Apr 28 2016

Megan Nichols

What Is Defining the Future of Aerospace Technology?

26623643_sInnovation has always been the cornerstone of the aerospace industry, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

Like any industry, aerospace faces its share of challenges. But since aerospace touches so many other industries, including defense and passenger aviation, there should never be a shortage of new technologies to keep the industry thriving.

Here are a few things driving new aerospace technology.

The Future of Passenger Aircraft

At a glance, the passenger airplane has undergone very few changes over the past few decades. Perhaps aircraft emissions, regulations, and standards, along with the cost of fuel, will change this, causing a need for new aerospace technology.

It’s already happening in the auto industry. Concerns over the effects diesel and unleaded fuels have on the environment led to the rise of hybrid cars.

Could the passenger airline industry be next? The cost of fuel is also a challenge for that industry, so airlines may begin looking for hybrid aircraft that would significantly lower the cost of fuel, not to mention the effect on the environment.

It may be a long way off, but innovation in the area of hybrid-electric aircraft is already underway. The UK is interested in developing the plane. The proposed aircraft will be powered by biofuel engines, which will drastically reduce emissions.

The Future of Tourism … In Space

In recent years, there has been talk that passenger space travel could be a possibility in our lifetimes, and it seems that goal nears fruition every day. In fact, just recently, Elon Musk’s SpaceX made history by successfully landing a rocket in an upright position on a barge in the Atlantic Ocean.

As consumer space tourism comes closer to reality, there will no doubt be a need for safe and efficient technologies that can be mass-produced.

The aerospace industry will have more to do than just getting passengers into space, though. For example, one company is working on a 12,000-cubic-foot inflatable space habitat that could potentially support space tourism.

The Constant Churn of Products

As we’ve seen in the computing industry, new products can fade away quickly. There’s always a new model of computer, tablet, or mobile phone right around the corner.

The same could be said for the aerospace industry. By definition, aerospace is at the forefront of technology, and there will always be a need for lighter, more compact, more durable and more efficient products — whether it’s actuators, ball splines, or stud roller systems. Engineers’ need to continuously test and create lightweight, durable material that can support the load of airplanes and spacecraft.

That’s true not only in the US, but worldwide. The US aerospace and defense sector added $5 billion in exports in 2015, with more growth expected this year, meaning demand around the world is strong.

That was nearly 10 percent of total US exports last year. To put another way, global demand for American aerospace technology is a large driver of the domestic economy and should continue to be a motivator for continued excellence in innovation.

Not Without Challenges

Aerospace is a booming industry, but it still faces its share of challenges.

One of the big ones is the defense segment of the aerospace industry — specifically, declining defense budgets. Over the past three years, decreased revenues in the US defense subsector negatively impacted global aerospace and defense industry revenue, driven by fewer large defense contracts than in years past.

There is evidence that could be changing, however. Defense budgets in several influential countries, including the US, England, France and Japan, are now on the rise — along with security threats around the world.

It’s not as if there is less of a need for aerospace innovation in the defense sector — it’s just that demand is often swayed by the state of global military conflicts, and their unpredictability is a major challenge.

Still, the aerospace industry is poised for continued growth for the foreseeable future, both in terms of revenue and technological innovation. In the coming years, there will be plenty of demand for quieter, smoother and more ergonomically sound designs, and that should continue to drive aerospace technology forward.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.apriso.com/blog/2016/04/what-is-defining-the-future-of-aerospace-technology/

Apr 22 2016

Q&A: Michelle Mertens, Hitachi Computer Products, Inc.

Michelle MertensI had the opportunity to participate in a webcast between Michelle Mertens, Hitachi Computer Products, Inc. and Andrew Hughes, Principal Analyst MOM Practice at LNS Research. If you are interested in hearing this discussion, it is available to watch here.

Below is a condensed transcript of select questions that were asked by the audience immediately following the presentation. This feedback offers a unique perspective of what challenges Hitachi Computer Products had to overcome while in process of implementing their global manufacturing execution system.


BENZIE: Which was your pilot factory, and how were the processes rolled out to the next three factories? Was it simultaneous, or sequential?

MERTENS:  The initial footprint was created at our U.S. factory in 2009. That was prior to the global initiative. We were in the process of replacing our current MES. At that time, the factory in Japan was using a purchased product and then the factory in Europe was using a homegrown solution. So, when it came time to select a global product, if you will, obviously ours was one of the candidates. But, at that point, we worked with the Japan team to pilot a smaller piece of functionality across the DELMIA Apriso technology stack as a proof of concept.  Once everything started rolling and we truly had the global initiative, we had to realign our local U.S. implementation because, of course, we made a significant amount of changes to go into the global as practiced type of structure, and we were essentially already live with some changes that we referred to as re-factorizations. Then we brought up one of our major product lines – the European factory first – and then the second product line across the U.S. and the European factory and then moved on to the Japan factories. So we did not do any type of Big Bang, if you will. We certainly rolled them out so that we could have the proper staff both technically and functional end to support everything.

BENZIE: As part of your implementation, there was likely a question on how to “draw the line” between what would be done in ERP and what would be done in MES? And, in a thirty second answer please? 🙂

MERTENS:  Well, basically, having worked on several ERP implementations as well in the past, for us – the ERP is where the money is. The MES is where the process is – the quality and, for us, the traceability. So, anything that’s going to source MRP or that’s going to source finance, the system of record is going to be the ERP system. The process, the quality and pure traceability – the system of record was going to be the MES. How’s that for a quick answer?

BENZIE:  That’s very impressive.

BENZIE:  Is there any R&D functionality within this deployment you’ve done and a minimum size for facilities that makes sense?

MERTENS:   In terms of the MES, the R&D aspects are not tracked in our MES. We do manufacturing, of course, quality as well as starting to look at some aspects of customer repair. Our system of record as well as our research and development foundation is actually managed in a separate system. So, essentially, I’d say the answer to that question would be no at this time if I understand it correctly.

BENZIE:  Mm-hmm. How about a minimum size for a facility? Do you see that? I mean, you’ve done three now. Do you see that there might be a minimum or do you think that this could be deployed, regardless of size?

MERTENS:  Yeah, I think absolutely. The smaller the easier.  Because we’re an electronics manufacturer and we’re doing some pretty high end solutions, we consider our foundation to be pretty complex. And, in working with our counterparts within our industry as well as manufacturing , now it’s become pretty evident that what we’ve deployed here is pretty intricate and complex. When we look at some of our product lines that are a lot more basic, they were able to do more of a modular type of approach. Those are able almost to be plug-and-play so, from a certain sense, as a member of a team those would be the ones that would be the easiest to do. Definitely, from a scalable standpoint the smaller – the less complex – the easier it is just to plug it out there. I don’t think there really is a minimum.

BENZIE:  Sounds logical.


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Permanent link to this article: http://www.apriso.com/blog/2016/04/qa-michelle-mertens-hitachi-computer-products-inc/

Apr 19 2016

Do Forklifts Have a Place in the Warehouse of the Future?

forklift_warehouseToday, just as it’s been for several decades, forklifts are a common sight in warehouses. They are a vital part of the entire warehousing process – from taking new products off the truck for storage, to moving them to different shelving areas, to putting them back on a truck for delivery. But with automation, robots and other new technologies, some people in the industry are starting to wonder if forklifts will have any place in the warehouse of the future. Are they becoming obsolete?

An Increased Use of Automation

Led by companies such as Amazon, many warehouses are moving to more automated storage and retrieval processes. As this technology and robotics improve, it has become faster and cheaper to make use of automation in warehouses. Using barcodes and scanners (or similar technologies), these robots can accurately select inventory, or entire pallets of products, move them to a new location, and update information in the inventory system. Everything is done quickly and efficiently.

This equipment can interface directly with Production, Shipping and Inventory systems. Technology in the warehouse can now instantly receive a customer order, find the correct shelf or bin, pull the necessary number of items, and place them with other ordered items for shipping. Once the packing is complete, an Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) can take the box to the truck. Forklifts won’t be needed in any part of the process since AGVs are basically self-driving forklifts.

Fewer People Are Needed

It also requires less people. Rather than hiring a number of forklift drivers and other employees, one single person can operate a fleet of AGVs. The only area where a human may be needed is the actual packing of the box, and then that’s really only necessary if there are multiple items of different sizes or if the items are fragile and need to be carefully wrapped. In some cases where this does not apply, robots can even package up the materials.

A Reduction in Risk

Because fewer people are now needed on the warehouse floor, the warehouse overall will become safer. Even if robotic forklifts and other machines were to crash into each other, no one would actually get hurt. Vehicle operators do not have to worry about back and neck pain from awkward posture, continually reaching for levers, and climbing up into the forklift. When people do need to be involved, the robots can hold pallets at the optimal height so there is no need to bend down or reach up while moving heavy items.

A Reduction in Errors

When humans are involved, there is always the chance of errors being made. While robots may not be absolutely perfect, there are far fewer issues with inventory control. There is little risk of a robot selecting the wrong item or selecting too many or too few items. An automated system is not likely to forget to adjust the number of items or pallets in the inventory or forget to log a change in inventory location, since each device has its own built-in location tracker.

A Slow Shift

Getting back to the original question of what role forklifts will play in the future, there is no need to worry quite yet. While automated picking systems may have started replacing the forklift in some warehouses, Forklifts are not likely to vanish from the warehouse tomorrow, especially not in smaller warehouses. Automation technology tends to have a greater return on investment when implemented in larger facilities, resulting it its use being somewhat limited in smaller ones (cloud-based solutions, however, are changing this paradigm too). Who knows what market absorption might exist in another ten or twenty years!


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Permanent link to this article: http://www.apriso.com/blog/2016/04/do-forklifts-have-a-place-in-the-warehouse-of-the-future/

Apr 15 2016

How the VSS Unity Is Bringing Disruptive Technology to Space

nasa-techWith much fanfare, founder of the Virgin Group Richard Branson unveiled the newest in the Virgin Spaceship (VSS) fleet called the Unity in 2014. This spacecraft is 60 feet long with a wingspan of 42 feet, and it can hold six passengers. Its flight maxes out at MACH 3.5 and it boasts several minutes of zero gravity time. This is just part of Branson’s vision for space tourism, and Virgin Galactic is breaking more than just the orbital barrier to make this dream a reality.

Using New Technology

Much of NASA’s technology is old. For economic reasons, it was easier to fit new technology onto existing equipment, even though it was not the most efficient engineering. Working from a clean slate, Virgin Galactic could choose from existing tech and discard the rest. There was no retrofitting. There was only new discovery. The first challenges fell under the category of material science. VSS Unity is 100 percent carbon composites, which makes the vehicle stronger and lighter than metal with a near zero corrosion factor. Virgin isn’t saying much about its composite material, however, because it is proprietary and the result of a large investment in research.

Developing Modern Equipment

Currently the VSS Unity uses a piggy-backing method to get into the air, much like the NASA shuttles have done in the past; however, the goal is for the craft to take off like a commercial jet, reach orbital or suborbital heights and then land again normally. Traditional jet engines use air that is driven through super-powered fan blades. At lower altitudes, this type of engine works, but at higher altitudes the air thins out, leaving the engine with no thrust. The engine prototypes for suborbital vehicles are hybrid, threefold propulsion systems. They act as a rocket to start, have a low energy propulsion unit to navigate at apogee and a jet to land. All of this equipment needs to be light enough, so the weight-to-power ratio is not thrown off.

Creating Disruptive Technology

Disruptive technologies are those that create an entirely new market. Space tourism is definitely disruptive and the market needs to be developed. There is a psychological component to this modern space race, which can been seen through the excitement over the VSS Unity and the high-profile speakers that were at the unveiling, such as iconic physicist Steven Hawking and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. Virgin Galactic is creating a market conversation that includes peace, education and courage as its narrative. In a world where economics drives science, this is the greatest trial of all.

Branson’s vision extends beyond suborbital flight. He wants to go past the 62 mile limit that marks the point between the Earth and space. He plans to place a hotel in orbit over the moon, offer moon walks as a fun outing and shuttle people back and forth at a fraction of the cost. More profound than simple tourism, Branson’s ideas aim to continue what NASA started — putting people in space and exploring the cosmos from there.


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Permanent link to this article: http://www.apriso.com/blog/2016/04/how-the-vss-unity-is-bringing-disruptive-technology-to-space/

Apr 07 2016

Despite all the Change in Manufacturing Operations Today, Safety Must Still be a Constant in Process Improvement

despite all the manufacturing transformation, safety on shop floor still a constantThere are many responsibilities business owners and plant managers must juggle. While you have duties to your customers, business partners, and the government, your responsibilities to your employees are perhaps the most important of all. All businesses have to ensure its workforce remains safe while on the job and you can’t do that without the proper equipment.

Despite the digital transformation now underway in manufacturing operations, there are still other parts of operations that will not change – as hard as that may be to imagine, given the sweeping changes now underway! One of those activities is safety. So, I thought it might be a good idea to review a list of safety best-practices that might easily be forgotten at a time when such high levels of scrutiny are applied to Lean, Six Sigma and other continuous process improvement initiatives.

1. Alarm Systems

Alarm systems are a must have for any factory, office, or other indoors workspace. Fire alarms are likely required in any building, based on, at minimum, code requirements. A fire could break out due to the failure of the building’s electrical system, for example, at which point employees would then need to be alerted of the fire to escape to safety. However, other companies may need other kinds of alarm systems installed. Gas leaks and chemical spills in special factories and other industrial settings can certainly kill or badly injure employees.

Beyond the act of installing such alarm systems, training should be regularly conducted to ensure everyone knows the propper, safe route to evacuate as well as where to meet after, to ensure all workers can be accounted for, should an actual fire break out.

2. Safety Goggles

One of the most common workplace injuries involves the eyes. Injuries here are especially serious since they can lead to blindness and badly hamper a person’s quality of life. If there is even a slight chance of particles, however small, becoming airborne in your employees’ workspace, safety goggles are required. If employees could be exposed to harmful chemicals that could affect the eyes, safety goggles should be worn. If employees require prescription goggles, see if you can get customized options at places like All About Eyes. Or, simply use safety goggles that are big enough to fit over prescription lens. Make sure you have eye wash basins in place as well.

Interestingly, those workers operating in clean rooms typical with high tech manufacturing should also wear goggles, but perhaps, for an additional reason – to avoid contaminants enter the clean room environment, such as eye lashes. Increasingly with sophisticated manufacturing processes now required by today’s manufacturers, the precision of what materials are part of the production process must be highly regulated and monitored. Any sort of contaminants could seriously impact the quality and end-user experience while consuming your product.

3. Airborne Debris or Equipment

In certain cases, employees simply breathing in the air at a worksite can be deadly. For example, employees that have to renovate old buildings may come into contact with asbestos. If breathed in, asbestos can lead to extremely serious and incurable chronic health problems. You should never take chances. If there is a chance that a worksite could be contaminated, employees should use respirators to filter the air supply so it’s safe.

Other safety issues can occur from things travelling through the air – such as a robotic arm. The use of robots is increasingly becoming part of many production processes. Traditional robotics usage might have been limited to just specific areas of the production line. Today, some manufacturers are now experimenting with the use of robots to work alongside workers on the shop floor. This practice has all sorts of implications on new safety measures to ensure injuries are avoided at all costs. The modernization or automation of production processes will not be a positive return on investment if workers are injured as a result!

4. Falling Objects

And, lets not neglect the continued risk of falling debris, a serious concern on many jobsites. If a heavy object can fall from up high, it can certainly kill or badly disable an employee. Hard hats should be required for all jobsites in which falling objects is a possibility. Make sure your employees know to keep these safety equipment and measures in place at all times. They are responsible to keep themselves safe as well.

5. Emergency Stops

Sometimes, equipment or machines malfunction. Other times, an employee might accidentally fall and slip into a working piece of equipment. If that is the case, there should be a button that can be pressed to stop the machinery immediately so it causes no more harm to such an employee. Most equipment come with this as a standard part of the machinery. If not, make sure you replace older equipment with newer models.

Those manufacturers considering adding new automation processes, Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) or robots to be installed on their production line need to also consider the safety ramifications of such an investment. How will an employee quickly stop one of these machines in time before someone gets hurt? It is easy to get caught up in the performance improvement or efficiency gains from such investments. Don’t neglect to also invest in the necessary safety standards to ensure the best possible protection for your factory workers.


Overall, workplace safety has always been a vitally important concept. This is why so many manufacturers have dashboards or Andon boards to track how long it has been since a safety incident. As new investments are made in new technologies or automated processes, don’t neglect to consider the safety ramifications too as part of your initial investment and project scope. Make sure your employees have all the tools available to them to protect them from harm while on the job.


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Permanent link to this article: http://www.apriso.com/blog/2016/04/safety-constant_process-improvement/

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