Jan 15 2016

Q&A with Tom Greco, Vice President of ThomasNet.com

Tom_GrecoRecent reports, such as what was announced by the MAPI Foundation, suggest that during the next few years manufacturing production could outpace GDP growth, starting in 2015. Output in the U.S. is anticipated to advance by 2.6% in 2016, 3.0% in 2017 and 2.8% in 2018. Experts are pointing to strong consumer demand and brisk hiring as the major drivers behind this expansion.

In order to best capture and drive this new growth, manufacturers need to ensure they are best poised to respond accordingly. Having clear visibility to global operations is a critical first step. Having an IT systems infrastructure to manage this visibility and best allocate resources to optimize output is another key factor that will pay big dividends to those organizations that have had the wherewithal to establish this operational capability. Another key requirement – one that we will spend some time discussing in this post – is the ability of manufacturers to make the right connections. Buyers need fast access to new supply chain partners, and suppliers must be fully available at their point of need. What is needed is an end-to-end value chain whereby manufacturers understand what their buyers and end users need, and can then effectively deliver upon that need, ideally in real-time. This is often easier said than done.

I had an opportunity to speak with Tom Greco, Vice President of ThomasNet.com, which operates a free supplier discovery and product sourcing platform. Their objective is to help facilitate greater communications and collaboration throughout the supply chain, helping manufacturers to best take advantage of expected future demand growth.


Mr. Greco, can you please provide our readers with a brief description of the platform and how it works?

For close to 120 years, our company’s mission has been to connect buyers and suppliers, first through the Thomas Register of American Manufacturers and today through ThomasNet.com. We make it easier for B2B and engineering buyers to find, vet, compare and connect with more than 700,000 North American suppliers of industrial and commercial products and services.

Using our platform, buyers can quickly qualify these suppliers by location, ownership/diversity status and quality certifications, and view in-depth company profiles to develop a shortlist.

For users who need specific products, ThomasNet.com features over 100 million items, including raw materials, components, and finished parts. Engineers can also access millions of downloadable 2D/3D CAD models to ensure that the parts they want will fit into their products.

Who uses the platform and what are the kinds of needs that you help them fulfill?

Our users include procurement professionals, engineers, warehouse and plant managers, research and development personnel, and supplier diversity managers. These buyers represent a broad range of industries, such as manufacturing, automotive, aerospace, food & beverage, medical, government/military, construction, and education. When they come to ThomasNet.com, they are typically ready to engage with new suppliers.

For example, many buyers and engineers visit ThomasNet.com when they need custom manufacturing services. Using our Supplier Discovery application, they can develop a target list of companies, and delve into their profiles to further qualify them. Many of these suppliers have provided information on their capabilities, past jobs, and certifications, and some even offer video plant tours. As an alternative, our Custom Quotes application takes away the need for users to do independent research. They simply send an RFQ specifying the services they require, and our engineering team refers them to up to five local machine shops.

Supplier diversity managers use our Diversity & Quality application to help meet their diversity targets. This application features one of the largest free databases of minority, woman-owned, veteran-owned and other disadvantaged businesses with supporting proof of ownership. These buyers used to have to consult multiple databases to find the information we have aggregated here.

Who are the suppliers and what is your value proposition for them?

The suppliers on the platform include product and component manufacturers (OEMs), custom manufacturers and service companies, capital equipment manufacturers, and industrial distributors.

With a profile on ThomasNet.com, these suppliers have a higher chance of capturing buyers’ attention at their point of need. These opportunities are actually rarer than companies might think. For buyers, onboarding a new supplier can be time-consuming and costly, so if manufacturers miss a chance to connect, it might be years before they have another chance. Capturing one or two new orders from these serious buyers can make a big difference to suppliers’ growth.

Is there a particular success story that stands out to you as a result of using the platform?

One success story that comes to mind is Sarah Blakely, the founder of SPANX. Her road to becoming one of the youngest, self-made female billionaires wasn’t an easy one. After patenting SPANX, she struggled to get a prototype made, and finally found an American manufacturer on ThomasNet.com. The rest is history.

Do you have any other points to add?

I encourage your readers to visit ThomasNet.com to take advantage of this free platform. We also offer free onsite instruction (or webinars) for sourcing and engineering teams. For more information, your readers can contact our Audience Outreach Manager Kristin Carty at kcarty@thomasnet.com.

Industrial and commercial suppliers can also establish a free profile on ThomasNet.com so that they are on buyers’ radar. To start the process, they can click here.


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Permanent link to this article: http://www.apriso.com/blog/2016/01/qa-with-tom-greco-vice-president-of-thomasnet-com/

Jan 12 2016

What’s Making Your Processing Plant Less Productive than it Could Be?

Five Technologies to Make Difficult Distribution a CinchA processing plant faces daily challenges to maintain productive results. The processing plant manager is responsible to tie up all loose ends between employees’ performance and their productivity, and set higher and higher goals and standards to make the plant more productive. Many studies have been done to see how this can be done and the one factor that seems to make a processing plant less productive is a lack of organization and untimely scheduling. Another factor is lack of well-designed industrial engineering planning.

Plant managers function in multiple capacities of management. They are expected to be constantly vigilant of employee productivity, product quality, production goals and output, and workplace safety. These are just a few of the duties that combine plant management with the facets of an industrially engineered processing plant.

What Makes Your Processing Plant Less Productive?

Whenever a processing plant is not as productive as it could be, it is usually a combination of factors like lack of coordination between production staff and management, poor time management, and inefficient processing equipment. These are just a few of the things that can drive down production numbers. Look into what could be causing winkles in your schedule and why these seem to happen regularly.

How to Make Your Processing Plant More Productive
To make your processing plant more productive, a monthly review of production output is necessary. View production output as a revelation into where the greatest losses of productivity occur. For example, when new equipment is installed, it should be ergonomically coordinated to the overall plant processing workflow.

Look for gaps in time from process start to final wrap or shipping. These gaps may slow down the process by taking too much time to complete each phase of processing. Plant processing equipment plays a large role in how efficient and productive the processing plant could be.

This is especially important in plant processing with 24/7 continuous production schedules. Does the processing equipment meet the manufacturing standards for comprehensive processing and safety? For example, a processing plant that relies heavily on highest quality processing should consider features like sanitary strainers for food, flavors, pharmaceutical, and beverage processing. By using a SaniClean Strainers sanitary or side inlet strainer for the process, product quality can increase, assuring a more productive processing cycle.

Plant processing should maintain a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) manual so the actual daily plant processing remains uniform and reduces production errors. A SOP manual should be updated as equipment or processes change. To make a processing plant more productive, it’s necessary for remedial retraining programs for staff and also continuous review of equipment efficiency.

Making your processing plant more productive is a balancing act of keeping up with equipment, changes in schedules and identifying where your inefficient processes are, and then making the necessary updates to optimize output. What results is a continuous process improvement strategy that can yield results for many years to come.


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Permanent link to this article: http://www.apriso.com/blog/2016/01/whats-making-your-processing-plant-less-productive-than-it-could-be/

Jan 07 2016

Cost of Downtime Calculator Tool

downtime calculator toolWe have published many articles on Manufacturing Transformation about the various opportunities to implement continuous process improvement as part of a strategy to improve operational excellence. Maintenance management plays an important role as part of this strategy, and represents a common objective every manufacturer shares – output drops to zero if your equipment stops running.

Who would argue against the suggestion to reduce downtime? No one. But, if it comes down to making an investment to improve your performance, then it becomes necessary to measure that investment. Here is where it can often be the case that the “obvious” investment can be tricky to justify and measure.

Taylor Short, CMMS market researcher at Software Advice, states, “Machine downtime, especially for manufacturing companies, can bring operations and revenue to a halt. Knowing an estimate of the hourly costs of machine downtime is a critical number to have in mind; it can be useful in justifying the investment of a maintenance management system that can minimize downtime with smart preventive maintenance and predictive capabilities.”

The team at Software Advice offered to share a tool (see below) that can be of assistance in calculating your cost of downtime, which can then be used to help make better investment decisions. Taylor Short continued, “Maintenance professionals can enter data about their company in the tool, such as costs for labor, average revenue and average profit per unit produced. The tool will produce estimates that serve as incentive to avoid downtime with the assistance of modern maintenance software.”

Special thanks to Software Advice for sharing this calculation tool!


Permanent link to this article: http://www.apriso.com/blog/2016/01/cost-of-downtime-calculator-tool/

Dec 17 2015

How Smart is Your Factory?

how_smart_is_your_factoryMuch has been discussed about Smart Manufacturing, or the use of the Industrial Internet of Things in manufacturing environments. But it seems everyone has a different opinion of what that actually means. In this post, I want to make an attempt at defining what a Smart Factory is.

As I see it, there are five components to a Smart Factory, and all five must be met to some degree before a production operation can be considered truly smart. If you want to rate how smart your factory is, give yourself a score of 0 to 5 for each of these categories.

Smart Equipment

Smart is defined as the ability to monitor conditions and operations, and respond to events by taking appropriate action. This means smart equipment can do some sort of self-triggered response to production events. Examples would be to shut down if it senses internal temperatures are too hot; request a diagnostic evaluation if quality performance degrades below a pre-specified level; alert personnel if certain specs are trending toward limits.

Thinking more broadly, smart equipment is also a prerequisite for collecting and reporting detailed data about every production step, from incoming inspection to manufacturing/assembly to shipping. This data can then be used for drilling down (such as tracing a specific product through its lifecycle) or stepping back for a meta-view (big data analytics and continuous improvement).


  • 0 points if you still use basic NC machines
  • 5 points if all equipment has built-in intelligence, sensors, real-time communications, integration with other systems (enterprise MES, CoE, ERP)


Smart Processes

This would be at “Level 3” of the ISA 95 model, whereby processes that manage manufacturing operations have the capability to perform actions that are triggered by others. Smart processes generally require smart equipment to provide the data for decision-making.

Most manufacturers have likely already achieved some level of smart processes, such as Lean triggers to automatically replenish supplies that are running low, or to synchronize with other smart equipment in the production flow upstream and downstream.

Smart Pull is an example of where this type of intelligence could be leveraged. In a Pull production model, the demand of the production line triggers upstream activities such as ordering parts and supplies and warehouse pulls. Smart Pull builds this capability into the processes, so Lean happens automatically without human intervention.


  • 0 points if your processes are still on paper
  • 5 points if you have smart processes integrated across your full production chain
  • Add 1 bonus point if you have closed-loop digital integration between product design and manufacturing processes, demonstrating a best-in-class innovation cycle


Smart Operators

Of course, humans are a very important part of the production equation. The issue here isn’t how high their IQ is or what education they have, but rather how empowered are your employees to perform a corrective or preventive action, or address an issue they see, in real-time? What systems or procedures are in place to leverage the intelligent operators working on the “front line” such that significant quality, tracking or performance issues can be immediately addressed? Can they take action through the system? How easily can they do it? And, what governance process is in place such that suggestions don’t get lost in a corporate approval process “dead end”?

We can also think of smart operators as informed operators. In a smart factory, that means making all the production information captured by smart equipment and processes readily available to every operator when they need it and in the right context. For example, a blinking red light that indicates a production line halt is not very smart. A graphical interface that shows the cause, highlights the specific problem, provides diagrams of the equipment, and shows exactly what steps to take for correction or who to contact—that is a smart solution, one that can help make the operator “smarter” in his or her job.


  • 0 points if operators cannot make decisions or resolve problems without help
  • 5 points if 90% of manufacturing issues that arise can be resolved immediately by the personnel at hand or by first call


Smart Suppliers

In global enterprises, the supply chain can be more critical than your own production systems, precisely because they often operate outside of your visibility and control. A Smart Supplier is one who provides you with visibility into their operations, and more importantly, gives you the ability to take prompt and appropriate action in response to real-time events.

Can orders be automatically rerouted if a supplier suddenly can’t deliver, or there’s a sudden spike in orders in one region? Can you shift suppliers between plants dynamically as required? Can you do it without human intervention?


  • 0 points if you don’t know what your suppliers are doing until a month later
  • 5 points if your supply chain is integrated with your enterprise Manufacturing Execution System for both visibility and actionable steps
  • Add 1 bonus point if you have a high degree of automated interaction between your operations and your suppliers


Smart Distribution

Here, you want to ask yourself how well your scheduling and transportation systems can respond to change. What updates can be performed automatically if something changes as orders become ready for shipment? How well is this information communicated without human intervention?

For example, an increase in production could trigger downstream notices to warehouses and shippers that extra goods will be entering the distribution system in the next five days. The loop could be closed, too, such that the distribution system could signal that it has responded—or that it is unable to handle the load, which could then trigger alternative efforts to fulfill distribution needs.


  • 0 points if you have to call your distributors to make changes
  • 5 points if you never have to call your distributors to make changes


How did you score?

Counting the 2 bonus points available, the highest possible score is 27. I doubt if anyone can claim that level of automation. However, I can honestly say there are Dassault Systèmes manufacturing customers who score in the 20s. My guess is most enterprises would score at least 10, and many may be in the teens.

I’d like to hear what you think of the definition, and how you scored. Let me know in the comments below.


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Permanent link to this article: http://www.apriso.com/blog/2015/12/how-smart-is-your-factory/

Dec 15 2015

How Emerging Green Technologies Are Impacting Manufacturing


Figure 1: Source: US EPA

Over the following decades, the manufacturing industry will continue to transform into an industry that will be almost unrecognizable by today’s standards. New levels of interoperability, collaboration and remote monitoring are just a start – other new technologies and strategies may not even yet exist!

One thing that will be recognizable, however, is the increasing need to focus on best incorporating emerging green technologies (EGTs) into the manufacturing process. This is not only due to an increased awareness of climate change and our impact on the planet, but from the simple fact that EGTs can actually save businesses a lot of money in the long-run. It’s now in a company’s best interest to start thinking about how to incorporate these EGTs today.

Reduce Energy & Water Usage

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as of 2013 the Industrial sector directly accounted for 21% of all greenhouse gas emissions, the third highest category behind Electricity and Transportation (please see Figure 1).

The cost of energy and water is a major concern for manufacturers. Today, around 22% of GDP is produced in water-scarce areas. If we continue at this rate, then by 2050 this figure will increase to 45%, severely restricting these regions’ ability to grow (source: GrowingBlue). Avoiding this calamity will require manufacturers to look to long-term, annual savings rather than short-term solutions.

For nearly 150 years, steam has been the primary method of delivering heat in industrial settings. Thermal fluid heaters offer an alternative as an oil-based solution that can deliver the temperatures needed for present day manufacturing tasks – but can do so with much lower system pressures, and without water. Thermal oils can come from animal or vegetable fats or glycol as well as water. These types of heaters can be used in manufacturing processes used in a wide range of industries, including food processing, automotive as well as the publishing and print industries, with the hope of creating a more sustainable future.

More and more governments around the world are now taking climate change and the safety of the environment more seriously. For example, in California businesses and residents alike were required to cut their water usage by 25% as part of a state-wide mandate. Around the world, we’re seeing the creation of many government-led incentives for businesses willing to adopt new, forward-thinking measures.

The Need to Manage Energy Usage

The EU Emissions Trading System scheme, launched in 2005, was the first of its kind. Even now, it remains the largest greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme in the world. Today, it is a major pillar of EU climate policy and aims to create financial incentives for thousands of factories, power stations, and other installations to reduce their emission levels.

Now, more than ever, it is necessary for manufacturers to pay close attention to how many natural resources and how much energy is being consumed. EGTs offer an alternative to help manage this cost, while at the same time, a way to help reduce the impact on the environment.

The cost of these raw material inputs are likely to raise in the future – even more so if the climate change remains unchecked. For these reasons, manufacturers are also investing in tracking systems for all costs, including those associated with energy.

Boost Brand Awareness

Fortunately, this topic has now become a top of mind issue for most consumers, who are more conscious of the consequences industry operations have on the environment. It is in a company’s own best interests to show how they are positively dealing with the situation – and communicating that plan to their customers.

According to research from Cone Communications, a record-high 71% of Americans consider the environment when they make purchases, up from 66% in 2008. One only has to look at the hotel industry to see how the washing of towels – unless absolutely necessary – is an extra service (and cost) many a hotel traveler will now gladly forego to help the environment.

Regardless of whether your business acts as an OEM or a supplier, your actions ultimately impact end users. Highlighting what your green initiatives are to the general public will help you retain existing customers and attract new ones. Not only is this a great way to get your brand name in the public consciousness, but it’s also an important aspect of manufacturing that is winning highly desirable government contracts, where green manufacturing standards are often an important factor.


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Permanent link to this article: http://www.apriso.com/blog/2015/12/how-emerging-green-technologies-are-impacting-manufacturing/

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