by Kyle Carreau on April 12th, 2017

Smart Manufacturing is Driving Success in Factories & Processes

Smart manufacturing represents the integration of three key productivity factors: automation, operations information and advanced analytics. You can’t achieve smart manufacturing without embracing modern technology. Automation has been tied to manufacturing for over 80 years. Industrial automation of factories and processes will save man-hours, energy and material costs. Automated machines also improve quality, accuracy and precision. If you are facing challenges with older legacy equipment and the opportunities afforded by new technologies, you might be asking yourself “Is it time to join the smart manufacturing revolution?”

What is Smart Manufacturing?

The Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (SMLC) states, “Smart manufacturing is the ability to solve existing and future problems via an open infrastructure that allows solutions to be implemented at the speed of business while creating advantaged value.” Smart manufacturing, as a concept, is all about agility and efficiency driving success in your processes and your factories. SMLC also considers non-hardware and non-software factors, such as a next-generation workforce and global competitiveness. 
Why Forward-Thinking Users Are Moving Towards Smart Manufacturing

Many manufacturers are asking themselves questions like these:
How do we keep up with changing consumer demand?
What are other companies doing to be more responsive?
What visibility and information options exist out there for manufacturers?
How do we improve productivity? Or, reduce downtime?
How can I reduce operating costs?

Already, innovative companies have started building smart factories designed to answer these questions. Manufacturers will always need to deliver quality products and will always be driven to reduce costs. The key here is doing so through innovation and fundamentally changed production processes. For some industries, smart manufacturing solutions may look completely different that those commonly in place today.

Smart manufacturing does not represent a “cheap labor, cheap parts” solution. Rather, entirely new ways of operating industrial plants through the intersection of human innovation and integrated technology. Rockwell Automation recently had a cover story in TIME Magazine on this exact topic. 

Modern Technology, Analytics & Globalization

Securely converging plant-level and enterprise networks is no small effort. Here are three things to consider as you move towards smart manufacturing:
1. IoT & IIoT: The IoT (Internet of Things) and IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) give us the ability to connect and interconnect many smart devices. Sensors, switches, phones, tablets – all working together. This improves machine function, allows increased data collection, and ultimately allows better visibility into processes. Discover how to bring the IIoT to life with this 5-step guide.

2. Analytics: Smart manufacturing can’t make your decisions for you. It does, however, enable a lot of useful data. And not just more data but intelligence, software, reporting and dashboards to all enable better and faster decision making. Get the details about operational intelligence here.

3. Globalization: An ever-increasing global marketplace is driving manufacturers along with government agencies to create and validate new approaches and technologies that can enhance productivity and performance. The Connected Enterprise & Globalization: Getting Started (eBook)

Working closely with Rockwell Automation, Horizon Solutions brings experience and understanding of manufacturing, industrial operations and information technology to your plant floor. Our team can help bring both IT and OT together into a secure and collaborative architecture. We can help you uncover data and transform it into actionable information. Is it time to join the smart manufacturing revolution? The answer is YES.

Kyle Carreau is an Automation Specialist based in New Hampshire. His expertise domains include PLC, HMI, network switches, controllers, and all things IO-related. He has spent time in every automation tech segment across Horizon Solutions and brings a view of drives, sensors, safety and motion to every application he looks at. Kyle recently became a Cisco Certified Industrial Networking Specialist.

Posted on March 29th, 2017

ByNoah Smith. 
Originally published 3/28/17 for Bloomberg

Discussions about manufacturing tend to get very contentious. Many economists and commentators believe that there’s nothing inherently special about making things and that efforts to restore U.S. manufacturing to its former glory reek of industrial policy, protectionism, mercantilism and antiquated thinking. 

But in their eagerness to guard against the return of these ideas, manufacturing’s detractors often overstate their case. Manufacturing is in bigger trouble than the conventional wisdom would have you believe.

One common assertion is that while manufacturing jobs have declined, output has actually risen. But this piece of conventional wisdom is now outdated. U.S. manufacturing output is almost exactly the same as it was just before the financial crisis of 2008:

​Read the Full Article

by Claire Bushey on March 8th, 2017

A new company wants to play matchmaker between skilled manufacturing workers and the businesses seeking to hire them—just not full time.

At FactoryFix, employers can browse profiles for engineers, machinists, maintenance technicians, welders and others, then contact likely candidates. Founder and CEO Patrick O'Rahilly, noting that workers are vetted before joining the company's network, jokes it's "like a dating website if you only let beautiful people in." What it resembles more, though, is websites like 99designs, Upwork or TaskRabbit that serve as intermediaries for hiring help, whether a creative professional or a handyman.

The fledgling Chicago company exists at the intersection of two seemingly opposite trends in manufacturing: the casualization of the workforce and employers' struggle to find skilled help. Nearly 10 percent of the sector's workers in 2015 were employed by staffing agencies rather than manufacturers. Yet companies are clamoring to fill vacancies for millwrights, welders and tool-and-die makers. In this tight labor market, "if they're not working (full time), there's something else going on," says Anne Edmunds, regional vice president at Manpower in Chicago.

At FactoryFix, there is something else going on. Some 60 percent of workers in the network already have a full-time job, O'Rahilly says. They use FactoryFix for extra hours. The other 40 percent are a mix of semiretired tradespeople staying active or small engineering shops that use the site for sales leads.ADVERTISINGinRead invented by Teads, 
"There's just not enough of these people, so these companies are going to have to start borrowing from each other," O'Rahilly says. "That's part of the whole gig economy movement. That's part of the future of work."

O'Rahilly, 31, started FactoryFix in 2015. As one of the founders of Elgin-based Compass Automation, which builds custom manufacturing equipment, he informally brokered deals with other companies that wanted to hire his engineers for one-time projects. That convinced him there was a market for the service.

Two former executives at Navistar, a Lisle-based truck and engine maker, have invested in the four-person company, and O'Rahilly raised $150,000 from friends and family. FactoryFix brought in about half a million in revenue last year from a base of 60 customers, including Illinois Tool Works and BWAY, which makes metal cans for paint and food at its Little Village factory.

A robotics engineer fixed a machine at BWAY when it stopped stacking cans on pallets, idling the assembly line, says maintenance manager Harold Whitecotton. The engineer arrived "three hours after we called him, he reset everything, and we were able to get back into production."

Employers pay $100 per hour to hire a robotics or automation engineer or $65 to $75 per hour for a machinist. FactoryFix takes a 30 percent cut. The company notes that by hiring contract workers, the employers save on payroll taxes, liability and unemployment insurance, and the cost of paying wages during production downturns.

The key question contingent labor raises is whether it complements or cannibalizes the existing job market, whether it creates new work opportunities or replaces traditional jobs that offer built-in protections for minimum wage, overtime and unionizing. Researchers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics have estimated that the share of manufacturing workers employed by a staffing agency rose to 9.7 percent in 2015 from 6.9 percent a decade earlier, with more temporary workers concentrated in low-skilled jobs.

Temporary work can benefit those who have been laid off or who want to supplement their income, says Frank Manzo IV, Countryside-based policy director of the Illinois Economic Policy Institute. Problems only arise "if this temporary work becomes . . . essentially a long-term employment relationship."

The economy as a whole is shifting toward increased use of contingent labor, says Mark Muro, a senior fellow and director of policy at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. His research suggests that in some industries "freelance marketplaces may well cannibalize competing payroll businesses," like cab companies moving to adopt Uber and Lyft's independent-contractor model. But unlike those companies, he says, FactoryFix appears to solve "an authentic problem because these are increasingly quite specialized occupations. . . . These workers are, in fact, hard to find."

O'Rahilly has had to scour the market himself, recruiting workers to his network through referrals. Retirees, he says, generally aren't scanning "help wanted" ads on Facebook.

Posted on February 8th, 2017

In a new “manufacturing outlook” report focusing on the automotive and industrial sectors, AlixPartners observes that many of the labor-cost advantages associated with near-shoring may be lost if companies fail to spend more on automation in the future.
The consultancy notes that automation capabilities have improved dramatically, and implementation expenses have come down. As a consequence this kind of technology can help manufacturers augment—or entirely replace— functions previously performed entirely by humans.

“To exploit those technologies, manufacturers will 
likely have to make capital-intensive investments,” says Foster Finley, a managing director at AlixPartners in New York. “But they should understand, too, that automation cannot replace a human workforce.”
Instead, adds Finley, automation shifts the focus to a new set of critical skills.

“As automation technology becomes more available and more affordable, companies will have to adopt longer-term views on developing and retaining talent aligned with the tactical use of robotics,” he says.

The survey, which polled manufacturing and distribution companies in the U.S. and Western Europe, finds that 69% of respondents believe near shoring is a possible opportunity to meet demand from consumers, up from 40% in last year’s survey.

“This increase in near shoring has led to labor challenges, however” says Finley. “Many respondents are having a hard time filling roles like product engineers and frontline supervisors.”

Along with these labor issues, two-thirds of respondents said they plan to invest significantly in automation technologies.

“So what we may expect is more spend in human resources with higher salaries and other incentives, at the same time companies will place greater reliance on technology.”

Researchers note that automotive and electronics manufacturers have been the biggest adopters of automation technology thus far. But companies in other sectors—such as pharmaceuticals, instrumentation and measurement devices, medical equipment, and pulp and paper— will likely begin to shift more of their manufacturing capacity to robots in the coming years.

By Patrick Burnson, Executive Editor · February 7, 2017. (

About the AuthorPatrick Burnson, Executive EditorPatrick Burnson is executive editor for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review magazines and web sites. Patrick is a widely-published writer and editor who has spent most of his career covering international trade, global logistics, and supply chain management. He lives and works in San Francisco, providing readers with a Pacific Rim perspective on industry trends and forecasts. You can reach him directly at

Posted on February 2nd, 2017

The Board of Education further expanded opportunities for Fort Zumwalt students to be college and career ready when they approved the latest version of the High School Career and Educational Planning Guide. Across the district, students grades 8-11 are working with parents and guidance counselors to set schedules for the next school year. The new guide expands Advanced Placement and college credit courses, which include a wide range of options, from chemistry and calculus to world history and language study. It also adds courses that will allow students to earn credit at Ranken Technical College or Cisco certification before graduation.

   The new partnership with Ranken will allow students who successfully complete Fort Zumwalt’s Metals III – Precision Machining or Metals III – Welding and Fabrication to take the appropriate Ranken assessment test. According to the newly approved course description guide, students who pass a written test proctored at Ranken would be eligible to take a hands-on skills test for a fee of $200. If a student successfully passes the skills test, the $200 would then be applied to first semester enrollment in Machining Principles or Fundamentals of Welding Technology, pending enrollment in Advanced Manufacturing Technology or Fabrication and Welding Technology. There would also be a required manufacturing internship through Ranken for students taking Machining Principles.

   "Fort Zumwalt is committed to having students college and/or career ready," says Jen Waters, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. "Our relationship with Ranken Technical School is a positive step in this direction. Students are able to take relevant course work in high school and are becoming well prepared for both higher ed and the job force. Joining forces with Ranken will allow students to earn credit at a fraction of the cost."
   Similarly, the district has a credit by assessment agreement with Ranken for certification with Cisco, a computer network hardware company that makes switches and routers. New IT Essentials classes would prepare students to take certification tests for a fee. Successful completion of the first class would allow students to take the Comptia A+ Certification test for a fee. A second level class might be added to provide the opportunity to become certified in maintaining and repairing the switches and routers. These professional certifications are the starting point for a career in Information Technology.

   Students in Fort Zumwalt’s Drafting III class also have the opportunity to take the SolidWorks CSWA exam, a professional certification test as their End-of-Course Exam, free of charge. Successful completion shows proficiency in 3D CAD modeling using SolidWorks. The test focuses on the application of design and engineering principles used in industry practices and standards. Students can include certification on resumes and job applications.
    Take a look inside our Engineering and Industrial Technology classrooms here.