Industrial Engineer Engineering and Management Solutions at Work

November 2012    |    Volume: 44    |    Number: 11

The member magazine of the Institute of Industrial and Engineers

My Account    |     Create Login

Front Line

News, trends & tactics in the November 2012 issue of Industrial Engineer

A paradigm shift

Open-source designs, 3-D printing can outfit labs at a fraction of the cost
According to Joshua Pearce, the revolution will be digitized and printed.Joshua Pearce shows off a second-generation, open-source, 3-D printer called a Mendel RepRap. The machine is made up of parts from any hardware store, open-source electronics available online, and parts that it can make for itself - all the red, white and blue components. (Photo by Sarah Bird/Michigan Tech) 

Pearce, an associate professor at Michigan Technological University, has combined microcontrollers, 3-D printers and open-source software to save tens of thousands of dollars in outfitting his research laboratory. Lower costs could allow every college, university and high school to give students access to research tools and projects they used to dream about.

The open-source movement also could spur “super-customized” manufacturing, where consumers either draw up or download 3-D designs for chairs, dolls, smartphone cases and other goods from the Internet, modify the designs and carry or email the results to a 3-D print shop, Pearce said.

“You could literally customize everything in your office and everything in your home to meet a certain theme,” he said.

Pearce started researching 3-D printing after his students designed an inexpensive solar charger for a laptop. The case was produced by the university’s rapid prototype machine.

“And the case itself, the plastic, cost more than the solar panels and the electronics and everything else,” he remembered. “And that just seemed insane to me.”

The 3-D printing industry and open-source tool designs have grown exponentially. People design scientific tools and post them on the Internet for others to download, modify, produce with 3-D printers and control with microcontrollers.

“As more and more scientists and researchers throughout the world are kind of jumping on, it’s just getting better and better,” Pearce said. “And I think it is not too far in the distant future where you’ll basically have a complete lab suite of any tool you can think of in an open source variety.”

Scientific equipment can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars because manufacturers generally only make a few. But Pearce’s lab used one open-source 3-D printer, a RepRap, to produce four more printers. Those machines help print the lab tools.

Now, instead of paying a third party thousands of dollars for one copy of a polymer microchannel heat exchanger, Pearce’s students can experiment with multiple designs, producing them in-house with their open-source laser welding system. That system alone has saved tens of thousands of dollars, Pearce estimated. You can make a lot of expensive components using 3-D printing, running it off a microcontroller, or doing both.

“The ability to have a very low cost, very customized scientific processing tool is valuable to our lab,” he said. “The real beauty of this is that if anybody wants to repeat what we did, they can just go download it.”

Pearce thinks the technological advances will push industrial engineering to the next step. He can envision 3-D print shops sprouting up in old malls. Manufacturing would concentrate on more high-end work with expensive materials and complicated designs, along with things that everyone needs, such as the screws used to put together your RepRap.

“And then all that stuff in the middle, that’s where I think there is a huge opportunity for kind of a more distributive manufacturing, where it just doesn’t make sense to have a factory in China spitting out a billion of something when everybody wants something a little bit different.”

A snappy little e-motorcycle

Current Motor's Super Scooter advances the genre
Current Motor’s John Tittle rides the company’s Super Scooter, which has a range of 50 miles and costs a shade less than $10,000.Current Motor’s Super Scooter electric motorcycle, which began shipping in February, illustrates the perils and promise of the industrial engineering challenges involved with bringing green vehicles to the masses.

The company’s website touts the electric vehicle as being able to traverse Manhattan four times on one charge. According to Digital Manufacturing Report, it has a top speed of 65 mph, combining the performance of more expensive electric motorcycles with a lower purchase price in a model that costs less than 2 cents a mile to operate.

The Super Scooters have smartphone technology that collects and sends data to the company’s cloud IT infrastructure, letting the company know rider preferences and bike performance. Current feeds that data into its customer service system to perform remote diagnostics.

The company took a systems integration approach, Digital Manufacturing Report reported, buying many components off the shelf and partnering with Dell for IT implementation, although the power train, electronics and software are proprietary.

Still, its vaunted range is only 50 miles, and its low $9,995 sticker price is more expensive than at least four brand new 2012 models offered by legendary Italian motorcycle manufacturer Moto Guzzi. While obviously adequate for in-town trips and clearly cheap to operate, motorcyclists who use their bikes for longer rides will continue to shy away from electric vehicles.

PE exam moving toward computerization

NCEES to phase changes in over the next few years
The state licensing boards that compose the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) have voted to begin converting the professional engineer (PE) and principles and practice of surveying (PS) exams to a computer-based format.

The unanimous decision came during the 2012 NCEES annual meeting in August. It follows a 2010 decision to convert the fundamentals of engineering (FE) and fundamentals of surveying (FS) exams to computer-based testing (CBT), a transition that will be completed in January 2014.

PRIME NUMBER: Tech beats Harvard

Graduates from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology are getting paid a median salary of $56,700, according to Meanwhile, those leaving Harvard University, where tuition is almost four times higher, got $54,100.
– Source: Bloomberg News

The PE exam will be converted in 2015 at the earliest, but the transition will be paced for each exam, said NCEES Executive Director Jerry Carter.“We offer 25 different PE exams in 17 different engineering disciplines, and NCEES will review each exam individually to determine what it needs to move to CBT,” he said. “The language approved by the council is ‘at the earliest feasible date,’ and NCEES will move carefully and deliberately with each conversion to ensure that the exam continues to reliably measure professional competence.”

There is no set time for converting the PS exam. Carter said NCEES wants to experience computer-based testing for the FE and FS exams before moving another exam to the new format.

The PE or PS exam is typically the last step in the engineering or surveying licensure process. Licensure candidates who pass the FE or FS exam and meet education and work experience requirements must pass the PE or PS exam to become eligible for licensure as a professional engineer or professional surveyor.

Yes, they will come back

Despite layoff anger, 45 percent surveyed would return to their job
As the economic recovery putters along slowly three years after the Great Recession ended, some businesses are looking to hire new – or rehire old – employees.

A new Temple University study offers the statistic that 45 percent of highly paid, college-educated professionals would return to their former employer, despite their anger over being laid off. According to human resource management professor Gary J. Blau, the study’s lead author, how employers treat workers during layoffs will become more important when the economy rebounds into an employee’s market again.

Blau and his colleagues stress that companies have a practical interest in making sure that the layoff process is perceived as fair and open. These days, social media and review-your-employer websites like give plenty of venues to rant against former bosses. Layoff victims who communicate mistreatment can leave surviving workers anticipating even worse treatment.

Despite their anger, people out of work for a long time who are losing their houses, their spouses, and suffering severe hardship would go back to their old employer, said Tony Petrucci, an assistant professor and managing partner at Gravitas LLC, an executive and board search firm.

“People are saying, ‘I may not like this employer because of how [it] handled my layoff. I’m angry. But I would consider going back to work with them.’ It’s a state of desperation.”

Software grant worth millions

The University of Louisville’s J.B. Speed School of Engineering has received an in-kind grant of software that has a commercial value of $427 million, the school announced.

The Siemens PLM software will allow students to use and benefit from the same technology that a wide variety of global industries use to develop their products. Using the product lifecycle management software throughout the curriculum should enable students to increase their capabilities through learning how design, simulation, tooling, manufacturing and disposal are interdependent.

The products are for computer-aided design, manufacturing and engineering; digital lifecycle management; and digital manufacturing. Siemens PLM Software also has partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California at Berkeley, Virginia Tech and Auburn University to help with automotive, aerospace, machinery, shipbuilding and high-tech electronics.

BOOK OF THE MONTH: We mean employees, too

Author details useful narratives and how-to points to develop your own
Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives that Captivate, Convince and InspirePaul Smith has a message for business leaders, managers and employees trying to get things done: You folks can’t tell a story, and PowerPoint slides put your audience to sleep.

So the director of consumer and communications research at the Procter & Gamble Co. wrote Lead with a Story to tell the tale. The tome includes more than 100 ready-to-use narratives organized by 21 tough and different business strategies. You can use the stories to set goals and build commitment, define customer service success and failure, inspire innovation and empower others.

Successful companies in every sector – such as Nike, National Car Rental, 3M and Kimberly-Clark – have embraced the art of storytelling. In fact, Smith’s company hired Hollywood movie directors to teach top executives techniques for telling a story. He offers readers a simple structure for a good business story along with chapters that cover six elements essential for turning a good story into a great one: metaphors, emotion, realism, surprise, style and how to recast your audience into the story.

“Experience is the best teacher,” Smith said. “A compelling story is a close second.”

Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives that Captivate, Convince and Inspire is published by AMACOM ($24.95).


Better-tuned nanowires

Industrial engineer's manufacturing technique could unlock electrical properties
A Purdue University industrial engineer is using a new manufacturing technique to alter nanowires for electronic components.

QUOTE, UNQUOTE: A cultural experience

"It’s important for them to see German culture and know what we are all about. Many Americans think all of Germany is sauerkraut and sausage. We’re much more than just Bavaria. Where I’m from, it’s very flat. It’s like over here, Minnesota is different from Tennessee. It will help to see how we do business and then bring that back to the other people who will work here in St. Cloud."
— Klaus Pentek, lean coordinator and industrial engineer for Geringhoff, quoted Sept. 15 in The St. Cloud Times on the German company’s plans to open a factory in St. Cloud, Minn. The agricultural equipment company will hire senior managers in the U.S. and take them to Germany for training.

Associate professor Gary Cheng’s “nano machine shop” uses the new method, called laser shock-induced shaping, to tune nanowires by altering electrical and optoelectrical properties that are critical for electronic components. Possible applications include high-speed electronics and solar cells. The reworked filaments – 1,000 times thinner than a human hair – also could be stronger and possess unusual traits such as ultrahigh magnetism and “plasmonic resonance,” which could lead to improved optics, computers and electronics.

Cheng and the doctoral students he is working with used their technique to stamp nano- and microgears; form tiny circular shapes out of a material called graphene, an ultrathin sheet of carbon that holds promise for advanced technologies; and change the shape of silver nanowires, he said.

Their research also has shown how laser shock-induced shaping can change the properties of graphene, a move toward harnessing the material for electronic applications.

“The process could be scaled up for an industrial roll-to-roll manufacturing process by changing laser beam size and scanning speed,” Cheng said. “The laser shock-induced shaping approach is fast and low-cost.”

Stats resurrect train service

Borough mayor presented his data to authorities
Stats resurrect train serviceA retired industrial engineer used his data-gathering skills to help convince the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) to reinstate weekend flag stops at the train station in New Britain Borough.

Borough Mayor David Holewinski said he heard from plenty of residents after SEPTA dropped weekend train service in November 2011.

So, according to the Doylestown-Buckingham-New Britain Patch, Holewinski timed how long it took travelers to get on and off the train in New Britain. A flag stop, where trains stop to pick up passengers who are visible and discharge passengers who signal for a stop, takes 47 seconds for one traveler, he said. Each additional traveler adds only 12 seconds. What’s more, the time allotted for New Britain’s scheduled stop during the week was less or the same as on weekends.

He showed those figures to SEPTA officials to show that stopping in New Britain wasn’t too expensive.

“How can they say it would be more expensive when travel times are the same or less? Well, the logic behind it wasn’t there,” Holewinski said.

New Britain has a number of aging residents who depend more on mass transit, Holewinski told the online newspaper.

No deaths here

Digital billboards are one of many manufacturing success stories
In the media hue and cry over the “death” of U.S. manufacturing stand numerous success stories.An employee at Daktronics manufactures digital billboards. 

According to the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. still has about 12 million workers in manufacturing that support a total of 17 million jobs and produce about $1.7 trillion in economic value each year – 11.7 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. U.S. factories still produce about 75 percent of everything consumed in the country.

And one sector – the digital billboard industry – has grown from zero to 100 mph in about 10 years.

The industry reached $6.4 billion by 2011 and grew 4.4 percent in the first half of this year, according to industry spokesman Bill Turenne. The country has an estimated 400,000 billboards, but only 3,600 are digital, leaving plenty of room for growth.

Watchfire Signs recently broke ground in Danville, Ill., to add 110,000 square feet of manufacturing space and 17,000 square feet of office space. Formetco plans to add 40,000 square feet to its production facility in Duluth, Ga. Daktronics of South Dakota is expanding to reduce lead-times and meet increasing U.S. and world demand. And YESCO has added 22 percent more jobs over the past 12 months.

Billboards are light years past the old days, when they were painted, said Turrene, vice president of BGR Public Relations. Paint gave way to printed paper and vinyl billboards that were changed by hand. High-tech LED digital billboards feature color static images that typically last for six to eight seconds before being changed by computer.