15, 2007

As manufacturing changes ingenuity, skill are constant

My first trip to Europe three years ago included a visit to Florence. There have been few experiences in my life as awe-inspiring as seeing this great, historic city, largely unchanged in 600 years. I was privileged to walk the streets, stand in the city’s great piazza and view the renovated statue of Michaelangelo’s David.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Asset Management November 15, 2007

The Changing Role of the Plant Engineer

If the landscape of manufacturing is confusing to some, the man in charge of the plant floor can see clearly to the horizon. You can call that man plant engineer or plant manager or vice-president of manufacturing or any of a dozen other titles. The role of the plant engineer in an efficient, effective, safe and productive manufacturing process is undeniable.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Safety & PPE October 15, 2007

It starts with safety

Three years ago, on his first day as plant manager at Ocean Spray’s Bordentown, NJ facility, Tim Haggerty tried to anonymously roam through the 500,000 square-foot facility. He succeeded. And that was the problem. “I went through totally unnoticed,” said Haggerty. “No one challenged me as to who I was.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Lubrication October 15, 2007

Valuing your human ‘cogs’ and keeping them safe

We don't think of our plant employees as just another piece of manufacturing equipment. Perhaps it's time we should. After all, when things are running well, don't you go into the corner office and tell your CFO that the floor “is running like a well-oiled machine?” Don't you suggest in the staff meeting that productivity gains are due to your staff “working like cogs in a gia...

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Motors & Drives September 15, 2007

In 1912, Practical Engineer helped plant managers improve

While 2007 is the 60th anniversary of Plant Engineering magazine, it’s not as if the idea of publishing a practical periodical guide for the plant engineer was invented in 1947. Plant Engineering was founded by Kingsley L. Rice, president of the Technical Publishing Company of Chicago. Technical Publishing’s history in manufacturing publishing dates back to 1896, when the first issu...

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Workforce Development September 15, 2007

Manufacturing’s future: Punctuating the discussion

I'll be moderating a discussion at National Manufacturing Week in suburban Chicago on Sept. 26. We'll talk about “The Future of Manufacturing.” It's a pretty weighty topic, but drinks will be served, so I think we'll get through it just fine. Any discussion about the future of manufacturing depends how you punctuate that phrase, and how that phrase gets punctuated depends on who you...

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Plant Automation August 15, 2007

Collaboration offers hope in a fractured world

The world is a fairly fractured place these days. War and politics and Yankees fans and Red Sox fans – it's enough to make you yearn for the good old days of the Cold War. So the ARC Advisory Group's discussion of collaboration at its manufacturing forum in late June in Boston came at an especially good time.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Lubrication August 15, 2007

Necessity for solving problems is the mother of Tips & Tricks

When Tips & Tricks first debuted in the 1980s, maintenance (and manufacturing for that matter) was straddling that line between high-tech and low-tech. There were increasing uses of monitoring equipment and sensors that helped the maintenance manager stay on top of equipment performance. There were also those nagging little problems for which experience – and a little grease – w...

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Workforce Development July 15, 2007

Beyond the ‘break-fix’ mentality is a smarter, safer workplace

Hesh Kagan, the 'Wizard of Wireless,’ was in our offices last month chatting about some new initiatives on sensors. The talk turned to low-cost sensors that would bring the cost of predictive maintenance down to the level where it was cheaper to measure equipment than to simply wait for it to break.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Lighting July 15, 2007

A new plant management structure for a new ‘world economy’ – in 1985

“We are in a world economy that puts new competition in front of companies who never dreamed they could have competition. Companies are being driven to a least-cost-producer mentality with a focus on new ways of using capital and a just-in-time inventory approach.” If Michael Hora had offered that view of the world last month, he would be right in line with most of the conventional ...

By Bob Vavra, Editor
IIoT, Industrie 4.0 June 15, 2007

What are you going to do with all the available data?

In the classic film, “It's a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey was able to keep the Building and Loan open for another day simply by having two dollars on hand at the end of the day. He and his staff gleefully put the bills aside, suggesting that they might mate overnight. Thus the idea of compound interest was born.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Lubrication May 15, 2007

Energy efficiency a powerful topic in the Bicentennial year of 1976

As a company that has made metal fasteners for more than 80 years, Elco Industries always had a knack for hitting the nail on the head. Its approach to energy efficiency is no exception. “Today’s rapidly rising energy prices, the possibility of fuel cutbacks and company’s public spiritedness have spurred Elco’s top management to finance the development of new conservatio...

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Energy Efficiency & Management May 15, 2007

Resolving there are problems, resolve to find the solutions

Plant Engineering does a series of Roundtable discussions each year designed to get at the crucial issues facing manufacturing in general and plant-floor management in particular. In this issue, you'll read excerpts from the discussions we had at the Plant Engineering Manufacturing Summit in Chicago.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Arc Flash & Electrical Safety April 15, 2007

The brave new Web world requires some exploring

The exploits of the world’s explorers were awe-inspiring when I was in school. From Columbus and Cook to Armstrong and Aldrin, the courage and confidence to take that one small step – or one giant ocean voyage – was something I always admired. It took months to cross the Atlantic and years to circle the globe in the tall ships.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Workforce Development April 15, 2007

In a tumultuous year, a call to action for plant engineers

William Rothfelder, the commercial research division manager for Inland Steel, sounded disheartened when looking at the global market for his product: “Our industry is doing all it can, including investing huge amounts of capital, to cope with the import problem,” he said. “And we are fighting a losing battle unless we get help from the government.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Gears and Bearings April 15, 2007

Reaching the Summit

PLANT ENGINEERING honored manufacturing’s outstanding new products and exceptional manufacturing facilities at its 2006 Product of the Year and Top Plant awards dinner April 2 at the Hotel Sofitel in Chicago. The dinner, part of PLANT ENGINEERING’s two-day Manufacturing Summit, featured awards for the 52 outstanding new products as selected by the magazine’s readers.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Gears and Bearings March 1, 2007

Plugged into bright ideas

If a light bulb goes on every time a plant manager gets a great idea on how to save energy, it’s likely going to be a compact fluorescent light bulb. With reducing electricity costs a top-of-mind consideration, the curly bulbs are showing up in more businesses and homes. When a spike in oil prices worldwide drove gasoline costs to more than $3.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Energy Efficiency & Management March 1, 2007

Repeating the message not a waste of energy

Last September, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded its first Energy Star awards to manufacturing plants. The awards went to automakers Ford, Toyota and Nissan; cement industry leaders Ash Grove Cement Company, California Portland Cement Company and Lafarge North America; and wet corn millers Penford Products Company plant and Tate and Lyle Ingredients Americas.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Workforce Development February 1, 2007

The future-shock of 1956 is close to today’s reality

The design of the new manufacturing facility capitalized on the surge in cell phones with built-in TV receivers. The facility was designed with Lean manufacturing in mind – no on-site storage for raw materials or finished products. The production rate is set by adjusting manufacturing automatically to meet consumer demand.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Material Handling February 1, 2007

Discovering the right time and the right place

If manufacturing is organized chaos, then the warehouse is where that organization lives – or where the chaos lives. The process of making things works only if you have someplace to receive the raw materials, and then someplace to send the finished goods. The ingress and egress of materials through a plant is critical to the process itself, and it is that process that brought plant manage...

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Workforce Development January 30, 2007

Blog! Five fast things for January 30, 2007

1. A busy opener at AHR : The opening day of the AHR Expo in Dallas was most notable for the huige crowds that made their way into the DallasConvention Center. The facility was packed on Day 1, and it speaks well for a healthy industry that benefits from growth in both the commercial and residential markets.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Energy Efficiency & Management January 22, 2007

Blog! Five Fast Things for January 22, 2007

1. Cross purposes? The CEOs of several major American manufacturers are calling for President Bush to support pollution control changes that affect climate change. This puts the CEOs of companies such as Alcoa, DuPont, Caterpillar and G.E.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
IIoT, Industrie 4.0 January 18, 2007

Blog! Five Fast Things for January 18, 2007

1. AHR Expo shapes up to be a big event : We get a lot of calls here to visit suppliers at trade shows. It’s part of the job — kind of like being the prize pig at the State Fair.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Plant Automation January 17, 2007

Salary Survey Exclusive: Southwest a hot spot for growth, confidence

Plant Engineering’s exclusive Salary Survey appears in the January issue, and it takes an overall look at how plant managers and plant engineers around the country view their job and their future. In drilling down on a regional basis, we find stronger confidence on the West Coast and Southwest. One-third of plant managers in the Southwest believe their salaries will increase more than 4% in the coming year, compared with the national average of 20%. Plant managers in the Mountain, Pacific and North Central regions also see more likelihood of a larger pay hike than those east of the Mississippi. By the numbers: My salary will increase 4% or more in 2007: Southwest33% Mountain25% North Central24% Pacific23% Average20% Northeast18% Midwest16% Southeast15% That correlates to the security plant managers find in their work: By the numbers: I consider manufacturing a secure career: Southwest74% Mountain73% North Central69% Average62% Southeast61% Pacific60% Midwest60% Northeast52% Plant managers in the west also see a greater potential for continued growth in their businesses in the coming year: By the numbers: The number of employees in my department will increase in the coming year: Southwest39% Mountain38% Pacific37% North Central35% Average29% Northeast27% Southeast25% Midwest21% There was also a great disparity by region in those who believed their departments would shrink in 2007.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
IIoT, Industrie 4.0 January 12, 2007

Blog! Five Fast Things for January 12, 2007

Five Fast Things for Jan. 12, 2007 1. Build demand, build plants: Want to see how fast you can make manufacturing take off in America? Find the right product and build it close to your end users.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Plant Automation January 1, 2007

2006 Salary Survey: Productivity delivers a bonus for plant floor managers

By every measure, American manufacturing plants are more productive than they have ever been. That productivity translates into efficiencies and cost-savings for manufacturing. Plant managers who achieved cost efficiencies in 2006 were rewarded with a record bonus, according to Plant Engineering's exclusive 2006 Salary Survey.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Maintenance Strategy January 1, 2007

Manufacturing satisfaction defies simple mathematics

It is said Abraham Lincoln used to figure out math problems by working them out on a shovel covered in coal dust. Gratefully, we have more sophisticated ways of working with numbers today. Whether calculated on coal shovels or computers, it's the numbers that interest us. I've been fascinated by numbers since I first learned to compute batting average (hits divided by at bats) at age seven.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Arc Flash & Electrical Safety December 1, 2006

Chasing perfection

The QO circuit breaker is one of those inventions that stood the test of time. It’s pretty much the same product that Ed Dessert created 50 years ago in Square D’s Cedar Rapids, IA, plant. Over the years, it’s been tweaked and cloned and expanded, but the basic function hasn’t changed.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Plant Automation December 1, 2006

Even without a round number, 2007 can be a milestone year

At the end of the year, we spend a lot of time to take stock of what has been gained and lost in the preceding 12 months. In 2006, there has been much to tally up on both sides of that equation. Looking back is useful for historians – and in a way, magazine editors are historians. Looking back gives us perspective on where we've been, and a foundation to build for the future.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
PLCs, PACs December 1, 2006

Workforce development

Business is booming at Lincoln Machine, a 70-employee machine shop at the east end of Nebraska's state capital. With local clients such as Kawasaki, Goodyear and Square D, the facility hums with activity. It is a highly-specialized business: custom automated manufacturing equipment, machine re-tooling and retrofit.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Motors & Drives November 1, 2006

Developing community rapport opens a door to the future

A recent study from the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis has put a number on the value of research and development as a driver for economic growth. It seems that R&D is contributing about 7% of the economic growth in the past seven years when it is considered as a capital investment, like a new piece of equipment, rather than as an expense, such as the salaries paid t...

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Safety Standards October 1, 2006

Positive safety programs preserve a few good men

In the climactic scene of the movie “A Few Good Men” Col. Nathan Jessep and defense lawyer Daniel Kaffee are sparring over the military chain of command when Jessep barks, “We follow orders, son. We follow orders or people die. It’s that simple. Are we clear?” “Yes sir,” Kaffee replies.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Plant Automation September 1, 2006

A turning point for the plant floor

Hyperbole is often unnecessary and more often wrong. The media makes claims that time proves were premature or unwarranted. We also overuse the word 'superstar' so much that its meaning is diminished. Today's 'superstar' becomes yesterday's “where-are-they-now” feature seemingly overnight.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
System Integration August 1, 2006

From system integration to Silly Putty, solutions abound

Here’s why manufacturing is such a fascinating topic to cover: Sometimes the solutions to the problems faced daily on the plant floor are solved with dazzlingly effective technological advancements we would have deemed impossible just a decade ago. From 3D imaging to advanced monitoring of equipment to business-level plant execution systems, we have sophisticated ways of measuring and aff...

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Arc Flash & Electrical Safety August 1, 2006

Consumable manufacturing leads and follows innovation

In the conformity of process manufacturing there is room for change. Many process manufacturers are finding the need to embrace new technologies and ideas. This is happening even as technologies created for the process industry – especially in the areas of food, pharmaceutical and petrochemical manufacturing – are finding a place on to other manufacturing floors.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
IIoT, Industrie 4.0 July 1, 2006

The revolution is coming to a laptop near you

We just installed a new editorial production system here at PLANT ENGINEERING. As with most technology launches, there were meetings and seminars and demos and training, all leading up to the final changeover. I only had one question as we started the implementation: “Will it work?” You got your issue this month, so the answer was, “Yes.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Plant Automation June 1, 2006

Unlimited data collection does have its limits

We are overwhelmed with data – or at least that’s what I read in a recent study on the topic. Our data is now portable, too. I broke down a couple of months back and got a BlackBerry, which fits in nicely with my laptop, my home laptop and my personal cell phone. I’ve got recharging cords of all shapes and sizes.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Sustainability May 1, 2006

Create a small, but powerful energy conservation policy

Which sounds worse to you: That gasoline prices are headed past $3 a gallon, or that gasoline prices have gone up 100% since last summer? Not much of a choice there, is it? A year ago in our cover story on energy, we pointed to the sharp rise in fuel prices – in particular that gasoline had just gone past $2 a gallon.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
IIoT, Industrie 4.0 April 1, 2006

Redefining what ‘better’ means in manufacturing

There are two fundamental principles guiding manufacturing at the plant level today. They are reflected in the technology PLANT ENGINEERING celebrated March 20 at the 2005 Product of the Year dinner. You can see this year's winners starting on page 70. One major effort is innovation. Innovation led the United States through the Industrial Revolution, through the Depression, through World War II...

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Motors & Drives April 1, 2006

Celebrating Excellence

Honorees at the 18th annual PLANT ENGINEERING Product of the Year dinner March 20 in Rosemont, IL got a glimpse at the present and future of manufacturing. The awards dinner drew more than 120 award winners in 16 categories to Rosemont, where winners were honored for their outstanding new product launches during 2005.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Energy Efficiency & Management March 1, 2006

The Future of Manufacturing: Driving innovation in the ‘new world’

The morning after the State of the Union, the National Association of Manufacturers delivered its report, "U.S. Manufacturing Innovation at Risk." Jerry Jasinowski, president of the Manufacturing Institute, which sponsored the report along with the Council of Manufacturing Associations, said he wasn't sure if the release of the report a day after the State of the Union was initially a good idea.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Energy Efficiency & Management March 1, 2006

Re-engineering the White Sox

Welcome back for National Manufacturing Week here in the home of the defending World Series champion Chicago White Sox. When the White Sox won the World Series in October (a sentence that still brings a smile to my face) the city of Chicago threw a parade that drew an estimated 1.75 million people. For the occasion, the city rented eight confetti cannons to shoot thousands of tons of shredded n...

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Workforce Development February 1, 2006

Piece by piece

Sidebars: Supplier worked ahead to meet utilities' needs Suppliers tell their stories of aiding Katrina recovery HARAHAN, LA — They started to return — one and two and four at a time, finding their ways around and through the roadblocks, both human and natural. They returned from Jackson and Baton Rouge and Houston and wherever the 150 mph winds had blown them on that fateful August night. Many returned not knowing the condition of their residences, and they returned with little more than what they could fit in their cars. They came to the only home they knew was still standing.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Sustainability February 1, 2006

Beyond grief, there’s room for rebirth

They say there are four stages of grief: denial, anger, depression and acceptance. The Gulf Coast has reached the final stage — acceptance — yet what residents and business face is unacceptable. When I visited the area in December, I could see what one person I talked with called "a new normal.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Lighting January 1, 2006

Paper still popular in a paperless age

The future is a wonderful thing. The only problem is it never arrives. As we arrive in 2006, we have all of these wonderful gizmos and gadgets to make our lives easier and more efficient. Which is why, if you're like me, you're busier than ever. Yet we try to innovate, and you're seeing some of that innovation at PLANT ENGINEERING this January.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Lighting January 1, 2006

Optimism, salaries grow at a steady rate

Consistent salary growth and healthy optimism about the future of manufacturing are the highlights of the 2005 PLANT ENGINEERING Salary Survey. Readers were asked about their compensation levels in every manufacturing discipline and from every part of the country. The results show an industry in transition as to how it compensates its managers, and yet one where salary increases were the norm ...

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Pumps December 1, 2005

DaimlerChrysler: The road to excellence

While there's a lot to be said for continuous improvement, every once in a while it's nice to stop, look around and survey what has been achieved. At manufacturing facilities such as Chrysler's Belvidere, IL assembly plant, such a survey resulted in its selection as PLANT ENGINEERING's Top Plant for 2005.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Maintenance Strategy November 1, 2005

A trite-and-true method

At the risk of being trite (which in itself is a trite phrase) there are no losers in the annual PLANT ENGINEERING Product of the Year voting that begins this month. There are only great ideas waiting to be discovered. Sure, everyone likes to get the trophy, and those companies who have earned Product of the Year status in past years value their prize.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Compressed Air October 1, 2005

Hard lessons from the Big Easy

First comes the storm. Then comes the media, and a second storm erupts. Then, when the water and the TV crews and the volunteers and the president have all receded, when the fingers stop being pointed and the bottled water has been passed out and the power comes back on and the jazz starts to play again, comes the rebuilding of New Orleans.

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Lighting September 1, 2005

Making the connection

We live in a plug-and-play world. That world has moved to the plant floor, where it's plug-and-work. This month's cover story begins a three-month journey through the world of Ethernet — its history, its uses, its potential to connect the plant floor in new ways, as well as its challenges. It is appropriate — and not at all accidental — that the topic of Ethernet is the cover ...

By Bob Vavra, Editor
Safety & PPE September 1, 2005

Extending safety off the job pays

Safety is an idea. Like truth and beauty, it is elusive to recognize and define. We do know, however, what the absence of safety looks and feels like. American workplace deaths and injuries are at an all-time low. Yet unsafe workplaces still proliferate. It a more cynical time, workplace hazards were seen as a cost of doing business.

By Bob Vavra, Editor