Is It Time For Injection Molding Machine Makers to Standardize Controls?

By: Tony Deligio 27. September 2016

If you looked at four machines from four different suppliers, you’ll find four different sets of icons and terminologies, all in different layouts.


Anytime Microsoft Office releases an update, my productivity drops and my muttering rises as I struggle to find key functions that I formerly could have clicked through to in seconds. That said, I know Office, and although even small changes seem huge at first, eventually that underlying familiarity helps me navigate the program and find what I need. In fact, a couple days after the update, I probably couldn’t tell you what the old layout even was.


Similarly, I’ve worked on Mac’s for the duration of my computing life. I can muddle through on a PC, but I won’t work as quickly; I won’t be able to exploit all its capabilities; and I might even screw some stuff up.


The average injection molder typically has a mix of various machines from various vendors, running disparate controls. For a process tech, it’s like working on a Mac running Office 95 one minute and then switching to a PC with Windows Vista the next. Every time they step up to a new machine, they need to take a few seconds (or more) to recalibrate. The difference between the shop floor and the office, however, is running the chance saving in the wrong file format versus ruining a mold.


This challenge for molders became clear to me in reading Robert Gattshall’s next feature for Plastics Technology. In our October issue, Gattshall, who is the engineering manager at Henkel’s Richmond, Mo. facility and who previously tackled how and why Scientific Molding can go awry, looks at how a lack of standardization in machine controls, for everything from key icons to basic terminology, poses a day-to-day challenge for injection molders.


Be sure to check it out and share any control conundrums (or workarounds) in comments. 


Slideshow: Taipei Plas 2016

By: Tony Deligio 31. August 2016

Held August 12-16 at Taipei's Nangang Exhibition Center, Taipei Plas 2016 logged a record number of overseas exhibitors. Check out the highlights in this slideshow (pictured: the long dusk shadow cast by Taipei's Taipei 101 tower).

Slideshow: Taipei Plas 2016


Taiwan’s Plastics Machinery Industry to China: It's Not You, It's Me

By: Tony Deligio 18. August 2016

Despite being separated geographically by only the Taiwan Strait, which at its narrowest point is just 100 miles wide, economically, Taiwan and China are growing further and further apart.


China is still Taiwan’s largest trading partner—its geographic proximity and deep cultural and historical ties help maintain that status—but it is being targeted less and less by Taiwan’s plastics and rubber machinery makers, as they seek new markets on their own and at the behest of their government.


Touring Taipei Plas last week on a press junket organized by show sponsors TAITRA (Taiwan External Trade Development Council) and TAMI (Taiwan Assn. of Machinery Industry), myself and other trade journalists from around the globe sat down with numerous leading Taiwanese equipment suppliers. Many boasted export rates above 90% but none said China was their top market.


The pivot away from China is detailed here, and apparent in the fact that China’s share of Taiwan plastics and rubber machinery exports has dropped from 30% in 2013 to 20% in 2015, with further shrinkage in the first half of 2016.


In its show-opening press conference, TAITRA and TAMI officials detailed the country’s outreach via TAITRA’s 60 overseas offices all around the globe, specifically acknowledging dignitaries on hand from Afghanistan and Malaysia. Even within the press group, you could see this strategy at work as I was joined by reporters from Mexico, Russia, Indonesia, India and Japan.


In 2014 when I attended the show, many Taiwanese suppliers noted that as they invested in new production facilities, they were doing so in Taiwan, after years of almost exclusively building up factories in China. This time around, many of those same companies acknowledged that China’s market is driven largely by cost, while Taiwanese machinery is increasingly marketed on higher technology. Because of this, more than a few said they had all but given up on selling into the mainland.


Earlier this year, Taiwan elected a new president—Tsai Ing-wen—its first female leader and only the second from the Democratic Progressive Party—a party openly opposed by the mainland. Tsai campaigned in part on a “Southward” policy, seeking greater business and cultural ties in Southeast Asia, and she offered some interesting insights into the shifting dynamics between the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China in this July 21, Q&A with The Washington Post:


Q: Isn’t China your No. 1 trading partner?


A: China is still our largest trading partner; however, complementarity between our economies is decreasing. We had the ability to organize a manufacturing process, and then we moved our manufacturing capability to China to make use of their labor pool. But now the situation is very different. [Chinese] labor costs are increasing, and China has their own capability.


Q: So China has become a competitor of Taiwan?


A: They are more and more our competitors.


Breaking up, as the song says, is hard to do; it will be interesting to see how "seeing other countries" is faring for Taiwan at the next Taipei Plas in 2018.


Advanced Manufacturing Has Outsized Impact U.S. Economy

By: Tony Deligio 10. August 2016

But overall impact is waning, pointing to need for federal and state-local strategies to boost the sector’s growth and broaden its reach.


Earlier this month, think tank The Brookings Institution released a report with those findings and more entitled “America’s Advanced Industries: New Trends” by Brookings Fellow Mark Muro, former Research Analyst Siddharth Kulkarni, and Nonresident Senior Fellow David Hart.


The report found that the overall sector expanded between 2013 and 2015, despite global headwinds, including China’s slowdown. That growth, however, was concentrated in a sliver of auto manufacturing and “tech” service industries, with three auto industries and four digital services industries taking up more than 60 percent of the nation’s advanced-sector growth during that time.


Forward 50
This report is a follow up on February 2015 paper by Brookings entitled “America’s Advanced Industries: What They Are, Where They Are, and Why They Matter”. In that, Brookings identified 50 industries that constitute the advanced industries sector. Those 50 were further broken down into three primary groups—manufacturing, energy, services—of which manufacturing was the largest with 35 categories.


Of those, many were directly related to plastics, like “resins and synthetic rubbers, fibers, and filaments” with more that touched on segments which rely heavily on polymers like aerospace and motor vehicle parts, medical equipment and household appliances. Resin and rubber was one of only 10 advanced industries that ran a trade surplus, trailing only royalties and aerospace.  


Why Do These Advanced Industries Matter?
These manufacturing-heavy sectors are so important to the U.S. economy because of their outsized influence on it. According to Brookings, the advanced sector conducts 89 percent of the nation’s private-sector R&D and generates more than 80 percent of the nation’s patents.


In terms of overall productivity, the advanced industries sector has grown about 2.7 percent annually since 1980, far faster than has the rest of the economy, which has managed annual productivity growth of just 1.4 percent.


Finally, there is the impact on trade. The advanced industries sector generates 60 percent of U.S. exports despite representing less than 10 percent of the nation’s employment.


Concentrated Growth
Despite slower growth from 2010–2013, advanced manufacturing industries still added more than 132,000 jobs from 2013–2015 period, taking up 20 percent of all advanced-sector employment growth. Roughly 70 percent of that employment growth came in three auto-related industries: motor vehicle parts, motor vehicles, and motor vehicle body and trailers


High-tech service industries were the leading source of advanced-sector growth in the 2013–2015 period, adding 500,000 new jobs over that time or 80 percent of new advanced-sector jobs. Nearly two-thirds of those came in four spaces: computer systems design, web search and internet publishing, software and products, and data processing and hosting.


Energy Bust
The advanced-energy sector has gone from a significant contributor in the 2010–2013 period to a “bust,” according to report author, Muro. “The U.S. ‘fracking” boom led to an oil and gas glut and energy demand stagnated worldwide.”


Going forward, the report sees two immediate issues to be addressed.


“This report speaks to two of the nation’s most pressing economic problems: its serious inclusion crisis and its stubborn productivity slump. On both counts, the vitality and expansion of the advanced-industries sector is crucial because the sector is the main source of the productivity growth and productivity-driving innovations and business models that support higher wages and rising living standards for the average worker.”


China Bets Big on Automation

By: Tony Deligio 27. July 2016

With the full brunt of the Chinese government behind it, the country’s industrial robot inventory is forecast to explode 2500% from 70,000 in 2016 to 1.8 million by 2025.


Those figures courtesy the China Center for Information Industry Development and shared in a July 26 webinar from the Robotics Industry Association (RIA). The RIA had three China robotics experts outline the market’s opportunities and the explosive growth it could create for western suppliers of industrial automation.


The webinar followed a statement from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) detailing the same types of projections. In that report, Wang Ruixiang, president of the China Machinery Industry Federation (IFR), said he expects his country to join the top 10 nations in the world in terms of robot density—that is the number of industrial robots per 10,000 employees.


In 2015, that figure stood at 36 per 10,000, putting it at No. 28, well below the U.S. (152), Germany (282), Japan (323) and South Korea (437). With a stated goal of selling 100,000 domestically made industrial robots every year by 2020, the industry believes it can join the world’s leaders sooner rather than later.


Ruixiang’s comments came at the China International Summit of the Robot Industry, and they echo reports inside and outside China, from industry and government, on how robotics will help maintain the country’s status as the world’s factory. That factory will also make robots to be consumed in China and abroad. Currently, foreign robot manufacturers enjoy a 69% share of the Chinese automation market, but local players see a shift coming.


At a roundtable during the IFR’s most recent meeting in Münich, Daokui Qu, CEO of Chinese robot manufacturer Siasun, said that by 2020, he believes Chinese robot makers share of the domestic market would increase to 50%.


Regardless of where the robots are made, more and more of them are headed to Asia according to the IFR. In 2015, the region registered the highest sales figures for robots globally—156,000—up 16% from the year prior, with China taking up 43% of that total with 67,000, almost double the second biggest player, South Korea, with 37,000.


Opportunities for U.S. Automation Suppliers
During the RIA webinar, Nelson Lee, president of Sunels Tech & Capital Corp., noted that while there are 2600 domestic robotics and automation related companies in China, many are quite small, with 90% generating less than $16 million in sales. He also said they are forced to rely on imports of key components like reducers, servomotors and controllers.


Despite these challenges, Lee said the Chinese automation industry will continue to expand because of strong government support, including related policies. In fact, on March 21, the Chinese government issued a Robotic Industry Development Plan for 2016-2020, projecting that annual sales of industrial robots will reach 260,000 units by 2024, with the value of the industry to hit nearly $15 billion. To achieve these lofty goals, the domestic industry has sought to partner with western leaders—one example: Chinese firm Midea Group’s pursuit of global leader Kuka.


Economic Slowdown ≠ Robotic Slowdown
In the Q&A portion of the webinar, one questioner noted China’s relative slowdown economically and asked whether or not that would impact the burgeoning automation industry. For Lee, the retraction is actually a positive harbinger.


“China is now making its economy more efficient; getting out of low quality, low efficiency industries and focusing more on advanced manufacturing industries,” Lee said. “This policy basically helps the development of the robotic industry because robotics are so advanced. So even though China is slowing down, the government and companies are putting more effort into robotics.”


While many segments of the economy might elicit a tepid response in conversation, automation does not.


“Whenever we are in China—when we talk with officials and companies—once you mention robotics or robots, they get excited; they want to sit down and talk with you,” Lee said.


Those statements definitely reflect Plastics Technology’s own reporting on the pursuit of advanced manufacturing in the Middle Kingdom, here and here. (Pictured: attendees at Chinaplas 2015 in Guangzhou get up close and personal with automation).


« Prev | | Next »

RSS RSS  |  Atom Atom


All rights reserved. Copyright © Gardner Business Media, Inc. 2016 Cincinnati, Ohio 45244