Dr. Kristina Johnson, a former engineer who developed technology critical for the screening of 3D movies and served as under secretary for the Department of Energy in the Obama Administration, will serve as chancellor of New York State’s SUNY college system after the current chancellor, Nancy Zimpher, retires in June. SUNY currently serves some 440,000 students at 29 four-year colleges and 30 community colleges. and is the country’s largest university network. She has said that she plans to focus on promoting excellence in research and teaching, environmental sustainability, and individualized models of education. The latter would help students focus on classes that target their chosen career paths.
Gary Miller of Kyocera SGS Precision Tools, says companies can encourage high-school students to apply for internships and apprenticeships by offering competitive pay and a training period. He also recommends tours for parents to show what modern manufacturing looks like and to reassure parents of the plant’s safety. Miller got his start at Kyocera, a small cutting tool manufacturer in Ohio, working on the floor, but today he’s Director of Training and Occupational Development. His skills at training younger workers earned him a profile in IndustryWeek.
Business activity continued to grow but at a slower pace, according to the latest Empire State Manufacturing Survey from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
The headline general business conditions index fell eleven points to 5.2. The new orders index, which had climbed to a multiyear high in March, retreated sharply to 7.0 in April, suggesting more modest growth. The shipments index edged up to 13.7, indicating that shipments continued to increase moderately. The unfilled orders index edged down to 12.4, after reaching its highest level in more than a decade in March; however, delivery times lengthened further, with that index climbing to a record high of 16.1.
GE, a company synonymous with American manufacturing, has recently undertaken an initiative to retrain 150,000 workers to make them better suited to the new more tech-heavy environments the company sees as the future of manufacturing. While the Internet of Things is still in its infancy, GE has been at the forefront of a movement to reshape the manufacturing for the 21st century.
As productivity increases and the manual labor part of the job decreases, factory workers must become more predictive and interactive. At GE for example, longtime machinists and technicians are now being teamed with data analytics experts.
Such manufacturing jobs tend to pay better than other kinds of work. The average manufacturing salary in Pennsylvania pays $59,000, according to Eileen Cipriani, the state’s deputy secretary of labor and industry. The average salary in the state is about $52,000.
Who needs a forklift when you can just use an exoskeleton? Several innovators are trying to make those sci-fi styled suits a reality, including Hiromicho Fujimoto, president of ActiveLink, a small company in Japan. Via Industry Week:
Fujimoto, for one, recognized the need to enhance workers on the floor — and to suit them with the tech necessary to work harder and smarter — well before the turn of the century. The leg frames he created are designed more for disaster areas, allowing first responders an easier path through rubble or up steep inclines. But the backpack weight belts alleviate stress from the waist and hips while lifting heavy objects. They’re designed not to make workers stronger, but to ease the burden of tedious or monotonous work. And they seem perfect for factories.
This profile of MTU America’s manufacturing operation offers a glimpse into how valuable an apprenticeship program can be for American manufacturers. After starting the program, modeled on the one its German parent company uses in Europe, MTU America has discovered a previously untapped labor pool.
Although there are some up-front costs to establishing an apprenticeship program, such as equipment and human resources, Diebel pointed out that MTU doesn’t employ an independent trainer to conduct classes for the students. Instead, shop employees provide the primary training. In addition, the company brings a lead trainer from its German facility to conduct about 4 weeks of training.
On the flip side, having an apprenticeship program enables MTU to avoid the expense of recruiting someone from a shallow skill pool, and the starting wage for a graduate is less than a skilled mid-career employee, Diebel said. As a result, he noted, a manufacturer can see up to a 36 percent return on its investment from apprentice training.
There’s been a lot of talk about automation in manufacturing, usually though any discussion on the topic comes with the presumption that the robotics in question are only accessible to larger manufacturers who can afford not only the high-tech machines but also the labor force needed to run them. That is starting to change, writes Jim Lawton in a column for Forbes:
With equal access to smart, collaborative robots companies like Standby Screw and Vanguard Plastics gain a fast path to exploiting automation to improve productivity and lower cost. They are tackling repetitive tasks, lowering error rates and reducing the likelihood of an injury to a person. For many customers, these robots allow them to “staff” positions that have been left unfilled for weeks or months with stability. They are also working alongside people, and giving them opportunities to do more strategic work.
Google Glass may have been an embarrassing failure, but augmented reality had found something of a niche among large manufacturers, according to PC World:
Automakers like Volkswagen and BMW have also experimented with augmented reality. The technology proves useful in leaving workers’ hands free and making communication between teams easier.
The world’s largest aircraft maker, Boeing is also giving augmented reality a shot. The company has used the technology to help technicians navigate the thousands of wires needed to connect a plane’s electrical systems, or “wire harnesses,” as they are called.
The debate over the Oxford comma has long raged among grammar nerds, and remains unresolved. Proponents of its use say that, when listing things in writing, a comma before the last item is paramount. It separates the sentence “He ate dessert, fries, and ham” from “He ate dessert, fries and ham.” Opponents say that it’s redundant, and potentially more ambiguous. Recently however, the debate has spilled out of grammar circles and into the court house, where it is playing a decisive role in an overtime dispute:
According to state law, the following types of activities are among those that don’t qualify for overtime pay:
The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods.
There, in the comma-less space between the words “shipment” and “or,” the fate of Kevin O’Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy was argued. Is packing (for shipment or distribution) a single activity that is exempt from overtime pay? Or are packing and distributing two different activities, and both exempt?
If lawmakers had used a serial comma, it would have been clear that distribution was an overtime-exempt activity on its own. But without the comma, wrote US appeals judge David J. Barron, the law is ambiguous as to whether distribution is a separate activity, or whether the whole last clause—”packing for shipment or distribution”—is one activity, meaning only the people who pack the dairy products are exempt. The drivers do distribute, but do not pack, the perishable food.
In a column for MachineDesign.com, Carlos Gonzalez argues that efforts to fix manufacturing’s skills gap are too shortsighted:
Although the skilled labor gap is a pressing problem, it is also a short-term problem. The Internet of Things, mobile devices, and robotics are set to take over the industrial world. Many of the day-to-day skilled labor jobs will be performed by smart machines. The impending long-term problem is the skills gap of the future. This is a shortage we are currently creating by developing advanced systems and technology but not future workers on how to operate them. The machines of the future will require not just the practical knowledge of design, but also the knowledge of machine programming. For example, we need mechanical engineers that understand electrical engineering and vice versa. The skilled labor of the future is not just the physical application, but how that will interface with the computer-connected world brought to you by the IoT.