Moore’s law, which postulates that the processing power of computers doubles every two years while the cost of computers is cut in half, has had remarkable longevity in the electronics sector. Does it have any relevance to manufacturing? Michael Jacobs, President and CEO of Applied Manufacturing Technologies (AMT; Orion, MI), thinks so.
Digitalization is revolutionizing the manufacturing space, and as computing power increases while costs come down, manufacturers are able to buy “more-capable machines for less money that are easier to use,” explained Jacobs. “Faster, better, cheaper—everybody loves that!” Jacobs will discuss the path forward for smart manufacturing during a session, Getting Started on the Factory of the Future, at PLASTEC East in New York next month. He shared some thoughts on this topic with PlasticsToday recently.
In any discussions involving the factory of the future, Industry 4.0 is bound to rear its head. The concept has its origins in Germany and articulates a vision for the smart, interconnected factory that incorporates automation, the industrial internet of things (IIoT), big data and sensors. A lot of sensors. Under some definitions, additive manufacturing, virtual and augmented reality, and artificial intelligence also have a role to play in the Industry 4.0 architecture. Why 4.0? Because it is said to represent the fourth industrial revolution, preceded by the invention of the steam engine, mass production and the rise of electronics and information technology. Industry 4.0 has been a hot topic at manufacturing trade shows for several years now, but a recent survey by global consultancy BDO found that only 5% of mid-size U.S. manufacturers are implementing it. I wondered if Jacobs had any thoughts on this. He did.
“I like analogies,” he said, by way of introduction. “When you build a house, the quality is determined by the foundation, and the foundation of Industry 4.0 really is digitalization or, simply put, computing power.” That’s where Moore’s law intersects with mid-size manufacturing, according to Jacobs.
The exponential growth in computing power produces machines that perform better at lower cost but that also interact with their surroundings because of sensors. “Vision sensors are the most broadly used, but there are all other kinds of sensing technologies, including force and proximity sensors, and they help automation systems adapt to a non-precise environment. Fixturing, which used to be an essential requirement 10 years ago, is no longer necessary. Now we have sensors that are cheaper and more robust. And all of these products are easier to use,” explained Jacobs. This convergence of technologies, built on a solid foundation of computing power—“Remember: Better, faster, cheaper,” repeated Jacobs—is disruptive and, based on his observations, is being adopted by manufacturers of all sizes. “As a company, we are active in that space, and I can tell you that we are speaking with small and medium-size businesses today, which we were not doing just a few years ago.”
Jacobs founded Applied Manufacturing Technologies in 1989 as an engineering services company. Today it is a full- scale automated solutions provider with three core business lines: Consulting for automation readiness, the legacy engineering services business, and system build and integration. “Our wheelhouse is material handling, machine load/unload, conveyance systems and metrology,” Jacobs told PlasticsToday. Automotive accounts for about half of its business—more or less depending on the fortunes of the sector in any given year. Food packaging is growing and aerospace is also part of the mix. AMT has the capabilities to help customers at every step of the automation journey, said Jacobs, from front-end consulting and concept and design iteration to build and field startup. Key to the corporate mission is helping customers find the right solution to their specific challenges, and that informs one of the points that he will be stressing during the session.
“What I hope attendees come away with from the presentation is the importance of defining your application ahead of time,” Jacobs told PlasticsToday. “Define your need, understand your need, acquire the necessary technology and develop a proper plan for implementation. It sounds simple, but it’s surprising how often you see people taking missteps.”
Jacob’s presentation, Getting Started on the Factory of the Future, is scheduled for 11 AM on June 11 at PLASTEC East, part of the largest annual advanced design and manufacturing event on the east coast. Held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York on June 11 to 13, PLASTEC East is co-located with Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) East, Automation Technology Expo (ATX), EastPack, Atlantic Design & Manufacturing and Quality Expo.
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