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Posts Tagged ‘creation’

Manufacturing: the unseen underground economy

Posted by Bert Maes on October 7, 2011

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In 1850, a decade before the Civil War, the United States’ economy was small — it wasn’t much bigger than Italy’s. Forty years later, it was the largest economy in the world. What happened in between was (…) the rise of steel and manufacturing — and the economy was never the same,” says W. Brian Arthur, an economist and technology thinker.

Since ages manufacturing is quietly, for many people unnoticeably, transforming the economy.

Manufacturing is silent, invisible and unseen.

Much like the root system for aspen trees, Arthur observes. “For every acre of aspen trees above the ground, there’s about ten miles of roots underneath, all interconnected with one another, “communicating” with each other.”

The observable physical world of aspen trees hides an unseen underground root system.

Just like trees, CNC machine tools are creating for us — slowly, quietly, and steadily — a different world.

Think about this: the success of Steve Jobs was based on CNC manufacturing machines, based on the invisible roots undergound: Apple puts CNC Machining Front and Center.

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How to recruit and retain young manufacturing talent?

Posted by Bert Maes on May 3, 2010

Today, 81 percent of American manufacturers say their biggest problem is finding technologically skilled workers.

The issue is related to the image of manufacturing and the quality of education.

But couldn’t it be linked as well to how some manufacturing companies are organized? Are you doing enough to make jobs and careers come alive for the best and brightest manufacturers of the future?

84% of the youngsters born between 1982 and 2000 is very ambitious. So the work content and workplace have to be organized according to some key elements young people need:

  • How Millenials see themselves

    Constant new challenges, new experiences and new ideas.

  • Continuous learning opportunities, being stimulated intellectually; master their profession, grow and advance.
  • A clear and transparent evaluation process with strong, accountable, explicit individual performance goals connected to inspiring long term perspectives of the company.
  • Cutting edge, high quality equipment they can work with. Young people expect the same high quality equipment at work (or in the classroom) as they have in their homes and daily lives.
  • Relevant end-products, with practical use for their own lives; young people don’t want their time wasted.
  • How other generations see Millenials

    A positive impact on the world: they want to make a difference from day one, they want to be engaged in conversations, they want to being asked for their opinions, they want to be listened to and influence their organization.

  • A supportive quality company culture: they want to have fun and excitement! Best is building great teams and promoting connectivity with high-quality colleagues. Isolation and lack of mentoring are particularly acute source of dissatisfaction.
  • They are aware very aware of today’s ecological and social challenges. As a result most are highly concerned with the health of the planet. A perfect approach to recruit young talent is explaining them the link between your CNC work and green technology creation.
  • A good balance between work and their private life; most of all they want to have enough time for their friends, passions, hobbies, volunteering etc

>> Dear Reader: More ideas?

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How to attract more students to technical education? Part 2: solutions

Posted by Bert Maes on April 26, 2010

In PART 1, I have discussed four reasons why technical education is often the worst, the least preferred education and career choice. Parents, peers, our general culture, and teachers are actually discouraging or even telling that a manufacturing career is inappropriate. The professional inside the industry –however– knows that manufacturing is “absolutely amazing, seriously cool, completely crucial to our survival”.

Knowing the problems, how could we transform CNC manufacturing education accordingly? What can teachers do in their classrooms?

Some ideas, inspired by Sir Ken Robinson:

1) Hands-on, real-life education

We need to create environments in elementary schools where every person is inspired to grow and find their creative strengths. Too many graduate unsure of their real talents and equally unsure of what direction to take next. Too many kids are discouraged to choose technical education. Many kids wouldn’t ask for more than always hands-on ‘making things’ that make a difference in the world. But most students never get to explore the full range of their abilities and interests, because of the expectations and actions of parents, friends, peers or teachers. If a kid wants to become a creator, they rarely get the support to do it.

Technical schools need to be places that excite imagination, helps finding individual passion and talents, offers opportunities to develop their individual abilities. Especially CNC manufacturing is the discipline to turn ideas into final products. What engages young people’s learning is the sense that it is real. “They love the sense of tangible accomplishment. It feels good to say ‘Hey, I built that!’” (Thayer). That is what puts them in the “flow”.

But what do adolescents get in school? Lots of theory, limited practices. In many educational establishments, the students are even no longer allowed to produce their own parts. However, research shows that kids of lose their attention in 3 minutes. They learn by doing. This pushes teachers in other roles: they’ll have to make the subjects very visual, hands-on, based on real-life problems. A teacher is becoming a coach that should be passionate and authentic.

Douglas Crets argues that

all these young people put all their energy into work that doesn’t have any impact on anyone else. They are being asked to produce work that nobody cares about. I absolutely think students should be producers. People want positive feedback and they want to know their work has greater impact.”

The whole idea is to inspire kids to learn by connecting their lessons to their place in the real world. Math means more when put in the context of running a cash register and estimating profits. Science comes alive when students use technology to make television shows. It’s giving the children a completely different perspective of why they are here. The best approach is linking the perceived enjoyment and creativity of design and technology to the underlying real-world application of the engineering field in e.g. providing everyone water, power and a modern place to live.

2) Investing in teachers

The best way to improve education is not to focus on curriculum or testing. The most powerful method of improving education is to invest in the improvement of teaching and the status of good teachers. It’s investing in teachers as mentors that understand kids’ talents, challenges and abilities and that give them maximum opportunities for delight, pleasure, curiosity, experimentation, fulfilment and accomplishment in shaping metal.

Many of these kids do better in school simply because they appreciated someone taking an interest in them. Good mentors open doors for us and get involved directly in our journeys. They show us the next steps and encourage us to take them. They recognize skills not yet noticed, they stand by to remind us of the skills we already posses and what we can achieve if we continue to work hard, they guide us, offer advice and techniques, paving the way for us, and allowing us to learn from our mistakes, they push us past what we see as our limits, reminding us that our goal should never be to be “average at our pursuits.

Benjamin Graham for example gave Warren Buffet the tools to explore the market’s possibilities. He was rare talent that could blossom into something extraordinary if nurtured. When mentors serve this function – either turning a light in a new world or fanning the flames of interest into genuine passion – they do exalted work.

The most successful people now, had the full support of a like-minded person(s) who see the world the way they do, who allow them to feel their most natural, who affirm their talents, who inspire them, influence them, and drive them to be their best and keep their spark alive.

The implication here is that teachers need to get time. With the constant need to fulfill obliged curricula and assessment tests, teachers hardly have time to cope with the day to day tasks of their work, let alone think about change, new structures or new educational methods, to coach students and to choose other forms of teaching and learning…

3) What some highly successful people have to say about this:

Paul McCartney said that

the best teacher I had was our English teacher. He was great. I was good with him because he understood our mentality as fifteen- and sixteen-year-old boys. We were studying Chaucer. It was like a completely foreign language. But he early turned me on to literature. He understood that the key for us would be sex and it was. When he turned that key, I was hooked.

Donald Lipski, an internationally known sculptor was bored in school.

When I should have been doing academic work, I was drawing or folding paper. Rather than being encouraged, I was chided for it. One teacher strongly encouraged my artistic talents. They had a very rudimentary welding setup in the sculpture department, and he taught me how to weld. To me it was like magic that I could actually takes pieces of steel and weld them together. It felt like everything I had done before in art was just child’s play. Welding steel and making steel sculptures was like real adult art. That inspirational teacher made me think that I could really make my life by making things”.

For Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post (one of the most widely read and frequently cited media brands on the internet) says a key factor in pursuing her dreams was the unwavering support of her mother:

she gave me that safe place, that sense that she would be there no matter what happened, whether I succeeded or failed”.

Ewa Laurance, known as “The Striking Viking”, the most famous female billiards player on the planet, wasn’t at all interested or good at geometry or physics at school.

For some reason, when I’m playing I see it a lot. I look at the table and I literally see lines and diagrams all over the place. Geometry at school did not get my attention. Maybe if I’d had a different teacher it would have been different – somebody that just said ‘Ewa, think of it this way,’ or, ‘look at it this way and you will get it’. Or they could have taken our whole class to a poolroom and said, ‘Check this out!’ But it was so boring at school.

Ryan Pohl told me he has three young children, and his wife in constantly encouraging them to build and create using their imaginations, as opposed to conquering the latest level on a video game!

We can already notice the difference in cognitive abilities, and creative abilities between our children and their peers who have less time to be creative. My children can choose whatever path they desire for life, but hopefully with this approach they will always value making THINGS!

Ed Neale, account director at Armitage Communications wrote on my blog:

My teachers effectively killed off the subjects, failing to convey either any degree of passion or any idea of how what they were teaching could be applied in real life. It is only since I have been working in the sector that I have realised the massive significance of its contribution to society, both in terms of the day-to-day products we take for granted and also in addressing the longer term environmental issues we’re now facing and need to tackle as a priority.

>> Dear Reader: Have you got a testimony like this? LET’S SHARE YOUR STORY!

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How to attract more students to technical education? PART 1: the problems

Posted by Bert Maes on April 23, 2010

One critical challenge keeps me going daily: “How to attract more students to technical / manufacturing education?

While, I see many action possibilities, the most important answer might be: finding something appealing to students “that’s not disingenuous and on which they can put their own creative mark”.

Technical education above all should encourage children’s’ creativity. But schools are often doing the opposite. I quote:

  • “We encourage our children to be expressive and make things. Then, suddenly, we switch gears, leaving them with the impression that art class is as extracurricular as baseball and not nearly as important as, say, English or math” (Nicholas Negroponte in Being Digital)

  • It’s more than ironic that a generation that celebrates the iPod, can’t live without its cell phones and share its most intimate videos on YouTube is increasingly turning away from the technological fields that enable today’s youth culture. (John Kao in Innovation Nation)
  • Among 7-11 year olds, art, design and technology are favorite subjects. Children say they prefer these subjects because they enjoy the design and building element and the opportunity to be creative. But a couple of years later, between 11 and 16, only 18 % still perceives engineering as a desirable career. (

  • Ask a class of first graders which of them thinks they’re creative and they’ll all put their hands up. Ask a group of college seniors this same question and most of them won’t. I believe passionately that we are all born with tremendous natural capacities and that we lose touch with many of them. (Ken Robinson in The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything)

So, dear Reader, what’s the problem? Why does this happen?

Sir Ken Robinson points to four reasons:

1) Parental expectations

We, as parents, are trying to do very best for our kids and provide opportunities that will help them mature into intelligent, capable adults, right? However, we often steer our kids away from their true talents on the assumption that they have to follow conventional routes to success.

There is a whole system of social roles and expectations in our local communities that is dictating our future: “Don’t take a dance program, you can’t make a living as dancer,” or “I’m not paying for you to be a philosophy major” or “You’re good at math, you should become an accountant”.

Money is the focus of many parents, whereas money is not extremely important for kids, they don’t want some lousy expensive car, they want something meaningful with their lives, they want ‘excitement’.

It seems like getting a Ph.D. or some boring job is key to being successful in life. We believe we are giving these messages for their own good, but this way we actually discourage our kids from taking a particular path. A path on which they can do what they love to do. A path on which they can do and make the things they feel born to do or to create.

2) Peer pressure

Besides pressure from our parents, there is the pressure to conform to the standards and expectations of friends. Kids want to be like their peers, but just in case they have any funny ideas, their peers are quick to remind them of the penalties of being different. We often deny our deepest passions to stay connected with our peers. At school, we disguise an interest in physics because our circle finds it uncool. If you’re doing science, you’re a geek; if you’re doing art or dance, you’re effete. You’re trapped in a compulsion to conform.

3) Implicit beliefs in our culture

Beyond the social constraints we may feel from families and friends, there are others that are implicit in the general culture. The natural instinct of children is to copy and imitate, and as they grow they absorb not only the sounds they hear but the sensibilities they express and the culture they convey. In our local community, we learn ways of thinking, feeling and relating. Such constraints inhibit our passions when they seem inconsistent with the culture. That is exactly why it is so difficult to attract women to manufacturing.

4) Uncommitted teachers

Education should be one of the main processes that unleash the unlimited creativity of people. School should be the place where you discover what you love to do.

School should be the place where you can experience the “flow; the moment where hours pass, and it feels like minutes; the moment where you ignore everything and just concentrate passionately. You forget about the rest of the world and get completely focused and intent, living in the moment.

Eric Clapton describes it as being “in harmony with time. It’s a great feeling, there’s nothing like it”.

Mathematics for instance can be an ideal subject to reach the “flow”. Math hides huge creative opportunities, but teachers often present math as an interminable series of puzzles to which someone else already knew the answers, and the only options were to get it right or wrong.

The whole process is usually so dull and repetitive. Teachers teach it the wrong way or at the wrong time.

Richard Branson for example was clearly bright, personable and capable of putting his mind to good use, but he was completely unwilling to conform to the school’s standard. He says: “In fact all the great entrepreneurs of my generation really struggled at school and couldn’t wait to get out and make something themselves.”

The current education system seems to systematically drain the creativity out of our children.

>> Dear Reader, do you see more issues related to attractive technical education??

Monday, I will be my usual practical and concrete self and come up with the post: Knowing this, how can we transform CNC manufacturing education? See you on Monday…

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[Video] CNN Showcases the True Face of Modern Manufacturing

Posted by Bert Maes on April 20, 2010

AT LAST! Major media is finally portraying today’s manufacturing careers correctly!

CNN’s Tony Harris reports on the new high-tech jobs taking the place of old-style manufacturing. He has seen the company ADEX Machining Technologies in South Carolina USA from the inside, making metal parts for the aerospace and energy industries, via CNC programming and CNC machining.

The employees here, the video shows, spend as much time in the office as on the shop floor. They don’t just push the buttons of the machines, they also program the machines using CAM computer systems. Each worker is a highly competent programmer, machinist ànd quality control engineer. What typically was three different jobs, is now wrapped into one… That is what is called “lean manufacturing“.

And exactly THAT is extremely satisfying and empowering for the workers: “We take what is on paper and we can bring it to life“.

Using their computers to tell the machine where to drill holes in the piece of metal, going to the factory floor and actually making it happen, while still stimulating their brains… that is what the workers love about their modern high-tech manufacturing job.

This “New Face of Blue Collar Workers” is commonplace for the people who know today’s manufacturing companies.

But I’m 100% sure that the CNN video is  highly revealing to the general public and goes a long way in dispelling the old stereotype of manufacturing.


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A good old idea: “making things”

Posted by Bert Maes on April 9, 2010

Yet as the recent global recession suggests, “service” jobs cannot propel the economy. There is no substitute for making tangible, useful products and solutions. Goods-processing manufacturers are simply driving economic recovery

We must have an economy that actually makes things… So we need to find ways to strengthen our manufacturing and innovation and thus our overall economy. That’s what this whole blog is all about.

To recover from the current economic downturn, it has been estimated that we need to create on the order of 17 million to 20 million new jobs in the coming decade…And it’s very hard to imagine where those jobs are going to come from unless we seriously get busy reinventing manufacturing.” – Susan Hockfield, President, MIT

[Europe is coming with similar numbers: by 2020, 16 million new highly skilled workers are needed in the category “agriculture, craft, trade and machine operators”.]

MIT reported that a recent round-table called “The Future of Manufacturing — Advanced Technologies” came up with some answers:

  • YES, we can “compete in manufacturing against low-wage countries,” Hockfield said, with “new business practices and continued strength in education.” China’s manufacturing industry is indeed becoming less competitive
  • We have to tap unprecedented new manufacturing technologies. Suzanne Berger, a professor of political science added that we have “not developed enough kinds of manufacturing that could generate both high profits and also good jobs.
  • One of the tracks to follow is high-strength, lightweight automobiles with reduced vehicle battery size (and as such more affordable for consumers) as an alternative to traditional vehicles. This is an area with hard challenges, according to the roundtable members, but an area where we can re-establish a competitive advantage in manufacturing. We hear similar suggestions and challenges in the creation of wind turbines.
  • To get there, universities and their partners will need to support companies for training how to do stuff properly and for commercializing lab discoveries towards “integrating the science and the [manufacturing] process … this is not a trivial thing,” said Martin Culpepper, at MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. More forms of research, with strong public technology funding, have to move from the lab to the factory.
  • Advances in academic research and high investments in product development,” Bernhardt Trout, director of the Novartis-MIT Center for Continuous Manufacturing said, “are thus especially critical if the industry is to move forward.”

The many smart, creative, innovative kids in school will completely reinvent the manufacturing industry. Manufacturing solutions will be faster, higher quality, better priced, more flexible and individually customer-tailored. But than change has to start in education, offering reinvented courses with a focus on new technological, advanced, highly skilled, real-industry and business-related competences.

DEAR READER: How should manufacturing evolve, according to you? And how should technical education?

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VIDEO: A Short Video of Making a BMW Motorcycle

Posted by Bert Maes on March 16, 2010


This is just a short video about making a motorcycle. I like the integration of hands-on workers and robotics. You can really appreciate the programming and technology involved.

A comment from a viewer:  “Great bikes, of course, but big bummer to have so many robots replacing middle class jobs“.

An answer:

True, but a massive shortage of manufacturing workers forces us into dependence on technology, particularly robots. There will be many jobs for those people that have knowledge and skills in advanced, high-tech, sophisticated, highly automated manufacturing; for those people that create and program these powerful robots.

Manufacturing like this, with robotics will play an ever bigger role in health care, motorcycle building and lots of other industries.

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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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The reasons for poorly skilled CNC machinists

Posted by Bert Maes on February 9, 2010

Forums offer great blog material. They show you many different takes and perspectives on one subject. Here is one:

In August 2008 williamshook2003 posted a message on the American Machinist Forum, title “Poorly trained machinist”.

He said that students fresh from school didn’t learn the basics there. They don’t know how to read a rule or a tape measure, how to hand-sharpen a drill, they don’t know anything about speeds and feeds, anything about basic trigonometry.

flatbeltbob wrote down the story a real-life situation in his shop:

The local high school sent me a junior to observe what goes on in a small machine shop – Just to see if that is something he might want to pursue. I tried to show him how a PI tape works:

–          Never heard of PI, no idea what I’m talking about.

–          OK , back up and lets read a tape measure.

–          How many inches in a foot ?

–          Not sure , but knows 2 feet is longer that one foot.

–          OK , lets look at one inch. If you take one inch and divide it into 8 equal parts, then how many eighths are in one inch?

–          “six?” he says.

Does this represent the future pool of machinist talent ?

Why is that the forum visitors ask themselves:

  • Because they rely too have on their computer skills and CAM software and assume that that program is making the machine cut in the best conditions, williamshook2003 answered.
  • Chuck added: young people see manual equipment as archaic and they state that shops need to get into CNC to be really productive. That is true, but without the training on manual equipment first, new machinists don’t understand what is going to happen when they push the start button on a CNC machine.
  • There are few good instructors,” Byron L. commented, “we haven’t even been taught in any basics, except the first week: using a file.”
  • Industrial Arts, metal shop and other trade related training is taken out of the High Schools. Consequently, we hurt our ability to attract, training and inspire new blood for this and other craft skills, said Eagle_view.
  • Chuck commented as well: the trend of poorly skilled machinists is not surprising as CNC machines are automating the production process, so where and why do we still need highly trained machinists?
  • Shop owner reacted on this statement, saying that we cannot blame the technology. We should blame the employers for not training their employees on the basics. Bluechipfan agrees: “There are actually some really smart talented kids but they need direction and guidance. That, folks, is where WE come in. You will be surprised but it requires great patience and perseverance.
  • Eagle_view takes a bit a broader look (as his name betrays) and says that because kids are being raised without a father figure in the home, they have no idea how to fix things, how to work with their hands and they don’t know anymore how things are made. “When we as a society decided that we were not going to produce anything except for information we kind of burt some bridges that we may need”.
  • According to PackratFXR we have to go back to the basics. The machine tool technology is changing daily, but the operator should know more than changing tools, watching coolant, and feeding raw stock. To fix problems, we need hands-on training!
  • littlebrewman could’t agree more: “I will always have a marketable skill and know that I can survive, cause I can do more than press the green button.”

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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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A Framework for Revitalizing Manufacturing EDUCATION

Posted by Bert Maes on January 22, 2010

Two reports have recently been released about revitalizing the United States manufacturing industry: President Obama’s FRAMEWORK FOR REVITALIZING AMERICAN MANUFACTURING, December 16th, 2009 AND Manufacturing Resurgence – a Must for US Prosperity, Joel Popkin & Kathryn Kobe , January 21st, 2010


Ian Fraser stated in his “Economics for Business”: “The Only Sustainable Competitive Advantage is LEARNING”: Products can be copied. Processes can be copied. Services can be copied. >> So how does a company create a sustainable advantage over competitors???

Innovation Nation, John Kao

Whole industries have emerged from inventions of Edison, Bell, and the Wright Brothers. US leadership springs from the willingness of American inventors to challenge conventional wisdom,” according to John Kao.

= Know-how is the foundation for tomorrow’s innovations. So we will have to create a national culture in which individuals and enterprises LEARN MORE QUICKLY THAN ITS COMPETITORS.

Education should be THE national growth strategy, focusing on massive funding for education, to give our country the engineers and inventors to thrive in a high-tech global economy,” John Kao added.

Popkin, Kobe & Obama follow the same vision on education in their frameworks for revitalizing manufacturing:

  • Labor in our manufacturing industry is more costly than it is in other parts of the world. An important way to keep the total cost of labor competitive is to maximize the productivity of each hour of labor.
  • The essential factor to accelerate and enhance productivity, is a skilled, well-trained workforce. Building world-class products using new cleaner, more efficient, more sustainable manufacturing process technologies (such as robotics and advanced materials), demands a workforce with an increasingly advanced set of skills and competencies.

  • = A leading incentive for offshoring is ‘race for talent’. IBM has built a new research center in Shanghai, China, because of the rich pool of science and engineering talent in China, as well as the continued commitment to expand collaboration with academic institutions.
  • A skilled workforce is the lifeblood of R&D, the lifeblood of innovation and competitiveness. Only those nations that continue to invest in highly skilled and talented workforce will stay competitive in the long run.
  • The United States must meet the long-term demand for workers with math and science training, to maintain the US manufacturing industry’s ability to compete worldwide. Other countries are already making significant strides in R&D in some of these areas and are manufacturing the leading edge products.
  • We will have to improve our education quality to meet employer needs. That means building programs that:
  • encourage partnerships with businesses and other educational institutions;
  • modernize technical schools’ facilities;
  • expand high-quality online course offerings;
  • focus on technical retraining in order to smooth the transition of employees from one manufacturing industry to another;
  • promote inhouse manufacturing worker training & broaden opportunities for career advancement;
  • make college more affordable for unemployed workers to pursue educational opportunities that will lead to good jobs and career pathways;
  • improve early childhood education that nurtures math and science proficiency.

An education program that fits nicely into this framework is the “Haas Technical Education Center” concept from It is set up as a long-term partnership program between education and manufacturing industry, in which the company Haas Automation, inc. helps technical schools towards:

–      Attractiveness & getting more students;

–      Higher motivation of young people;

–      Saving teachers time via offering them proven CNC teaching materials for direct use in the classroom;

–      Supporting the quality of instruction and the performance of student learning;

–      Helping the school to build a very strong reputation and competitiveness in the field of manufacturing education (and beyond);

–      Bringing education closer to the workplace and the “real industry”;

–      Bringing the training directly into line with the needs of the local manufacturing industry, etc.

Check to get amazing offers for your CNC manufacturing classes.

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From Unemployed to Machinist to Businessman: A Training Success Story

Posted by Bert Maes on January 20, 2010

Need a machinist? So do a lot of other companies. The problem is finding available, qualified machinists.

Even under the current economic downturn, the demand for engineers, machinists and machine operators remains high. Those three professions have made Manpower Inc.’s “Annual 10 Hardest Jobs to Fill” list in each of the past four years.

But, that concern is not as acute in the Los Angeles area as a result of a series of training centers operated by the Haas Technical Education Center: National Tooling and Machining Association (NTMA). Since the facilities opened in 1968, over 15,000 machinists and operators have used the centers to learn their trade.

A case study: Shawn Gorman

When Shawn Gorman was laid off from his last job, he saw it as an opportunity to reflect upon what he really wanted to do with his life. He realized he’d always liked working with his hands. He had taken classes in auto mechanics while in high school, but had always wanted to take a metalworking class.

So, finding himself with free time on his hands, Shawn enrolled in a training program at the NTMA Training Center in Fremont, California. In August, Shawn joined a class with 19 other students, and together they learned the fundamentals of machining on manual mills and lathes. After learning the basics on manual machines, Shawn was prepared for the automated controls of CNC machines. “It was a very easy transition,” he says.

In module one, we teach students with no knowledge of machining that ‘this is a mill, this is a lathe.’ When they finish all five modules – which is 725 hours – they’re well prepared to start their careers,” said Jim Ragaisis, director of training for the NTMA Training Centers’ Ontario campus.

Right from the start, we emphasize application mathematics,” says Ragaisis. “We tell students we’re going to use a lot of math and trigonometry. That scares them a little, but they can get past that. We bring it to life for them. We show them the academic math, bring it into a technical arena, then take them into the shop and demonstrate how to apply the math and make it work for them.

The training center takes people who are unemployed and, if they qualify, trains them free of charge. This makes the goal of the program simple – train people to become employable machinists.

Shawn Gorman graduated from the program in December, and in just a few months he became a full-time CNC machinist, and a part-time businessman making his own parts. He was employed by a fellow graduate of the NTMA training center. “I made 12 calls to machine shops in the area,” explains Shawn. “I went to two interviews, and at the second one, the guy hired me. He was a graduate of NTMA and he knew the kind of intensive, relevant education I had gotten there.”

Shawn wasn’t even sure what a machinist did when he discovered the training center on the Internet. “The perception I had of a machinist was kind of the one you would see in an old textbook. You open up a book and see an old guy with glasses, a long shop coat and old equipment,” says Shawn. “But when I got into the course, I realized there’s a lot of technology behind it. It’s a completely different world than I imagined. This is really high-tech stuff.

The training center offers extensive hands-on training in entry-level machining, as well as advanced courses in CNC machining, programming and inspection, using Haas Automation vertical machining centers and turning centers, and Haas CNC control simulators for classroom instruction. ”We have six simulators for students to practice programming, along with seven Haas vertical machining centers  and eight Haas CNC lathes. We wouldn’t have any CNC equipment without Haas,” said Tony Tammer, former director of training.

The NTMA training center in Fremont is also a Haas Technical Education Center (HTEC), meaning it has an official partnership with the local Haas Factory Outlet. The goal of the HTECs is for students to take theory out of the classroom and apply it in a manufacturing environment.

The NTMA training center works closely with the Haas training department to improve instructional materials, so that students are prepared to enter the workforce. “It has been great to work with Haas to make sure the students are getting the best training available,” says Tony.

We specialize in machining,” says Ragaisis. “We have no other subjects. Our instructors have many years of experience in the industry. They all come from the field and teach practical, useful knowledge and application. Some instructors have their own shops or consult for industry, and some have European experience. We bring all that experience and knowledge to our students. That’s what we do best.”

Shawn feels the training was just what he needed. “I use another brand of machine where I work now, but when I started the job, I didn’t know anything about them,” Shawn says. ”I wish I could have stayed on Haas machines, but the training prepared me for any type of CNC machine.”

Shawn now works at Omega Precision in Tracy; he loves working in a job shop. “I love being a machinist,” he says, “and it took me all of about two months to get into my own enterprise through the shop. I’m working at the shop, but I’m also designing and making my own aftermarket automotive parts.

The training center prepared Shawn to be a machinist, and from there he has been able to apply the skills to his own interests. So far, Shawn has designed five types of gearshift knobs that he machines out of 304 stainless steel.

For Shawn, the NTMA training center was the perfect fit of technology and hands-on application. With his new love for machining, he hopes to expand his own business of aftermarket auto parts. ”If things keep going the way they are,” Shawn says, “maybe someday I’ll have my own shop and Haas machines.”



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Guitar body machined from acrylic using a Haas CNC machine

Posted by Bert Maes on January 13, 2010

I have been writing about producing your own guitars earlier:

But this one is pretty inspiring too:

The process of making a guitar body from ACRYLIC using a Haas machine

The result:

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Bringing manufacturing back to schools

Posted by Bert Maes on January 12, 2010

By AJ, Director of Social Media and Community at

The Shop Rat Foundation is a Michigan-based initiative to bring manufacturing and hands-on skilled trades training to middle-school students. Its efforts extend beyond Michigan’s borders, and the Shop Rat classes & events are creative and effective. More background, from the site:

An Alabama-based chapter of Shop Rats

In Fall of 2006 the Shop Rat Foundation began its first program to pursue its mission called the Shop Rat Education Program. The Shop Rat Education Program is an afterschool private program for local Middle School Students. During the program the students learn Hands-on skills in the Skilled Trade Industry along with skill sets in math, science, team work, work ethic and employability. Students complete projects such as custom built motorcycle choppers, customized wheelchairs and full size two seat hovercrafts. Classes are FREE to students and the program is funded with donations, sponsorships and personal contributions.

Whether you choose to donate or not, pay these guys a visit online and give ‘em some encouragement. A noble cause, this.

AJ for Mojo.

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[Video] Mouthwatering Manufacturing

Posted by Bert Maes on January 7, 2010

What is it about INTENSE CYCLES that causes their bikes to be so irresistibly mouthwatering? How did they come to represent all that’s appealing about mountain biking’s high-end?

Intense Cycles Inc. is one of the last companies to produce 100% (hand)made in the USA.

Every frame of each Intense “down hill” bike is handcrafted, in-house, each step of the way with the precision and love only a true artisan can appreciate.

See how their Intense 951 was created – Note the great soundtracks!

Each Intense is built with the eyes and hands of a sculptor:

And it comes down to  superior CNC machining skills to make it to the quality top 3 in the world:

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We are seeing a global recovery in manufacturing – Increased hiring expected!

Posted by Bert Maes on January 7, 2010

  • The US manufacturing index read 55.9 in December after 53.6 in November. A reading above 50 indicates growth.

    Ready for liftoff

  • The US index of new orders, a signal of future production, jumped last month to 65.5 from 60.3 in November, the highest level in five years.
  • CHINA”s manufacturing sector expanded at its fastest rate in 20 months in December.
  • In EUROPE, a similar survey in the 16 countries that use the euro rose to a 21-month high
  • A manufacturing index for BRITAIN rose to a 25-month high.

What we’re seeing is a global recovery in manufacturing that will be more pronounced than the economic recovery as a whole,” said John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ Economics.

That could lead to increased hiring and job creation as manufacturers ramp up production.

Read full article: U.S. Manufacturing Growth Accelerates In December By Christopher S. Rugaber, AP Economics Writer Manufacturing.Net – January 04, 2010

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Crazy, dangerous but smart: Engraving your school logo into a laptop [Video]

Posted by Bert Maes on January 6, 2010

Tired of using those expensive little etch-on stickers for safety?

We now present to you a solution that not only pays of each time you use it, but can do much more damage.

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The Next Decade’s Top 10 Growth Industries

Posted by Bert Maes on January 5, 2010

The 10 fastest growing occupations, 2008-2018 – by Steve Tobak

  1. Biomedical engineers 72%
  2. Network systems and data communications analysts 53%
  3. Home health aides 50%
  4. Personal and home care aides 46%
  5. Financial examiners 41%
  6. Medical scientists 40%
  7. Physician assistants 39%
  8. Skin care specialists 37%
  9. Biochemists and biophysicists 37%
  10. Athletic trainers 37%

As you can see, eight of the ten are health related: home health care, services for elderly, nursing care facilities, offices of physicians,…

Steve Tobak believes that MANUFACTURING will shape our future:

George Friedman writes in his book “The next 100 years – a forecast for the 21st century“:

The single most important fact of the twenty-first century will be the end of the population explosion. During the 2020s the amount of retirees will be huge, resulting in a massive labor shortage. This shift will force us to increase productivity per worker, and as such force the world into a greater dependence on technology, particularly ROBOTS. (…) Professionals in the physical sciences, ENGINEERING, and health care will be the primary kinds of workers that are recruited.

I can’t agree more with Steve Tobak: MANUFACTURING i.e. robotics, sensors, 3D imaging, and new technology in general will play a big role in health care and lots of other industries.

Related post: Learn/teach about robots with 3D vision

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Learn how to make wind turbines in 6 weeks

Posted by Bert Maes on January 4, 2010

This is a compilation of activities that occured during the 3rd CNC Fast Track training program at Macomb Community College in 2009.

Students with a Machinist background registered for a 6-week (180 hour) program to learn how to program, setup, and operate CNC Machining and Turning Centers.

Their class project was to develop programs and CNC machine 50 small scale Wind Turbines.

Thanks to Gary Walters, Macomb Community College.

Great video and wonderful soundtrack, Gary!

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The most precious gift of all

Posted by Bert Maes on December 23, 2009

The latest article from the View from the Mill blog:

The great thing about working in CNC manufacturing, is the sheer breadth of technologies and applications with which we are involved. From motorsports, such as Formula 1 and NASCAR, through to aerospace engineering, LCD TV manufacture, and digital printing, CNC machining is making a real contribution.

However, perhaps the most exciting developments are in medical applications, where for example the Renishaw neurosurgical products are being used in Deep Brain Stimulation procedures to help improve the quality of life for sufferers of degenerative diseases such as Parkinsons.

And what can be greater than making a contribution to the generation of life itself? Infertility affects at least one-in-six couples in Britain and one-in-eight in the USA, with the most common cause male infertility, usually characterised by sperm with little or no mobility.

A common treatment for such cases is in vitro fertilisation (IVF), where sperm is injected into an egg in a laboratory and then transferred to the mother’s uterus. However, the genetic material (DNA) in sperm with limited mobility is often damaged and can affect the success rate of IVF treatment.

Using Renishaw’s inVia Raman microscope, the universities of Edinburgh and California are jointly working on a method to non-destructively test the DNA of sperm and then select the best sperm for IVF. Like most pioneering research there are no guarantees of success, but the final result would be a system that can rapidly give a health report for individual sperm.

Have a great Christmas, a fantastic start of 2010 and consider the difference CNC machining specialists are making for the world…

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