American manufacturers are facing increased global competition, particularly from countries where labor costs are much lower than those in the United States. The advent of competition from low labor wage societies in global manufacturing has made it increasingly difficult for domestic manufacturers to compete in the marketplace. Continued growth of manufacturing in countries with low wage structures will be accompanied with the loss of domestic manufacturing jobs and capabilities unless it is possible to develop ways to compete successfully. New technologies that improve manufacturing cost competitiveness - including those that increase productivity and reduce energy consumption - will help meet this challenge.
In 2005, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) initiated a cost-shared project entitled "Robotically Enhanced Advanced Manufacturing Concepts to Optimize Energy, Productivity, and Environmental Performance" at the Timken Company. This project seeks to construct an advanced, small-lot-size manufacturing line for the production of anti-friction bearing races. As originally envisioned, lightweight gantry robots tend the processes, reducing manual repetitive labor and enabling the implementation of induction heating concepts that can be used on demand, unlike conventional gas and electric furnaces. This results in significant productivity gains as well as energy savings. These savings are the result of employing heat treating equipment only as needed.
As part of this overall project, a commitment was made to host a workshop focused on identifying ways of furthering the development of robots and/or other manufacturing process equipment that reduce manufacturing costs and energy use. The output of the workshop will be a roadmap to be used by industry and DOE in advancing industrial robotic applications. Energy Industries of Ohio (EIO) is assisting in planning and conducting this workshop. Energetics Incorporated will provide facilitation for the workshop and prepare the overall documentation for the effort.
Technology Workshop Approach
Over the past ten years, the DOE has used technology roadmaps and related planning documents as tools to help technology-rich industries and companies operate more efficiently and effectively in competitive markets. These organizations understand the critical role of technology in their future success, yet they also recognize the pressures of competition. The planning process is aimed at aligning technology development with strategic business goals and prioritizing activities according to their ability to contribute to these goals.
Energetics has been a critical part of these efforts, conducting workshops that have developed more than 100 technology planning documents for a diverse range of industries. Over has learned that there is no single "right" approach for conducting technology planning. Each effort must reflect the character of the industry, including its size and diversity, markets, suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders. Our typical process includes a professionally facilitated workshop in which senior-level technology leaders gather to identify the research and development challenges and priorities for achieving a desired future in the manufacturing industry of tomorrow. The results of this Workshop will be used to create a Robotics in Manufacturing Technology Roadmap that provides a clear, strategic approach for industry and DOE to follow in years to come.
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