STANDING ON THE PRECIPICE

February 29, 2012


 

STANDING ON THE PRECIPICE

This blog was written using the following resources:

  • FF JOURNAL; “Help Wanted, Skills Required” by Meghan Boyer-Editor-In-Chief, February 2012 Edition
  • Manhattan Institute for Policy Research; “Leaving Boys Behind: Public High School Graduation Rates” by Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters.
  • “Suicide of a Superhero” by Patrick J. Buchanan

Over the last century, one of the strongest sectors of our economy has been  manufacturing.  “Made in America” has been molded into, printed on and adhered to billions of products used in the United States and shipped around the world.  We take a great deal of pride in the products we design and produce.  Manufacturing is making a comeback to American shores for several very good reasons; namely:

  • Poor quality abroad. (After the first prototypes are accepted and first piece samples approved, the quality does seem to drop—at least with some companies.)
  • Issues with communication
  • Misuse of stated and agreed upon standards and specifications (This is becoming a huge issue.  Foreign manufacturers do not seem to understand that changing materials, fastener callouts, paint and coating specifications, etc. can create real problems.)
  • Rising labor rates in other countries (Due to Facebook, U-Tube, Twitter, etc.  foreign workers are beginning to understand that they have been greatly short-changed relative to wages. )
  • Difficult working conditions for individuals in other countries (Sweat shops!)
  • Unrest around the world (If you do not believe this, go buy a tank of gas.  The unrest in the Middle-East is causing speculators to elevate the cost of petroleum. )
  • Issues with transportation relative to “lean” manufacturing and inventory control (I retired from GE and I know air freight from China, India, etc. to keep the assembly lines operating can cost a fortune.)
  • The effect foreign manufacturing has on national security (When you lose the ability to manufacturer products you lose the ability to control the assemblies you design.  You also relinquish a great deal of intellectual property.  Designers and engineers work very hard to develop products only to give the designs away to thieves waiting in the wings.  )

Fully, eighty-six (86%) percent of Americans believe manufacturing is important or very important to our standard of living BUT, only thirty-three (33%) percent would encourage their children to make manufacturing their profession.  Somewhat of a disconnect but traditionally, a job in manufacturing does not pay as much as other professions.   That fact is changing.

There are two very grave issues that affect manufacturing I would like to discuss at this time.  These are: 1.) Skilled labor available and 2.) High school dropout rates affecting the selection of personnel to fill the jobs available.  Let’s take a look.

  • 2.7 million manufacturing workers are 55 years or older and will retire within 5 to 10 years.  These workers are retiring at a rate twice the rate as young people joining the work force.  People with years of experience need to be the “trainers” for those coming into the various skilled jobs.
  • Right now, Deloitte, LLC estimates that 600,000 skilled positions are open and not being filled due to the lack of qualified applicants.  When we mean qualified, we mean individuals who have adequate reading, math and English skills.  Communication is an absolute must for high-tech employees—both written and spoken.
  • 67% of manufacturing companies have a moderate to severe shortage of qualified workers.
  • 56% of those companies expect the condition to worsen in the next three to five years.  As stated, “There is a worsening skills gap in manufacturing and it is impacting the ability of a company to grow, expand and remain competitive”.
  • Hispanics are an increasing percentage of the work force.  By 2014, fifteen (15%) of the workforce will be Hispanic.  Between 2004 and 2014, this workforce will increase by 7 million, from 19 million to 26 million individuals.  (US Bureau of Labor Statistics).  As we will see later on, the graduation rates for Hispanics is deplorable.

Now we are going to look at the possible downside creating huge issues with the availability of skilled workers.  Here goes:

  •  The national average for graduation rates: 70 %.  Of course, this means we have a dropout rate  approximately 30%  (HORRIBLE)
  • Graduation rates for the following:
  1. Whites = 78%
  2. Asian = 72% (This seems extremely low but the data supports this number.)
  3. African-American = 55%
  4. Latinos = 53% (With an increasing percentage of Latinos entering the workforce over the next few years, few will be qualified for the skilled labor jobs.)
  5. Graduation rates for female workers = 75%.  Graduation for male workers = 65%
  6. Graduation rates for African-American girls = 59%. Graduation rates for African-American boys = 48% (Huge gender gap!)
  7. Graduation rates for Latino girls= 49%.  Graduation rates for Latino boys = 49%
  8. In New York City, the percentage of African-Americans proficient in English = 33%.  For Hispanic = 34%.  For Whites and Asians = 64%.  All of these numbers (including whites) indicate a complete and utter failure on the part of our public school system.

It should be readily apparent that we are losing the Latinos and African-Americans at an alarming rate.  One study indicates that there are several reasons why an adequate education is so difficult to provide if you are an African-American or a Latino:

  1. Lack of parental guidance
  2. Lure of the drug trade; consequently, no perceived need for training
  3. Teachers pass students because they are intimidated by the student and just want to get them out of class
  4. Single parent household with no male presence
  5. Babies born to unmarried students, thus creating extremely difficult living circumstances

Truly, these conditions could and do exist in Asian and Caucasian families but not to the extent we find them in black and Hispanic households.  It seems to me that one “way out” would be a high school diploma and a college degree.  I think one very important missing ingredient is the will to make a bad situation better AND proper encouragement from peers and adults.   Whatever the solution, skilled jobs needing skilled labor is and will be affected for some time to come.  To some extent, adequate talent is recruited from immigrants coming into our country, but even that has diminished considerably since 911.  The solution remains very elusive.

COMPUTATIONAL ENGINEERING

February 19, 2012


Sir Isaac Newton once said in a letter to Robert Hooke, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”  His letter to Hooke was written in 1676 but still carries significant truth, certainly today.  Let’s face facts; technology is evolutionary and not revolutionary.  The Wright brothers flew a bi-wing airplane made from wood and fabric and not an SR-71.  The first “horseless carriage” was not a Lomborghani.   The use of leeches (for medicinal purposes only) definitely preceded penicillin.  The abacus was a very functional “counting device” centuries before the computer.  You get the picture.  Computational engineering is a fascinating technology, evolutionary in nature.  This discipline did not burst upon the scene overnight but evolved over the years to become one of the most truly viable research tools in today’s arsenal of investigative methodology.  The “proper” definition of computational engineering is as follows:

                “Computational engineering encompasses the design, development, and application of computational systems for the solution of physical problems in engineering and science.  These computational systems include not only the algorithms and software required for the solution of mathematical equations describing physical processes, but also the means and methods of visualizing, analyzing and interpreting computed results and other physical data. “ 

This definition is taken from the High Performance Computing Collaboratory facility at Mississippi State University.  Mississippi State has one of the most respected departments of computational engineering in the United States. 

Another excellent definition comes from The University of Auckland and is as follows:

                “Computational Science (called also Scientific Computing or Numerical Analysis) is the design, development, application, and analysis of computer algorithms and software to solve scientific and engineering problems. It includes not only numerical methods, probabilistic modeling, computer-based statistical inference, and computer simulation required for solving underlying systems of math equations, but also computer visualization, statistical analysis, and interpretation of computed solutions.”

All of this is well and good but why oh why do we need discovery techniques of this nature and why so detailed.  I cannot say it any better than the following statement from Dr. J. Tinsley Oden:

                “Near the end of the twentieth century, much of the industrialized world was becoming aware that the foundations of science and engineering were under rapid, dramatic, and irreversible change brought on by the advent of the computer. The steady increase in computer capabilities and the enormous expansion in the scope and sophistication of computational modeling and simulation place computational sciences as the third pillar of scientific discovery and revolutionize the way engineering is done. Computational engineering and science can impact virtually every aspect of human existence, along with the health, security, productivity, and competitiveness of the nation.”
        J. Tinsley Oden, Associate Vice President for Research, The University of Texas at Austin

  Let us now take a look at the results of computational engineering and the output derived from the process.

Formula 1 Racer

 

As you can see from the JPEG above, knowing the airflow around a Formula 1 race car can provide evidence of laminar flow that could provide a win when the checkered flag is dropped.  Disruption of airflow around an object could create resistance to lessen performance.

This is one of my favorite and shows the air flow around a shuttle craft re-entry vehicle.  Critically important information when considering the fact that re-entry is difficult enough and would be more so if surface-generated turbulence was an added problem.

 

Shuttlecraft

The JPEG below shows results of a study demonstrating the effect of “blunt force trauma” to the human skull.  Studies such as this are very important in understanding what happens when an NFL running back meets Ray Lewis.  We all know there is a class-action lawsuit against the NFL to compensate players who have experienced concussions during their playing years.  Computational engineering can aid efforts to fully understand what happens.

Human Skull

There are several schools that offer degrees in computational engineering (CmE), usually at the MS and PhD levels.  A BS degree in computer science, mathematics or engineering is almost always a minimum requirement with BS degrees in CmE not being offered.  Excellent schools offering course work and degrees in this field are as follows:

  • University of Tennessee at Chattanooga—SIM Center
  • Mississippi State University
  • MIT
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Purdue
  • Notre Dame
  • University of Utah
  • Arizona State University

 I am sure there are other, maybe many others, but these are noted for their contributions to the technology.   I certainly hope you will take a look at the possibilities and continue to study what is available relative to seminars and short courses.

 

 

R2D2—WHERE ARE YOU?

February 11, 2012


One of the most fascinating technologies to emerge during the last two decades is the science of robotics.  As we all know, robotics requires the combination of multiple disciplines; i.e. mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, electronics, computer programming, etc. to produce mechanisms that handle repetitive assembly and process operations.   I have had the great pleasure of specifying and installing robotic equipment, and in doing so, have become aware of their great versatility when applied to manufacturing environments.    Improvements in computer hardware and software have made possible these remarkable advances in this technology with an ever-increasing number of applications.  A fascinating application is the use of robots to perform precise surgical procedures with the surgeon being in the next room, or the next state or a completely different country.   I can only imagine where the technology will be in another fifty years. 

There are four (4) basic robotic types, as follows: 1.) Cartesian, 2.) SCARA, 3.) Articulated and 4.) Delta/parallel.  Let’s now take a very brief look at all four.

CARTESIAN

The Cartesian kinematic solution is highly configurable as the platform includes everything from a single degree of freedom or unidirectional travel, to numerous axes of motion.   Generally, three axis of movement; “X”,”Y” and “Z”, provide acceptable travel to accomplish a given task with the substrate being stationary throughout the process.    The Cartesian robot I just installed is responsible for “laying down” a ribbon of silicone on a small aluminized metal bracket.  This bracket, with adhesive, is then applied to a plate of tempered glass.   When completely dry, the assembly demonstrates 300 PSI of tensile pressure and with significant cost reductions as compared to double-sided pressure sensitive tape.   A representative JPEG is given below to demonstrate the basic configuration. 

 

 

This type of robot can be programmed to perform rapid movements with considerable accuracy; i.e. ± 0.005 inches.  Also, it is one of the simplest robotic systems to program.

SCARA (SELECTIVE COMPLIANCE ROBOT ARM)

The SCARA type robotic system offers a cylindrical work envelope.  This system typically offers higher speeds for picking, placing and handling when compared to the Cartesian system.  For this reason, the SCARA type is sometimes called a “pick and place” robot.  This class of robot is capable of handling components weighing up to 10 kilos or more with extremely high repeatability.   A photograph of the SCARA-type is as follows:

As you can see from the JPEG, the major movement is circular and around a supporting column with at least four degrees of freedom; i.e. “X”, “Y”, “Z” and “R”, with “R” being a rotation of the shaft supporting the work head.  One GREAT caution, the system must be positioned in a fashion so that personnel will not be impacted by the arm as it moves through various cycles.  I found this out the hard way.  A barrier should be integral to the “hardware” to protect operators when operations are being performed. 

ARTICULATED

Articulated robots have a spherical work envelope with the greatest level of flexibility due to the increased number of degrees of freedom (DOF).   These robots offer an extremely wide range of solutions including the ability to maneuver 1000 kilos or more.   These are the big boys that deliver great precision, with great speed and a high degree of flexibility.  With this flexibility comes the need for more “elegant” programming and much higher attention to safety.

DELTA/PARALLEL

This type of robotic system utilizes a parallelogram and produces three purely transitional degrees of freedom.  Base-mounted motors and low-mass links allow for exceptionally fast accelerations and therefore greater throughput when compared to their peer groups.   The robot is an overhead- mounted solution that maximizes its access but also minimizes the footprint.  They are designed to offer very low maintenance and allow for high-speed handling of light-weight products.   As mentioned, this is a fascinating technology adn one that s with us for years to come.  As with any useful process, we have only scratched the surface relative to what might be in store as far as developments and advancements.

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