Mar 31 2016

Alan Mulally’s Perspective on the Digitization of Manufacturing

alan_mulallyFormer CEO of Ford and Boeing Commercial Airplanes says all companies are becoming digital, connected.


Alan Mulally is not your average retiree. At 71, he’s one of the very few business leaders who has had the opportunity to change the business world twice: At Boeing, where he was CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, he pioneered the use of a new generation of computer-aided design (CAD) software that revolutionized manufacturing; then, before retiring as president and CEO of Ford Motor Company in mid-2014, he led the 112-year-old automobile maker’s turnaround from a US$17 billion loss at the end of 2006 to profitability by 2008 – without the aid of government bailouts.

Today, Mulally is still very much in demand for his talent, his ideas and for knowing how to gain competitive advantage through organizational culture, serving on the boards of two high-tech companies. When he speaks people listen – and his insights about the future of business might be best described as provocative.

Traditional Industries Versus Digital Ones

For example, Mulally believes that the distinction between well-established companies that participate in more traditional industry sectors – ones that existed long before the start of the dot-com era – and so-called “new economy” companies heavily involved in the technology sector will become increasingly blurred.

“I find the whole discussion about digital versus non-digital companies very interesting, but it’s just not true,” he said in a wide-ranging interview exclusive to Compass. “Digital technology, the Internet, information processing and the ever-improving quality and miniaturization of sensors and robotics will enable the quality, productivity and transformation of all industries around the world. All companies will be brought together by databases and systems thinking. Individual companies simply will need to decide which things they are working on to add value in which industry. The enabling technologies will be exactly the same.”

The most important lesson that business leaders can learn from broad societal and business trends, he said, is the power of operating systems that deliver connectivity. “Information is going to be ubiquitous, and everybody around the world will have access to it,” Mulally said. “Can you imagine what’s going to happen when people get a chance to access that information and work together to create even more value for all of us? Embracing the integration of hardware, software, sensors and systems absolutely will be the key to the future for everybody.”

777: The First All-Digital Airplane

As one of the first executives to bring a traditional heavy industry into the digital age, Mulally sees a parallel between the digital-driven transformation he discerns on the horizon today and what he experienced 25 years ago, when he employed the power of digital technology to break the decades-old paradigm of how commercial airplanes were designed and built.

The year was 1990. Boeing had kicked off development of the “Triple Seven” jet from scratch in 1988, and Mulally was director of engineering. Prior to the 777 model, engineers created physical parts from two-dimensional drawings on paper. Specialists in various departments would design them, but it was up to manufacturing to figure out how to produce and assemble them. Testing form and fit was impossible until the first physical prototype was built.

In Boeing’s previous development of the 767 model, the paper-to-prototype approach had required about 13,000 individual design changes to the door assemblies alone. Management knew that if Boeing was going to deliver the capabilities and quality its customers wanted and complete the even larger 777 project on time and on budget, the company’s approach to designing and building planes needed to change radically.

Boeing had been following trends in computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) technologies, in which Mulally had taken a special interest. “We knew that if we could find a breakthrough in how parts are created, so they could be assembled quicker and more easily, we could make a tremendous improvement in the quality of the end product and in our productivity,” Mulally said.

In Boeing’s global search for solutions, Mulally and his team tapped Dassault Systèmes, the developer of CATIA (and the publisher of Compass), which enabled engineers to simulate the assembly of any product – an aircraft, an automobile – in three dimensions in a computer, prior to actual physical production. This capability allowed engineers to verify that all the parts would fit properly before they were manufactured. Theoretically, by virtually eliminating the trial-and-error approach to building and fitting parts, the software could save Boeing substantial time and money.

But could the software be scaled up to simulate and build an entire airplane? Mulally and Bernard Charlès, who was Dassault Systèmes’ president of strategy, research and development in 1990 and is now the company’s president and CEO, thought the case for designing and virtually pre-assembling parts in three dimensions – bypassing paper blueprints altogether – was so compelling that it was worth the risk.

To prove their point, Boeing built a mock-up of the 777’s nose section. The test verified the concept and demonstrated that CATIA could be scaled up to simulate an assembly of the entire airplane. The test was so successful, in fact, that all planned physical mock-ups were canceled.

“Unheard of – never been done!” Mulally exclaimed with as much excitement and pride as if the achievement happened yesterday – not 25 years ago. “It was probably one of the biggest single improvements in the design and manufacturing of airplanes in the last 100 years.” The gamble was such a success, United Airlines accepted the very first production airplane virtually defect-free and on time, a remarkable accomplishment for such a large, complex engineering effort.

Continue reading the rest of this story here, on COMPASS, the 3DEXPERIENCE Magazine.


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Mar 24 2016

3 Practices Sure to Deliver Big Time Transformation in the Warehouse

The surge of modern technology has shifted our outlook on warehouse operations. The market is heading towards new business frontiers, facing managers and owners with challenges in the areas of shipping, storing, inventories and human resources. It has become increasingly important to take advantage of cutting-edge tech solutions. As for the workers, they are under pressure to develop new skills and a deeper understanding of the tech side of the business.

1.    Operational Capacities

These tech “blessings” can be bestowed upon warehouse operations to drastically enhance productivity. As processes become more technology-driven, they can also be simplified. Using a Transportation Management System (TMS), for example, can simplify procurement and shipping processes, and will typically integrate with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems and Warehouse Management Systems (WMS). Combined, it is hard to imagine any manufacturer operating without at least some implementation of these systems.

Today, these approaches to managing warehouse operations are just a start – a minimum level to be “in the game.” The new technologies that are part of the Industrial Internet of Things promise to bring substantially more expanded visibility and operational control to operations spanning the globe. Distribution strategies could well be a competitive advantage that manufacturers can tout to expand market share – in just the same way that Amazon’s amazing fulfillment system has launched that online retailer into the top of their competitive industry. Watch this video to see it in action.

2.    Chain Reaction

When it comes to the supply chain, technology could play in important role to unlock the visibility that manufacturers so desperately seek. New cloud-based applications appear poised to break the security and systems incompatibility issues that have been historically challenging to address. Access to data flows on supplier production, quality metrics and performance metrics could offer Suppliers new ways to compete, and will definitely impact their offering in the eyes of a manufacturer.

3.    Heavy Lifting

An operable warehouse still includes staging areas, docks, pallet racks and picking trucks. Items still need to be moved as part of the fulfillment process. Here too the tech revolution is also taking hold. For example, material lifts are unparalleled in terms of boosting the versatility and productivity in the warehouse. This mobile technology can take a heavy load and allows employees to operate even in tight spaces. Many workers are already engaged in specialized trainings in order to be able to interact with latest equipment.

Automated Guided Vehicles are taking this technology to new levels by embedding sensors and “intelligence” into how materials are moved, stored and accessed. These savings are significant, as explained in this video filmed by Toyota, as presented by their Industrial Equipment division. Learn more by watching this video:


There are many advances tied to the process of lifting items in storage and retrieving them. Multi-shuttle pick modules with high rate capacities are tailored to high-rate product sequencing and extensive order assemblies. They encompass goods to person picking and pick face replenishment, and can be adapted to various warehouse layouts.

The next level of technological innovation in this area is the use of virtual or augmented reality. This type of technology could be utilized via head-mounted displays and information visualization to help workers be more productive and work smarter. Like it or not, the future is now.

Time to Gear up to A New Level

New technology advances do not mean the end of warehouses as we know them today. Rather, it offers a way to build upon current best practices to offer a way to simply do what is being done today with greater efficiency, to unlock new best practices. This brings forth a more efficient flow of goods, less waste, reduced costs and greater agility to respond faster to change.

With regards to those working within the warehouse, this new technology must be understood in order to take advantage of it. Those that invest the time to learn how to run the new systems, devices and machinery will be best poised to ride the technology wave into a future promotion. One must analyze the stream of incoming data and support the improvements made. Employee motivation and training is a top-priority, even if some entrepreneurs still do not realize it. This is the only way to achieve the new and greater expectations that consumers have come to demand.


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Mar 22 2016

Adaptability is Transforming Robotics

T800_Terminator_RobotIt’s more than 50 years since the first industrial robot went to work. Today some 1.5 million are in use around the world, yet there is not a single Jetson’s Rosie or (fortunately) T800 Terminator among them. The reality is, despite a public perception that robots think and reason, none of them are anything more than a machine, obeying programmed instructions. Though over the next few years that may start to change.

Structured Environments

Industrial robots are impressive machines, able to lift huge forgings, weld car bodies, or assemble components almost too small to see. Capable of astonishing acts of precision and dexterity, they will follow a programmed path at the same speed and without deviation, hour after hour, yet have no intelligence.

This ability to perform repetitive motions is what makes robots so useful. Around the world, robots are performing difficult, dirty or dangerous tasks. Welding and painting automobiles, stacking pallets and packaging pharmaceuticals are just a few examples. Perhaps the question to ask is, why aren’t there more?

The problem is, while robots are flexible, they are not adaptable. Flexible in robot terms means it can be quickly taught a new set of motions. Adaptable would mean that if a part arrived upside down the robot could recognize this and correct it. Or, in a more extreme example, it might mean altering a motion path to compensate for wear in a joint motor or bearing much, as a man with an injured foot adopts a limp.

Robots handle this lack of adaptability by having a highly structured work environment. Every part it will pick up or work on must be presented in the same position every time. That adds cost and complexity, which is probably one reason there aren’t more in use.

Adding Senses

Humans use sight and touch to deal with unstructured environments. With two eyes, humans determine the location and size of objects around them and their ability to sense and apply force lets them crack an egg or hammer a nail.

Robots have gradually been acquiring these senses. Growing numbers are sold with vision systems for locating shapes and objects. Single cameras determine orientation, while laser triangulation and stereo systems add depth perception. As a result, the need for repeatable work piece presentation is declining, lowering costs and increasing flexibility. Systems can even track individual parts on a moving conveyor, orienting the robot’s grippers to pick each one for packing or assembly.

Forcing sensing is on the rise, too — especially in assembly and edge trimming. When the end-of-arm tooling is equipped with force sensors, the robot can tell when an assembly movement is meeting resistance and adjust accordingly. Systems are in use that assemble and mesh gears in this way. Force sensing also lets a robot apply a constant load to an uneven edge, as when deburring castings.

The Future

For several years, NIST has supported work on adaptable robots that could assist human production workers, their justification being, “When people and robots can work together safely in the same space, a whole new class of more sophisticated jobs can be accomplished—inspecting, assembling parts into complex shapes, fetching tools or materials, and more.”

Three areas to watch are:

  1. Collaborative robotics
  2. “Smart” grippers
  3. “Deep learning”

A collaborative robot is one able to work alongside and interact with people rather than being caged. Such robots are now available. Some use advanced sensors and safety-rated controllers to react to a human in its space, while others employ power-and-force-limiting techniques to avoid causing injury.

Grippers are advancing, too. Once mostly pneumatic, grippers are now electrically powered, incorporating servo motors for precise control. Add force sensing, and a powerful machine is able to grasp the most delicate objects. Further are flexible, snake-like grippers that wrap themselves around an object to be lifted, like those under development at the University of Bristol.

Also underway at universities around the world is work on giving robots a form of situational awareness. Referred to as “deep learning,” this has garnered much media coverage and promises to make robots truly adaptable. Already, research robots have been unveiled that learn by trial and error and adapt to injuries.

Neither Rosie nor the T800 Terminator are on the horizon, yet as adaptability starts to transform robotics, who can predict the future?


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Mar 17 2016

What’s Missing From Your Manufacturing Processes?

Environmental Engineering Newest Tools Being Used TodayCreating a more streamlined and efficient manufacturing process can improve revenue, optimize worker productivity, increase operational agility and even reduce the overhead and operational costs for your company. Businesses that choose to audit their existing processes – and do so within a broader context of what opportunities exist to transform their business strategy – may be able to identify opportunities for improvement.

Inviting staff to take a more active role in designing more efficient manufacturing processes, investing in new resources like biomass manufacturing equipment, and making other alterations that can eliminate bottlenecks and improve workflow can make a real difference. Making due with an outdated manufacturing process could wind up costing many businesses far more than they might realize. To see what your processes may be missing in particular, use these tips.

Soliciting Worker Feedback and Ideas

Just because a manufacturing process looks good on paper does not always mean implementation will be free of issues. Speaking with line staff and inviting employees to play an active role in the designing, updating, or improvement of a manufacturing process is often very beneficial. From the layout and design of the working environment, to finding the best workflow and procedures that can yield superior results, the right feedback can allow businesses to implement more effective changes. And, with buy in from the team, acceptance of the new process will be more readily achieved. Ignoring the perspective and opinions of the professionals who have first-hand knowledge of a manufacturing process can be a costly mistake.

Automation and Equipment Upgrades

Manual procedures and older equipment may not provide the same level of performance and dependability as newer options, and can take a real toll on process improvement and business finances. Obtaining the equipment that allows for greater efficiency through enhanced automation and adaptability can often provide a superior return of investment. Businesses would do well to consider not just their current needs, but the resources that may be required to keep up with demand should they experience growth or expansion in the short or long-term future. And, new technologies promise greater connectivity from the shop floor to enterprise management systems through the Internet of Things. Lacking the right equipment resources or stuck with legacy machinery that can’t take advantage of new communications opportunities can find even the most well-crafted manufacturing processes suffer from reduced efficiency.

Greener Upgrades

Speaking of upgrades, sometimes the most process efficient are also the most environmentally-friendly. Investing in new, more sustainable machinery can help your process be better managed, and can often pay for themselves by using fewer company resources. Uzelac Industries is one example of a supplier who provides more efficient machinery. They offer equipment like rotary drying systems that can dry material like wood chips, bone meal, and manure to be used as biofuel alternatives. This means your company can become more sustainable by utilizing what would otherwise be waste. In the end, you get a great investment that increases your operational efficiency overall.

Regular Process Assessments Reduce the Risk of Future

Taking stock of manufacturing operations processes at regular intervals throughout the year can provide greater insight and understanding into what may be needed in operations. Quarterly volume can fluctuate, seasonal conditions may impact a manufacturing process, and changing working conditions can each impact business efficiency. Failing to inspect and assess an existing process can allow unidentified and unnoticed issues to grow into much larger and more costly problems. If accurate insight is what is missing from your manufacturing process, audits, assessments, and inspections can provide valuable information.

When it comes right down to it, manufacturing is all about identifying and executing a series of processes to produce output. These processes require inputs (raw materials) as well as a knowledge set of what to produce for what market, at what price. Your business processes are critical. If you are missing a key element that could enable them to run smoother and more efficiently, then you really should act upon this need to improve performance and profitability. Adhere to a regular maintenance schedule, take advantage of green initiatives to stay green and reduce waste, and encourage employees for their input to best assess and identify areas for process improvement to stay competitive in your respective field.


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Mar 15 2016

Automotive NPIs Keep Accelerating – Can You Keep Up?

new_product_introduction_acceleratingWe’ve been talking about accelerating New Product Introduction (NPI) in the automotive industry for years. But if you think the trend has reached its limit, you might want to think again.

A recent article in Automotive News says the speed of NPI is still accelerating, and will keep doing so for the foreseeable future. In other words, manufacturers that are having trouble keeping up with today’s pace are likely to face an even bumpier road ahead.

How Fast? It’s Complicated.

According to the article, Nissan, which has been launching some new models in just 12 weeks, is now aiming for 6-week product launches! Further, manufacturers are not only bringing cars to market faster, but they’re doing it in a more complex environment. The number of launches is increasing, more models and variations are being introduced and production continues to expand across more regions and supply chains.

As another example, German manufacturers plan to increase the number of products they launch in North America. And virtually every auto maker and supplier is looking for ways to expand its manufacturing footprint.

By itself, either one of these trends—accelerated launches or expanding supply chain complexity—would pose a serious challenge. Put them together, and you are looking at a major hurdle that manufacturers must face in order to stay competitive.

What Will it Take?

There’s no doubt major investments will be needed from auto makers and their suppliers. An executive at Toyota talks about creating “more nimble processes that can be moved and modified much faster than ever before.” Another executive stresses the need for greater standardization so factory tools won’t have to change every time you have a new model.

I think both execs are right:  Nimbleness is a requirement in order to retool factory floors in short time frames and reasonable costs, and standardization is essential so that widespread product launches can be managed.

The good news is that the technologies for enabling these goals exist today. Enterprise MOM platforms are increasingly being used to provide centralized yet nimble creation and deployment of processes. As digital factories evolve, collaboration is increasing across product design, production planning and process engineering. This trend both supports smoother launches and increases the ability to be nimble and responsive.

It’s worth expanding on the idea of standardization in this context. The executive quoted above was likely talking about standardizing product components and processes across car models, resulting in less complexity to manage.

This is a well-known strategy in automotive manufacturing. But it’s also true that standardization is important in the underlying IT systems that support manufacturing—and for the same reasons. Standardized manufacturing platforms make it easier to change and deploy new processes, regardless of the plant or region involved. Manufacturers with enterprise ERP, design, logistics and production platforms are much better positioned to handle the pressures of today’s fast-paced automotive industry.

The Time to Act is Now

The bottom line is that companies still using legacy, disparate systems across their facilities will be increasingly challenged to continue their reliance on these systems – especially if they expect to remain competitive. The digital factory is coming. It’s being driven by, and is helping to drive, faster and more nimble product launches. So far, the results are promising.

Just like NASCAR drivers heading for the finish line, car manufacturers are in a race to get to market faster with better vehicles. But unlike NASCAR, there is no finish line in the automotive industry. As soon as you get to market with the latest models, it’s time to figure out how to get there with the next models—in less time, few costs and greater quality than ever before. Hang on. It’s going to be a faster and wilder ride!


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