Manufacturing appears to be cruising economically with the first quarter of 2017 in the books.
Manufacturing economic growth eased slightly in March but remained strong and widespread, the Institute for Supply Management (Tempe, AZ) said on April 3.
The group’s PMI, which measures economic activity in manufacturing, fell to 57.2% in March, down from 57.7% the month before.
However, ISM also said that 17 of 18 manufacturing industries experienced economic growth. No industry reported economic contraction. All 18 saw increases in new orders. The group’s manufacturing employment index surged, reaching its highest level in almost six years.
The March report “indicates a need for more employees to keep up with this series of new orders,” Bradley Holcomb, chair of ISM’s Manufacturing Business Survey Committee, told reporters.
March was the seventh consecutive month of economic expansion for manufacturing.
The ISM report is based on a survey of 350 purchasing and supply executives. A reading above 50% indicates expansion and below 50% contraction.
The group’s New Orders Index fell to 64.5% in March from 65.1% in February. The Production Index decreased to 57.6% from 62.9% in February. ISM’s Employment Index advanced to 58.9% from 54.2% the month before. The March level was the highest since June 2011, when it was 61.3%.
With the production index, 17 industries reported an increase in output, including miscellaneous manufacturing, fabricated metal products and petroleum and coal products. No industry had a decrease in production.
ISM said 14 industries reported job gains in March, including primary metals, machinery, transportation equipment, fabricated metal products and miscellaneous manufacturing. Three industries reported job losses, including petroleum and coal products.
Through March, US light-vehicle sales declined, but only slightly compared with a year earlier.
Deliveries declined 1.5% to 4.03 million for the period, according to Autodata Corp. (Mahwah, NJ).
The first-quarter figures are in line with forecasts for a slight fall in deliveries this year. Sales achieved a record 17.55 million in 2016.
The story for the start of 2017 was similar to 2016. Light-truck demand remains strong. Such sales rose 5.9% to 2.49 million for the quarter, according to Autodata.
Car sales, however, continue to slip. Deliveries of cars slid 11.5% to 1.54 million, Autodata said.
For much of the past two years, auto and aerospace have bolstered the manufacturing economy. Other manufacturing sectors may be starting to catch up, based on the ISM survey of purchasing executives. Still, automotive and aerospace will continue to be important to manufacturing in 2017.
—Senior Editor Bill Koenig
GE Sets Target of Selling 10,000 3D Printing Machines in 10 Years
General Electric Co. (Boston) intends to sell 10,000 3D printing machines in 10 years, building upon acquisitions it announced last year.
“It’s a big number,” Tim Warden, senior sales director of GE Additive, told a tour of people attending SME’s AeroDef Manufacturing show in March. “That’s why they’re investing heavily,” he said, referring to GE.
GE last year announced the acquisitions of Concept Laser (Lichtenfels, Germany) and Arcam AB (Mölndal, Sweden). The tour took place at Concept’s Grapevine, TX, facility, near the AeroDef show in Fort Worth.
GE controls Concept after agreeing in October to buy an initial 75% stake in the German company, with plans to acquire the rest over an undisclosed number of years. The Boston company turned to Concept Laser after a previously announced deal with SLM Solutions fell through.
The company estimates that it can expand additive manufacturing into a $10 billion business. GE owns more than 70% of Arcam but doesn’t have full control of the Swedish company.
For now, “We’re concentrating on Concept where we can do what we want to do,” Warden said. “We’re going to support Concept in every way possible.”
GE is looking to provide financing for customers of Concept 3D printing machines. “GE Finance is on board,” Warden said.
Concept is testing large, automated 3D printing production systems that can be customized for buyers. The idea is adapt 3D printing to large-scale production and go beyond prototypes.
GE wants to boost additive manufacturing across its aerospace, medical and oil and gas product lines. The company became involved with the technology when it developed a 3D-printed fuel nozzle for aircraft engines. Since then it had developed its Advanced Turboprop engine, which reduces the number of parts from 855 to 12.
—Senior Editor Bill Koenig
`Civilized Explosive Welding’ Discussed at Lightweighting Conference
Automakers, suppliers and researchers are reaching beyond the low-hanging fruit when it comes to making vehicles lighter.
For example, Ohio State University is studying “civilized explosive welding.” Essentially, a thunderbolt rams one material into another to create a welded joint.
The technology is intended as a way to join dissimilar materials and avoid corrosion. “It’s an early stage technology we’re committed to,” Glenn Daehn, professor of metallurgical engineering, said at the Lightweight Vehicle Manufacturing Summit in Detroit in late February.
Until the past decade, steel has dominated vehicle building. Automakers are under regulatory pressure to boost fuel efficiency to meet standards set during the Obama administration.
Making cars and light trucks lighter is part of the auto industry’s strategy. That means more multi-material vehicles and finding ways to join materials that don’t play nice together naturally.
Ohio State (Columbus, OH) is involved with developing the welding technology because “we want to be much more engaged in economic development,” Daehn said at a presentation at the conference.
“We think this is the best way to join advanced or dissimilar materials,” he said.
The technology is an offshoot of collision, or explosive, welding, which has been around for decades. Ohio State, at its Impulse Manufacturing Laboratory, is working on processes that don’t require explosives. Power is shot through a piece of aluminum, which vaporizes. The hot vapor sends one material into another. There is no heat distortion and the process uses less energy than other welding methods, Daehn said.
“The equipment can resemble spot welding,” he said. Materials have to be positioned “at the right angle,” Daehn said. “If you can succeed at this, you have good welds.”
Beyond specific technology, the conference emphasized the continuing pressure on the industry.
“We need to keep taking weight out and need to keep taking costs out,” said Michael Danyo, aluminum technology leader at Ford Motor Co. (Dearborn, MI). Ford has come out with aluminum body F-150 and Super Duty pickups, one of its major lightweighting efforts.
Automakers also need to adopt lightweighting technology that “allows you changes in the future,” said Pete Edwards, research and development lead for joining at Honda Engineering North America. “Do lightweighting so it doesn’t kill you.”
—Senior Editor Bill Koenig
Mitsui Seiki USA Names 2 New Top Executives
Mitsui Seiki USA Inc. (Franklin Lakes, NJ) said Scott Walker, long-time president, has accepted the position of chairman; Robb Hudson, former business and technology director, has been named chief executive officer; and William “Bill” Malanche, former executive vice president, has been appointed chief operating officer.
Mitsui Seiki USA Inc. is the North American subsidiary of Japan’s Mitsui Seiki Kogyo Co. Ltd.
Walker will assist the executive management team as duties change. Hudson, the new CEO, leads sales and marketing management functions and new and current product development. Malanche, the new COO, assumes all operational management responsibilities and will supervise engineering and technical support for pre- and post-sale activities.
A123 Systems Plans New Headquarters
A123 Systems LLC, a developer and maker of advanced lithium-ion batteries and systems, said it plans to build a new $40 million headquarters campus in Novi, MI.
The new complex will replace A123’s leased space in Livonia and Romulus, MI. A123 will also consolidate its US manufacturing to a smaller site on the new Novi campus, which will cut about 200 jobs.
“We are making a commitment to a continued significant presence in Michigan, in proximity to the skilled and experienced talent here,” Jason Forcier, the company’s chief executive officer, said in a statement. The new complex will become “our epicenter of engineering. It will allow us to grow our engineering workforce and bring testing inside, that has previously been done outside the company.”
Ford Testing Stratasys 3D Printer
Ford Motor Co. said it’s testing a Stratasys Ltd. 3D printer to produce large vehicle parts and tooling.
Ford (Dearborn, MI) said it’s using a Stratasys Infinite Build printer for the tests. Stratasys (Minneapolis and Rehovot, Israel) unveiled the machine last year at an August press briefing in Bloomington, MN, and the IMTS trade show in Chicago in September.
Ford said it’s looking at 3D printing, large parts such as spoilers as well as prototypes, tooling and other low-volume parts.
“We are now able to print large tools, fixtures and components, making us more nimble in design iterations,” Ellen Lee, Ford technical additive for additive manufacturing research, said in a statement.
The 3D printing system is at the automaker’s Research and Innovation Center.
Stratasys developed the Infinite Build printer with Ford and aircraft maker Boeing Co. (Chicago) as partners. The system is designed to build large thermoplastic parts.
The machine uses the Stratasys-developed FDM 3D-printing technology. Boeing has studied the technology to study making low volume, lightweight parts, according to Stratasys.
With 3D printing, parts are made directly from a digital design. Ford said 3D printing can be as a way to lighten parts to improve fuel efficiency. The company estimates a 3D-printed spoiler can way half of a cast-iron spoiler.
—Senior Editor Bill Koenig
Methods to Open New Center in North Carolina
Methods Machine Tools Inc. (Sudbury, MA) said it’s planning to open a new automation and integration center this spring in its Charlotte, NC, facility.
The center is being staffed by systems integration engineers and will expand the company’s existing automation program.
“Manufacturers are increasingly realizing that incorporating automation and robotics are key to their productivity, profitability, and future,” Bryon Deysher, president and CEO of Methods, said in a statement.