Zach Winn’s picture

By: Zach Winn

Manufacturers are constantly tweaking their processes to get rid of waste and improve productivity. As such, the software they use should be as nimble and responsive as the operations on their factory floors.

Instead, much of the software in today’s factories is static. In many cases, it’s developed by an outside company to work in a broad range of factories, and implemented from the top down by executives who know software can help but don’t know how best to adopt it.

That’s where MIT spinout Tulip comes in. The company has developed a customizable manufacturing app platform that connects people, machines, and sensors to help optimize processes on a shop floor. Tulip’s apps provide workers with interactive instructions, quality checks, and a way to easily communicate with managers if something is wrong.

Managers, in turn, can make changes or additions to the apps in real-time and use Tulip’s analytics dashboard to pinpoint problems with machines and assembly processes.

Multiple Authors
By: Natasha Gilbert, Knowable Magazine

Alfalfa, oats, and red clover are soaking up the sunlight in long narrow plots, breaking up the sea of maize and soybeans that dominates this landscape in the heart of the U.S. farm belt. The 18 by 85 meter sections are part of an experimental farm in Boone County, Iowa, where agronomists are testing an alternative approach to agriculture that just may be part of a greener, more bountiful farming revolution.

Organic agriculture is often thought of as green and good for nature. Conventional agriculture, in contrast, is cast as big and bad. And, yes, conventional agriculture may appear more environmentally harmful at first glance, with its appetite for synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, its systems devoted to one or two massive crops and not a tree or hedge in sight to nurture wildlife.

As typically defined, organic agriculture is free of synthetic inputs, using only organic material such as manure to feed the soil. The organic creed calls for caring for that soil and protecting the organisms within it through methods like planting cover crops such as red clover that add nitrogen and fight erosion.

Aliyah Kovner’s picture

By: Aliyah Kovner

It’s 1 p.m. on a sunny afternoon in July—smack dab in the middle of summer break—and a perfect 75° outside, but Jonathan Park is laser-focused. Though he could be strolling down a beach, or at home browsing social media, this 16-year-old is bent over a lab bench, intently pipetting reagents to run an Amplex Red assay.

Park, a soon-to-be junior at Dublin High School, is part of the 2019 cohort of the Introductory College Level Experience in Microbiology (iCLEM) summer intensive, hosted and run by the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) in Emeryville, California. First launched in 2008, iCLEM immerses local Bay Area students in the biological sciences—and gives them a taste of day-to-day life as a scientist—through an eight week-long blended curriculum of instruction, hands-on basic laboratory skill training, and in-depth tours of working labs within JBEI, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (which manages JBEI), and local biotech companies. The students, who receive a stipend so that they may attend the program in place of a summer job, utilize their newfound knowledge by conducting independent research projects and presenting their findings at the end of the program.

Eric Weisbrod’s picture

By: Eric Weisbrod

In manufacturing, standardization in production and process control leads to increased profitability and cuts down on many siloed problems that can plague even the most quality-focused organization. But when you have multiple, disparate plants around the country or the globe, standardization can seem unattainable, as each site operates more like an island with its own way of doing things.

I previously worked with one company that had numerous plants throughout the United States and Europe. Over time, each site had developed unique practices. One specific issue that came up was whether to use the metric system for quality data collection. Unfortunately, the company did not standardize. So, when it was time to run cross-plant reports, the results were in different units, presenting a challenge to comparative analysis.

In contrast, I worked with a separate organization that was very adamant about using a standardized approach and implementing the same quality management system at every site. Standardization made it easy to deploy the system to approximately 80 plants in merely 18 months. In addition to streamlining deployment, standardization enabled the company to perform enterprisewide reporting for better decision-making.

Laurel Thomas’s picture

By: Laurel Thomas

Soldiers develop attachments to the robots that help them diffuse bombs in the field. Despite numerous warnings about privacy, millions of us trust smart speakers like Alexa to listen into our daily lives. Some of us name our cars and even shed tears when we trade them in for shiny new vehicles.

Research has shown that individually we develop emotional, trusting relationships with robotic technology, but until now little has been known about whether groups that work with robots develop attachments, and if so, if such emotions affect team performance.

The short answer, say University of Michigan (U-M) researchers is, yes and yes.

Previous studies have focused on linking emotional attachment to robots with individual fun and enjoyment in more playful settings, says Sangseok You, who began what he and colleagues believe is the first study of its kind on attachment between groups and robots as a doctoral candidate at the U-M School of Information.

Andrei Vakulenko’s picture

By: Andrei Vakulenko

Taylor Attachments, based in the United Kingdom, custom designs and produces tractor headstock conversion brackets. These are attachments for farm handlers and loaders, for mounting everything from buckets to forks, grapples, saws, carriers, bale stabbers, grabbers, hitches, backhoes, tillers, yard scrapers, and more. Clients also send the company legacy equipment, which Taylor’s specialists precisely measure and reproduce using the latest materials and technology.

In the past at Taylor, this was a 100-percent manual process, which meant a busy 7 to 12 hours of making drawings using rulers and calipers, and pens and pencils to trace out parts and components on cardboard and paper, before creating mock-up prototypes for testing and secondary alterations.

The entire process entailed lots of cross-referencing and double-checking, and would take anywhere from seven days up to two or three weeks for each part. That’s the industry average. And it’s an inaccurate process, requiring lots of fine-tuning before each product is ready to be shipped to the client’s doorstep.

Ryan E. Day’s picture

By: Ryan E. Day

Although certification to major standards is often the threshold to winning next-level contracts, it is when your organization synthesizes the standard’s values that real payoff is realized. Chief among those values is customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction is paramount to attracting new customers, garnering new contracts, and transforming customers into lifetime clients.

Certified to AS9100D with ISO:2015, Composiflex has been designing and manufacturing high-performance advanced composites for more than 30 years. Composiflex’s World-Class Initiative includes two key values of the standards they are certified to: customer satisfaction and continuous improvement. FARO inspection technology is integral to Composiflex’s efforts.

“Investments in FARO products are helping us support our World-Class Initiative,” says Marty Matthews, sales and marketing executive at Composiflex. “For the past few years, weve carefully identified the proper investments to satisfy our customers and grow our business.”

Customer satisfaction

Composiflex committed itself to the spirit of the standards and purchased specific equipment with specific goals in mind.

Susan Whitehead’s picture

By: Susan Whitehead

It’s a Catch-22 for a manufacturing supervisor: You need to train new hires properly to master the skills for the job, but your own daily job duties can’t wait. Putting time aside to train workers is especially challenging if you’re a small to medium-sized manufacturer (SMM) with tight, daily deadlines.

“I want to make time for training new employees, but how am I supposed to do that and do my job? How am I supposed to deal with line problems and train someone new at the same time?”

As a process improvement coach with the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership, I hear concerns like these all the time from SMM supervisors, who have been forced to train new employees while trying to do their own jobs.

But putting off training is like postponing the oil change on your car even though the sticker in the corner says your odometer is at 55,000 miles, and your oil change was due at 50,000 miles. You can probably put off the oil change and drive a couple hundred more miles, and the car will run just fine. Then it’s another 200 miles, and you think, “OK, I can keep doing this for a while.”

DP Technology’s picture

By: DP Technology

Founded in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2001, Green Tools is a leading manufacturer of cutting tools, providing circular saws and other woodcutting machines for the sawmill, furniture, and woodworking industries throughout Russia.

Green Tools began as a small reseller of woodworking tools produced by German tool-maker AKE. Over time though, the company progressed to manufacturing cutting tools of its own, moving from tool merchant to tool maker. As Kirill Smolin, technical consultant at Green Tools relates, At first we were a distributor of woodworking mills and saws produced at AKE factories in Germany while also providing tool sharpening services. Then we started to make tools ourselves on specialized machines that do not require a CAM [computer-aided manufacturing] system.


An array of cutting tools made by Green Tools

Ziv Carmon’s picture

By: Ziv Carmon

Counterfeiting is widespread and rapidly expanding. In 2015, the value of fake and pirated products globally was estimated at $1.7 trillion, equivalent to the GDP of Canada. The scope of this phenomenon is vast. In both developing and developed countries, counterfeiting affects many sectors, including apparel, electronics, beverages, food, pharmaceuticals, tobacco, and even vehicle and airplane parts and heavy machinery.

Companies actively try to fight the trade. They seek damages for lost sales from other firms that rip off their designs and conduct major, aggressive outreach campaigns to deter potential buyers from purchasing fake products. They also band together to raise awareness about how counterfeiting funds organized crime and terrorism, and often involves child labor. The Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy (BASCP), under the International Chamber of Commerce, for instance, represents 25 companies at intergovernmental forums, formulates best practices in supply chains, as well as funds outreach campaigns such as ibuyreal.org to fight the flood of fakes.

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