Manufacturing in the U.S. is reviving in more ways than one. That was the theme of the Manufacturing in America Symposium in Detroit during March, hosted by Siemens Industry.
Mike Bastian, controls manager for global powertrain manufacturing at Ford Motor, offered that controls engineers have equity responsibilities and are needed in every area of its business, and their role is growing more important as demands on its manufacturing processes continue to increase.
"The tradition in powertrains used to be fixed systems, but now we have more parallel paths, CNC systems and complex product assembly, and so our controls, HMIs, safety and MESs and PCs are all more complex, too," Bastian said. "So, when we design and specify hardware requirements for us and our Tier 1 and 2 suppliers, we push for high-level standardization to simplify our manufacturing by using modular components, common communication buses, reliable components and standardized software that are easier integrate. In the past five years, we've moved from standalone safety to integrated safety, and that's presented some integration challenges as well. In addition, the controls vs. IT line is getting grayer because we're fully integrated with Ethernet, and so we're implementing antivirus strategies to prevent malware from potentially slowing or stopping machines. We have to adapt quickly to compete and expand globally, and maintain Ford's production system as the best in the world."
Likewise, in his event-opening speech, Raj Batra, president of Siemens' Industry Automation Solutions division, reported there's no better place to talk about the latest U.S. manufacturing renaissance than Detroit because of its unparalleled role in automotive history and innovation. Batra added that Siemens invested $1.3 billion in the U.S. during 2012 and a total of $25 billion over the past decade. Its 60,000 employees at its 100 manufacturing plants in the U.S. sites export more than $2 billion from the U.S. to markets worldwide. "Even today, with 370,000 employees in 190 countries worldwide, the U.S. is Siemens' biggest market, generating one quarter of our total revenue," Batra added.
Because of the ongoing software revolution in manufacturing, formerly separate physical and virtual realms are merging to reduce time-to-market, Batra explained. Meanwhile, energy costs in North America are decreasing thanks to natural gas from fracking and shale deposits, which is reducing overall manufacturing costs. "This is revolutionary," he said. "The natural gas boom can reindustrialize America by lowering the costs of doing business here. That is, if manufacturers can continue making operations more productive and more efficient to ensure that costs stay low."
Batra added that Siemens is intimately familiar with how software and data processing technologies are drawing physical and virtual environments together to serve the entire automotive production process. "That's why 80% of automotive factories worldwide have Siemens' automation equipment, as well as 14 of the 15 automotive OEMs and almost 90% of the top 25 suppliers."