Sustainable Performance

Deciding on Automation Sometimes Requires a Conscious Effort to Avoid the Magpie Effect

Joe FeeleyBy Joe Feeley, Editor in Chief

On ControlDesign.com you'll find two articles relating to machine automation from our coverage of this year's Rockwell Automation Fair held in Anaheim, Calif., last month at ControlDesign.com/performance and ControlDesign.com/sustainability.

These comments and observations of machine users and builders who participated in a couple of panel discussions and presentations are a good read.

Here are a few excerpts from the six machine builders and one automation user about machine performance and total cost to design, develop and deliver machines.

Andy Pringle is engineering director at PCMC, which builds machines for the converting industry. He said that deciding on the automation for a machine sometimes requires a conscious effort to avoid the Magpie Effect of replacing an existing part with that "bright, shiny, new component that appears to save a few overall dollars at the bill-of-material level, but means adding a new $1,500 part to needlessly have to support."

Pearson Packaging Systems, like PCMC, builds to order with virtually no inventory, despite being in what President and CEO Mike Senske calls a low-volume, high-variability business. His company surveyed 300 old, new and potential customers to distill down the key needs and translate them into the actions that fulfilled their need for shorter lead times. "That was the No. 1 request," said Senske. "They also identified unanticipated downtime as a key factor, so they wanted our choices of components and subassemblies to be accurate and dependable." Pricing actually came fourth on the list. "That's from the technical folks' perspective," he said. "Price is an entirely different conversation with some purchasing folks."

The other link is to a discussion about several companies' sustainability initiatives and some sobering data about the daunting task ahead if Congress legislates the carbon-reduction requirements currently in the pending Waxman-Markey bill. It includes reduction of global warming gases by 83% of 2005 levels by 2050.

Asked how that goal can be achieved, a man who should know, Isaac Chan, program supervisor—technology development at the Department of Energy, replied, "I don't know. Implementing state-of-the-art technology in every applicable area might at best save 30% of greenhouse gas emissions."

Even if we eliminated all fossil-fuel-based electricity generation and all fossil-fuel-consuming vehicles, Chan says that still wouldn't address the enormous energy consumption of steelmaking, cement manufacturing and other heavy industrial segments, with enormous legacy equipment bases that can't be turned quickly. "We'll need to replace steel," he stated. "We have to drive the next industrial revolution." 

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