The pace of change depends on where you sit

If you are simply observing change, it must seem as if everything is moving past you rapidly. Getting up to speed requires you to stop observing and get into the race.


I can’t confess that I’m a big fan of NASCAR. Most days it just looks to me like drivers making a lot of left-hand turns. And without getting too Seinfield on you, why is it always a left-hand turn? You’ve got cars that are supposed to run like clockwork and they always drive counter-clockwise…

Anyway, the one thing you do notice about NASCAR racing is that speed is relative. If you are watching the race in the bleachers, the cars whiz by at about 180 mph, and that seems fast because you’re stuck in one spot while the car is traveling past you.

If you watch NASCAR on TV, you’ll perceive the cars generally don’t seem to be moving quite as fast because the camera pans across the track as the car goes by. The camera movement keeps pace with the car movement, and it leaves the impression of a car that isn’t moving very fast.

But if you are IN the car, your sense of speed is distinctly different. You feel every bump, every rush of air, every curve. You are not observing the rate of speed as much as becoming one with the race car.

The speed of change in manufacturing is much the same. If you are simply observing change, it must seem as if everything is moving past you rapidly. Getting up to speed, in a very real sense, requires you to stop observing and get into the race.

That’s not as easy as it sounds. NASCAR drivers may use “stock cars” (that’s what the ‘SC’ in NASCAR stands for) but you can’t go to your average dealership and pull a car out of stock that is ready to get on a track and drive 180 mph for 500 miles. You need the right equipment to do the job. And since the right equipment doesn’t come cheap, you also need a sponsor. Without a car covered in paint and decals from sponsors, NASCAR would look just like a faster version of rush hour.

In the same way, getting into the manufacturing race requires the same three things: a will to compete, the right equipment, and someone willing to finance the venture. If you are happy with your current level of competition, then there’s no need to join the race to get better, faster or more productive in manufacturing. If you can’t find someone in your organization willing to bankroll the venture, or if you can’t demonstrate the financial upside, then you won’t have the equipment to compete.

But if you have the will (and presumably the skill) to compete in manufacturing and the financial support to deliver improvements in safety, productivity and quality, then all you need is the right equipment.

Welcome to the 2014 Plant Engineering Product of the Year issue.

Five years of strong, almost spectacular growth combined with the weakening of global manufacturing markets has put the U.S. in a unique position to seize stronger control of the manufacturing race. In truth, the U.S. is and has been the single largest manufacturing economy for more than a century, but changes in the global market saw that gap close until the last couple of years.

If manufacturing were a NASCAR race, what happened next was a couple of our global competitors seem to have blown a tire and fallen a lap or two behind. We have control of the race. Now the challenge is to stay ahead, and to do that we have to be smart and tactical about what happens next. We have to stop to refuel and make some adjustments at some point along the line. Will we be ready with the right adjustments, the right equipment at the right time?

The companies highlighted in the 2014 Product of the Year issue have developed new solutions to keep you ahead in the race, and to provide you with a boost to your speed or your productivity. The key to winning this race, as it is in NASCAR, is to stay on track, and to do that you have to keep trying to find just a little more speed without careening into the wall.

That is where your skill comes in. The products we offer this year as Product of the Year finalists can only do so much. They will give you the potential to go faster, but that potential cannot be realized without the skill to guide your organization across the finish line.

Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
October 2018
Tools vs. sensors, functional safety, compressor rental, an operational network of maintenance and safety
September 2018
2018 Engineering Leaders under 40, Women in Engineering, Six ways to reduce waste in manufacturing, and Four robot implementation challenges.
GAMS preview, 2018 Mid-Year Report, EAM and Safety
October 2018
2018 Product of the Year; Subsurface data methodologies; Digital twins; Well lifecycle data
August 2018
SCADA standardization, capital expenditures, data-driven drilling and execution
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
October 2018
Complex upgrades for system integrators; Process control safety and compliance
September 2018
Effective process analytics; Four reasons why LTE networks are not IIoT ready

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

The Maintenance and Reliability Coach's blog
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One Voice for Manufacturing
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The Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Blog
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Machine Safety
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Research Analyst Blog
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Marshall on Maintenance
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
Lachance on CMMS
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Material Handling
This digital report explains how everything from conveyors and robots to automatic picking systems and digital orders have evolved to keep pace with the speed of change in the supply chain.
Electrical Safety Update
This digital report explains how plant engineers need to take greater care when it comes to electrical safety incidents on the plant floor.
IIoT: Machines, Equipment, & Asset Management
Articles in this digital report highlight technologies that enable Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies.
Randy Steele
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Matthew J. Woo, PE, RCDD, LEED AP BD+C
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Randy Oliver
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
Design of Safe and Reliable Hydraulic Systems for Subsea Applications
This eGuide explains how the operation of hydraulic systems for subsea applications requires the user to consider additional aspects because of the unique conditions that apply to the setting
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