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Posts Tagged ‘aerospace’

Only the manufacturers with highly skilled machinists can survive: an example

Posted by Bert Maes on February 17, 2010

Detroit-area auto suppliers are differentiating and rolling in new business. At least 100 auto suppliers already have secured contracts in other industries and that at least 250 have bid for work.

The machine tool and parts company W Industries, once an exclusive supplier to the auto industry, is now:

  • Making heavy steel parts for the frames, bodies and gun mounts of Humvees and Stryker combat vehicles destined for Afghanistan and Iraq. (see CHART expected growth in defense)
  • Testing the Orion space module by simulating the violent vibrations of liftoff. The NASA Orion space program aims to send human explorers to the moon by 2020 and then to Mars and beyond. (see CHART expected growth in aerospace)
  • Finishing a steel mold that will be used to make 70-foot-long roof sections of Airbus A350 passenger jets.

Race-car engine developer McLaren Performance Technologies is now making components for thousands of SunCatcher solar dishes, and is helping to design and build the motorized units that will convert concentrated sunlight into electricity. (See CHART expected growth in energy & resources)

Dowding Industries, a tool-and-die shop for Oldsmobile in 1965, later expanded into metal auto parts, tractor and rail car parts. In 2006, the company started to develop better-performing tools for plane makers and wind turbine components, in one-fifth the time of current methods. The carbon-composite blades will be 30 percent lighter than fiberglass blades and last 20 years or longer. (See article: the challenges of manufacturing wind turbines). Dowding sees opportunities to use similar technologies for bridges, expressways and ships.

Upcoming products in Michigan include remotely piloted military aircraft, lithium-ion batteries (Johnson Controls), the next-generation wind turbines (General Electric), a Boeing, Airbus and Bombardier engineering center, solar panels and battery systems for utilities.

What makes this shift possible?

The standard of manufacturing in the automotive industry is extraordinarily high in Detroit, and that is the only place you can find such a concentration of skills, for R&D, pilot projects and early-stage production.

The main allure of the Detroit area is its ability to quickly turn designs and prototypes into real workable products, that are more efficient, less expensive and easier to mass-produce.

The region is the country’s premier precision manufacturing base, with tens of thousands of highly skilled, underemployed mechanical engineers, machinists and factory managers. “We have the best manufacturing resources on the planet here in Michigan,” says Chris Long, the founder and chief executive of Global Wind Systems. “We just need to get aligned.”

A BIG question is whether the new work will sustain Detroit’s manufacturing ecosystem if auto assembly keeps migrating elsewhere. As suppliers close, more managers and engineers could move away.

To illustrate how difficult that manufacturing talent would be to replace, Bud Kimmel, vice president for business development at W Industries, points out to 30-year-old machining whiz Jason Sobieck.

Jason is like an artist,” Mr. Kimmel says. “We built our whole program around him. Jason began work at 17 at a small Detroit welding shop. He then worked for tooling companies, where he learned to program automated systems and manage projects. “These skills really aren’t taught in school,” Mr. Sobieck says, “This is a trade you learn on the shop floor.”

That’s one reason that W Industries wants to snap up as many good machinists and engineers as it can afford.

If we don’t re-engage the automotive workers soon in major programs,” Mr. Kimmel says, “this set of skills will be lost.”

Source: Detroit Auto-Parts Suppliers Branch Out to Other Industries –


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How wind turbines work and the big challenges of manufacturing them

Posted by Bert Maes on February 9, 2010

A summary of Assembly Magazine’s cover article “Assemblers Harness Wind Power“, by Austin Weber, January 27th 2010.

Wind power is the cheapest and most popular type of regenerative energy. As a result, manufacturers all over the world are scrambling to build gearboxes, generators, blades, power systems, motors, control systems and other types of electromechanical devices.

How does a wind turbine work?

Wind power works by harnessing the breeze that passes over the rotor blades of a wind turbine and rotates a hub. The hub is connected to a gearbox via low-speed and high-speed shafts that drive a generator contained within a nacelle. A generator converts the energy into electricity and then transmits it to a power grid.

The typical wind turbine is a slender structure that consists of a three-bladed rotor that extends up to 300 feet in diameter attached to the top of tall towers that soar hundreds of feet into the air. A yaw mechanism uses electrical motors to turn the nacelle with the rotor against the wind. An electronic controller senses the wind direction using a wind vane.

How is a wind turbine made?

The average wind turbine contains up to 8,000 parts that must be assembled. Towers and rotors are the largest and most basic components.

Most wind turbines are designed for a 20-year life cycle. The gearbox and drivetrain system must be strong enough to handle frequent changes in torque caused by changes in wind speed. Bearings are extremely critical. The whole system must be correctly aligned to minimize wear from vibration and any resulting noise.

One thing that differentiates wind turbine manufacturing from other industries is sheer size. All components, such as bearings, gears and generators, must be extra large and extra strong. Big parts and big plants are common in the industry. For instance, the typical gearbox weighs around 30,000 pounds.

Due to their size and weight, gearboxes are often moved through assembly steps at plants in Germany using large rail systems similar to those in automotive plants. Quality expectations in the industry are huge, because manufacturers demand reliability and low maintenance. Wind turbines don’t make money if they’re not working.

Towers typically consist of large tubular structures. Plated steel sheets are rolled into rings and joined together with submerged arc welding. The tower sections are typically fabricated into cans about 20 meter long and then bolted together through internal flanges. This is an industry that needs to build large, high-capital items in a production line manner. It may be compared to aerospace.

There is great potential for advanced robotic welding to be developed. On the other hand, rotor blade manufacturing from fiberglass and other composite materials tends to be the most innovative and highly secretive area of the wind turbine industry. Blades over 70 meters long are now being designed. To achieve low-cost mass production, automated solutions from aerospace or automotive, such as robotic tape layers, have to be used to join long lengths of blade to assure aerodynamic conformance.

What are the challenges facing manufacturing wind turbines?

Wind technology will need to evolve. Engineers need to make wind turbines larger, taller, less expensive, more reliable and more efficient. Because wind turbine components undergo excessive forces and a tremendous amount of joint stresses and failures, numerous manufacturing issues must be addressed.

It looks very graceful and simple, but the aerodynamics, power characteristics, vibrations, system fatigue, acoustics of a wind turbine are harder to understand than an airplane or a helicopter.
For instance, blades, towers and casings must be able to withstand heat, cold, rain, ice and abuse from changing wind speeds. Blades must also be built with a high strength-to-weight ratio, so research into new materials is key.

Making wind energy practical is a matter of maximizing efficiency and minimizing production cost.

Reliability is critical in the wind turbine industry. The most difficult application is the gearbox, because it is important to avoid any distortion. The challenge is to maintain clamp loads for the service life of the turbine. Manufacturers are looking at weight reduction and improved assembly of threaded joints.”

Close tolerances, the ability of components to withstand operation in difficult conditions, and the availability of quality materials are all important challenges facing engineers. It is also a challenge to develop parts that are light-weight enough so that the final system can be assembled more easily, but they must also be durable enough to withstand difficult operating conditions.

And finally: the industry is struggling to build a local supply chain. The availability of a steady and sufficient supply of locally sourced components is important, as turbine companies increasingly develop production facilities away from their home base, they need to be able to have access to enough quality components to build the systems at their new location.”

Feel free to also read:

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Top drivers for future business success: CNC manufacturing specialists

Posted by Bert Maes on February 4, 2010

A summary of the highly interesting report “People and profitability, A time for change – A 2009 people management practices survey of the manufacturing industry” by Deloitte, Oracle & the Manufacturing Institute

Manufacturing companies were asked to describe the current availability of qualified workers in specified workforce segments:

  • 32% reports moderate to serious shortages today.
  • 38% of all respondents foresee increased shortages ahead, especially in the manufacturing sectors Aerospace & Defense, in Energy & Resources and in Life Sciences & Medical Services.

    (Example: the biomedical industry is thriving well despite the recession (although it faces unprecedented challenges due to a.o. the educational funding crisis.
    The fastest-growing occupation—with a 72% growth — is biomedical engineer. Biomedical engineers help develop the equipment and devices that improve or enable the preservation of health. They’re working to develop tomorrow’s MRI machines, asthma inhalers, and artificial hearts.)

  • The main shortage will not be seen in unskilled labor, but in skilled production, such as machinists, operators, craft workers, distributors and technicians. 51% (!!) reports serious shortages today, the vast majority of whom see increased shortages ahead.

  • Boeing – one of the US’s biggest manufacturers and exporters – said that by 2015, 40% of the aircraft maker’s workers reach retirement age. “That’s some 60,000 employees eligible to retire in five years. We just don’t see the recruitment pipeline meeting our needs.

    About 19% of US manufacturing workers are 54 and older, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, only 7% of manufacturing workers are under 25 years old.

    It’s difficult to find people for assembly, machining and motor-winding positions – jobs that require maths skills and the ability to read technical blueprints,” said Ron Bullock, owner of Bison Gear.

    Workers are delaying their retirement because of the financial crisis. But, as the economy recovers, a large number of skilled workers will leave. “As we go through the recovery, the situation will get worse,” said Lisa Simeon, a director of the US industrial conglomerate, “and restrict companies’ ability to step up production as the economic recovery gathers pace“. (Source: The Financial Times Limited)
  • The top 3 drivers for future business success
    (1) New product innovation (requires talented workers)
    (2) High-skilled workforce (correlated to higher profitability)
    (3) Low-cost producer status

The report concludes that People Management Practices will have a high profile role in the growth of the Manufacturing Industry: How will the requisite skills and capabilities be sourced, developed, engaged and deployed??

TIP: Another good read on this subject:  “SOS Shortage of Skilled Workers: A comparison of the European Metal Industry and Electrical Industry

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Is struggle to find highly skilled workers most pressing issue facing manufacturing?

Posted by Bert Maes on February 1, 2010

A retake from the article “Thought Leader — Help Wanted” by Josh Cable:

With skilled job openings going unfilled, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers’ Mark Tomlinson sees workforce development as a top priority for manufacturers.

The May 2009 survey — “People and Profitability: A Time for Change,” conducted by Deloitte, Oracle and the Manufacturing Institute — found that of 779 responding companies, 51% reported moderate to serious shortages of skilled production workers today, while 36% reported similar shortages of engineers and scientists.

As the United States slowly emerges from the depths of a recession, Mark Tomlinson, executive director and general manager of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), sees the struggle to find highly skilled workers as perhaps the most pressing issue facing manufacturers.

“The [SME] believes that in the next three to five years this will be the single biggest topic we’ll be discussing,” Tomlinson tells IndustryWeek. “Once we recover, the biggest challenge won’t be the fact that we have an unemployed workforce. It’ll be the fact that we can’t fill the job needs that are available.”

Tomlinson — who has said that the wealth-creating “twin powers of innovation and manufacturing” are the keys to returning “the U.S. economy to its former glory” — points to aerospace/defense and life sciences/medical devices as two of the brightest hopes for U.S. manufacturing in the future. However, according to the Deloitte survey, a whopping 63% of companies in each of those sectors reported moderate to serious job shortages.

The crux of the issue: The recession has spawned legions of unemployed people who “need to be retrained and redeveloped so that they can become a higher-skilled workforce to support the needs of those innovative and creative companies” that will drive the economic recovery, Tomlinson explains.

“Manufacturers are looking for employees who are the opposite of the stereotypical factory worker doing repetitive, assembly-line work,” Tomlinson says. “They are in need of 21st century workers with specialized technical training such as machinists, operators and technicians.”

Tomlinson asserts that manufacturers need to evaluate the skills of their current workers, look ahead to products and technology that are on the horizon, and help workers develop the necessary skills to “transition from one sector to another as the economy continues to shift from one industrial sector to another.”

“[Companies] need to think about agility versus longevity,” Tomlinson says.

Tomlinson believes that manufacturers need to have “a sense of urgency in regards to retraining the workforce and making it easy for workers to go out and get that training.” Professional associations such as SME can help manufacturers identify their workforce knowledge gaps and facilitate the necessary training.

However, Tomlinson adds that building a more agile, technically skilled workforce also might require manufacturers to try some “nontraditional” approaches to employee development. For example, Tomlinson suggests collaborating with other nearby manufacturers to tackle the challenge from a regional perspective.

Mark Tomlinson, Society of Manufacturing Engineers

“When things are busy, there tends to be this self-serving approach of ‘I don’t want to share with anybody because I need all my workers for this,'” Tomlinson explains. “But through collaboration, you can jointly understand what’s needed for the region.”

Another nontraditional approach to workforce development, Tomlinson explains, is using certification as a criterion for employment. “This gives you a worker who, in most cases, can transition to many different manufacturing sectors.”

Last year, SME and the Manufacturing Institute (the research and education arm of the National Association of Manufacturers) announced that they are partnering to create a new skills certification system “with the potential to help millions of U.S. workers succeed in high-quality, middle-class jobs,” according to SME. The system is designed to provide skills assessments, standardized curriculum requirements and portable credentials that validate the attainment of critical competencies required by industry.

The onus for workforce development doesn’t just fall on manufacturers, Tomlinson adds. State and local governments need to play a more active role in making job training accessible and affordable to workers, he says.

“The community colleges are promoting that they have educational training available, but you don’t hear enough about, ‘Well, did you realize that you could get that [training] for free through a tax credit, a government grant or on a loan basis where you can pay it back after you get a job?'” he says. “There needs to be a more concerted effort to make it easy for the worker to get that training.”

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Demand for Technicians and Engineers Growing

Posted by Bert Maes on January 21, 2010

Given the current downturn and the associated high unemployment in many markets, more people are looking for jobs.

BUT they don’t generally have the skills that organizations are looking for, according to the Manpower 2009 Talent Shortage Survey Results.

Their report shows again that today (2010) employers all over the world are fruitlessly looking for TECHNICALLY-SKILLED specialists:

  1. Skilled Trades: electricians, bricklayers, carpenters, cabinetmakers, masons, plumbers, welders, etc
  2. Sales Representatives
  3. Technicians: primarily production/operations, engineering or maintenance
  4. Engineers
  5. Management/Executives
  6. Accounting & Finance Staff
  7. Laborers
  8. Production Operators
  9. Secretaries, PAs, Administrative Assistants & Office Support Staff
  10. Drivers

The demand for engineers and technicians is rising since 15 years!

… And there are many indications that highly-skilled technologists are more wanted than ever…

i.e. those people with advanced hi-tech knowledge, able to manufacture complex goods (with high productivity) in the field of clean energy,  robotics, bioengineering, nanotechnology, aerospace,…


  • and much more HERE

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Amazing Manufacturing: the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing

Posted by Bert Maes on July 23, 2009

AldrinSolar_BlogThe 1969 NASA Apollo 11 “Lunar Module” contained “15 million parts“. All of them had “to perform their intended functions flawlessly under the most rigorous conditions” (

15 million parts… That is just great engineering and manufacturing…

lunar moduleManufacturing will again be the key to developing innovations. Today: in energy efficiency and independence.

As Austin Weber stated:

In 40 years, perhaps we’ll look back on green energy with the same kind of awe and amazement as the first moon landing. I believe it’s time to take another “giant leap for mankind” and pursue bold new frontiers of energy, including batteries, fuel cells, geothermal, hydro, solar, wave and wind power”.

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Producing Sony flat screen TVs

Posted by Bert Maes on June 29, 2009

The Scottish company Mekall uses CNC machine tools and Renishaw touch probes to be a key player in manufacturing metal and plastic parts for defence, aerospace, the medical market and telecommunications.

One of their clients is ‘Teknek’, world-leader in producing cleaning machinery for technologies in automotive glass, solar energy, converting/printing devices and SONY flat screen televisions

Sony flat screen television

Do you know more examples how CNC affects your daily life ?

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School will talk live to astronaut in space

Posted by Bert Maes on June 25, 2009


Students at the VTI Sint-Lucas (VTISL) technical school in Oudenaarde (Belgium) have designed a radio antenna that is capable of receiving signals from the International Space Station (ISS).

To build the antenna, 15-19 year-old enthusiasts  used CNC machine tools to make various, structural components for the 6 meter long assembly.

In September 2009, they’ll talk to Belgian astronaut Frank De Winne,  Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk, as they fly above the school at over 27000 km/h…

Read more…

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