How the Lack of an Oxford Comma Could Cost a Company Millions

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.

Are We Thinking About the Skills Gap Wrong?

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.

Read the full piece.

Empire State Manufacturing Survey

The latest Empire State Manufacturing Survey from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York has been released. As usual, the report is a bit if a mixed bag. On the bright side, the new orders index climbed to 21.3, its highest level in several years, pointing to a substantial increase in orders. Unfortunately, the unfilled orders index rose to 14.2, its highest level in more than a decade, and delivery times lengthened. We’ve heard similar reports one-on-one from our members, who say that the cause is their inability to find enough skilled workers to fill open positions and shifts.

Industry 4.o and the 3D Tools Needed to Adapt

The trend toward and demand for greater flexibility in manufacturing by using machine and robot-based applications is unstoppable. The end result will be adaptable processes that can produce a batch of any size, with unprecedented efficiency. Industry 4.0 provides the concepts necessary to realize these goals, and Lee Van Avery has a look at what manufacturers will need in order to adapt over at Controldesign.com:

Industry 4.0 is so named because it’s the fourth incarnation of the Industrial Revolution. It represents the radical change that’s shaking the very foundations of the manufacturing floor. Digital factory software and 3D tools are driving that change forward.

Industry 4.0 is a new paradigm for the structure, planning and execution of production equipment and processes using modern IT and communication methods. It requires all-new ideas and concepts, and new software tools for the digital factory are blazing the trail.

First, 3D-based simulation software lets us visualize and validate processes and production tasks. Manufacturing plants are often re-planned while production is running. Software to do rudimentary modeling isn’t new. But to transform IIoT/Industry 4.0 concepts into reality, these model factories must become virtual twins of their production counterparts.

This goes beyond the geometric and kinematic to mimic detailed logic, behavior and control of the actual manufacturing units. This is the only way to move from stiff, prescribed processes to agile, self-organized production units.

Secondly, a virtual-twin model allows us to implement manufacturing processes, techniques and technologies that are far too expensive—or even impossible—without such simulation-based solutions. From simple to highly complex tasks, the more robotic applications we use, the greater the need for advanced programming and simulation.

HV Mfg Preview

Get a sneak preview of the upcoming issue of HV Mfg, due out in April. This is an excerpt from our interview with Ben Katzenstein, President of Star Kay White:

HV Mfg: Tell us about Start Kay White, What do you make and how did you come to lead the company?

BK: My Great Grandfather, David Katzenstein founded Star Extract Works New York City in 1890. He was an immigrant from Germany. He and his brother developed and sold flavors and extracts, like vanilla, chocolate, peppermint, cinnamon, rose, strawberry, and rum. They sold to local bakers, brewers, distillers, bottlers through New York, Pennsylvania, and New England. Just prior to World War I we entered the confectionary business in particular servicing ice cream businesses. David partnered with Warren White of the White-Stokes Company of Chicago, to create Kay-White Products, and opened a factory in Newark, New Jersey. Now, two of David’s companies were in the food business, making flavor extracts and confections for ice cream. During the First World War the business really took off. My grandfather, Miles joined the company and his brother, Carl, who was in the Army, joined the company after the war. There were lots of ups and downs – the crash of 1929 hurt the company badly and the depression years were lean. My father, Walter, joined the company in 1950 and became president in 1990. By the time I joined the company in 1984 we had long term business relationships with Breyers, Sealtest, Borden’s, Hershey, Howard Johnson’s, Friendly’s, Haagen Dazs, Turkey Hill, Perry’s, Ben & Jerrys.

Still, growth was slow. The Great Depression had a long term impact on the company’s character: we were very conservative. In 1940 we had 10 employees by 1984 when we moved out of the Bronx to Congers we had 16. In 1998 my brother and I, with backing of our dad, bought my cousin David out of the business. My father was president until just a few years ago when I took that title. Today we have 98,000 square feet in Congers and 127 employees.

Preview: CBS News’ “America-Manufacturing Hope”

As part of a broader series examining the shifting sands of American society, CBS News will air a special report this coming Monday on the lives of residents in struggling Americans in Erie, Pa. Correspondent Jamie Yuccas takes an intimate look at residents trying to make ends meet in a manufacturing town whose economy and population have been hollowed out over the past three decades. Read More.

“America-Manufacturing Hope” will debut at Monday at 8 p.m. ET and will be available afterwards at CBSNews.com.

February 2017 Empire State Manufacturing Survey

Business activity expanded at a solid rate in New York State, according to firms surveyed in the February 2017 Empire State Manufacturing Survey. Other reported findings included:

The headline general business conditions index rose twelve points to 18.7, its highest level in more than two years. The new orders index climbed to 13.5, and the shipments index advanced to 18.2, pointing to substantial increases in both orders and shipments. The unfilled orders index rose above zero for the first time in more than five years. Delivery times were reported as longer, and inventories increased. Labor market conditions improved, with both employment and hours worked moving higher. After reaching multiyear highs last month, the prices paid and prices received indexes were little changed. Indexes assessing the six-month outlook continued to convey a high degree of optimism about future conditions.

Read the full report.

Netflix Rec.

Looking for something to watch on Netflix? Why not check out this fascinating documentary Abstract: The Art of Design? 

Meet eight of the most creative thinkers and imaginative minds working in the world of art and design today. Viewers can expect a deep dive into subjects like graphic design, illustration, photography, architecture, interior design, set design, shoe design and automobile design. As for the creators, the roster features a list of notable names that includes architect Bjarke Ingels, photographer Platon, graphic designer Paula Scher and legendary sneaker designer Tinker Hatfield. Journey through their creative process, explore their work, and discover how their innovative designs have profoundly affected our every day lives.

Abstract: The Art of Design is now streaming on Netflix.

What do New York’s Upstate CEOs Predict the Business Climate will be Like?

Upstate CEOs are not feeling optimistic about the business policies likely to come out of the state Capitol during the 2017 legislative session, a new poll shows.

A Siena College/state Business Council poll shows that 61% of upstate CEOs surveyed in the final quarter of 2016 believe the state is currently doing a poor job of creating a business climate that promotes success. What’s worse: 84% of CEOs lack confidence that state government will improve the business climate in 2017.

CEOs are more optimistic about the chances the federal government will improve business climate, though they still aren’t overwhelmingly sure. 66% say they aren’t confident that positive changes are on the horizon. Read more.

Why Manufacturing Hasn’t Recovered Yet

Stephen Gold, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI), has written a rundown of why America’s manufacturing sector hasn’t yet recovered from the Great Recession. He cites three main reasons:

  1. Uncertainty at home. Annual capital investment continues to lag behind the averages of the post-war era, as does R&D investment – two of the most important catalysts for innovation and growth. One reason is that business leaders have entered a prolonged period of uncertainty over many factors critical to such decisions.
  2. Stagnant economic conditions abroad. As sluggish as our own economy has been, with 1.5% GDP growth projected for 2016 and a MAPI Foundation forecast of 2.0% for 2017, we appear to be leading the stagnant pack. The World Bank estimates that global growth – including emerging markets – attained a post-recession low of 2.3% in 2016.
  3. Collapse of oil and gas prices. As high energy prices can provide a shock to the economy (remember the summer of 2008?), so can the reverse: when prices fall below a certain threshold, companies stop investing in equipment, R&D and people.

You can read his full report here.