Showing posts with label Manufacturing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Manufacturing. Show all posts

April 12, 2019

Gotta Love FANUC


I love FANUC industrial robots. 

They are made by a secretive company in Japan and they are #1 in workplace automation worldwide! 

They have over half a million installed industrial robots around the world.

Their robots are on assembly lines making everything from "cars and smartphones to beverages and drugs."  They also are in Tesla and Amazon...so you know they are pretty much everywhere. 

FANUC has customers in 108 countries supported by 263 service locations. 

Their robots are made by...that's right other robots...80% is automated

These robots are strong, fast, and precise, and they can do dangerous work. 

This company is the future of jobs, productivity, efficiency. 

But of course, people are still the brains behind the brawn.  ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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November 8, 2016

Hold On To Your Jobs

These statistics are dismal for manufacturing in the U.S. 

Today, public sector (government) employment is 22.2 million vs. just 12.2 million manufacturing jobs. 

In other words, there are 10 million or 80% more people employed by the government than making things in this country. 

This is the complete opposite from 1979 when government employed 16 million people and manufacturing had 19.6 million workers.

So just 37 years ago, manufacturing employment was 22% more than our public sector employment.

Manufacturing lost 37% of it jobs, while government grew 39%.

It hasn't been since 1989 that there was parity at 18 million between the two sectors. 

Lest you think that the loss in manufacturing jobs is due to automation and technology, the Economic Policy Institute states unequivocally:

"Trade, not productivity, is the culprit."

In the U.S. the annual trade deficit is over half a trillion dollars--we are hemorrhaging and no one has been even trying to stop the bleeding.  

If we send all our manufacturing prowess and capacity abroad eventually we are not only going to lose our capability to make things, our ingenuity to invent things, but our finances to pay for anything. 

Trade is a great thing when it is mutual and equal, not when it is one-sided and damaging to our economy and jobs. 

Bad political decisions mean a poorer future for our economy and our nation. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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May 23, 2016

All American Chair

Got to love this all American chair. 

Red, white, and blue. 

And stars and stripes everywhere. 

The only thing that I seriously wonder about is whether this chair was manufactured in the U.S. 

With the U.S. losing 35% of it's manufacturing employment between 1998 and 2010 (from 17.6M to 11.5M), due in large part to outsourcing, there is a good chance this chair was made overseas. 

Now manufacturing makes up less than 9% of total U.S. employment

Also noteworthy is the loss of 51,000 manufacturing plants or 12.5% between 1998-2008.  


Manufacturing are agriculture are strategic capabilities for this country and any country. 

It's not just what you know, but what you make!

Sure we can make things faster and easier with automation, but at this point there is a serious skills shortage (with millions of jobs going unfilled), and we need to safeguard the strategic knowledge, skills, capability, and capacity to make things vital to our thriving existence.

We need to be a more self-sufficient nation again and not a one-trick service pony. 

We need to use information to be better innovators, creators, developers, and builders. 

Information is great, but you can't live by information alone. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

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December 18, 2015

You're Getting Milked

If you have a pulse and have been to the stores or even shopping online lately (hey, it's the holidays so of course you have), you know that prices are on the rise.

And this is amazing, because--

Major factors point to pricing that should be driven down:

- Commodities--which are the basic raw materials from agriculture to oil and gas and metals and mining--are at a more than 16-year low!

- Manufacturing has moved to low cost sourcing countries (China, India, Vietnam, Africa, etc.)

- Technology continues to benefit us in terms of cost-efficiencies from the transformation to robotics and automation.

Yet, we keep on seeing prices move ever higher:

Just a few examples...

- "Housing market is on fire" with existing home prices exceeding the pre-recession peak!

- "Car prices at records highs - and rising"

- "Food prices are sky high"--it's not your imagination.

- Fashion "prices rising so fast"

- Health care spending is "again accelerating"

- "College costs are so high and rising."

Forget the B.S. of the basket of inflation stats your being feed...you know that your bills are going up, while your income is stagnant.

The real question is why is the middle class always getting milked--whose interest does it serve? ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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November 2, 2015

A Feel Good But Deeply Ailing U.S. Economy

Get comfortable with your salary, because it isn't going anywhere positive--payrolls are stagnant!

The Wall Street Journal reports that wages since the recession "have grown slowly, advancing at a pace of about 2% annually" for a total of 12% since 2009.

In contrast, in the 20 years prior to the recession, wages "grew on average better than 3% annually"--that's 50% more increase per year!

Sure some of the increase is now coming in the form of benefits growth, such as time off, subsidized commuting costs, and health insurance premiums, but workers still need to be able to pay their bills. 

For the federal workforce, things have even been worse with pay raises of "just 2% [total] over the last five years" and a proposed 1.3% (with locality pay) for 2016.

Is it surprising then the innovation--one of our greatest strengths--is also drastically slowing in the United States. We are not rewarding risk with reward like we used to--and that changes the whole innovation equation!

Also no surprise then that mergers and acquisition are booming as the key to corporate growth as well as cost-savings through economies of scale are seen as one of the only ways to wring out profit growth in companies bottom lines.

All in all:

While inflation is up an average of 2.13 over the same 10-year period.

- This leaves the average household more than 6% worse off then they were a decade ago...that's a lot of time to be working and getting negative returns on your investment of time and effort.

Combine this with:


Manufacturing down to only 9% of jobs in the U.S. economy

- The country's ongoing spending binge--a national debt that has doubled over 8 years from around $10 trillion to almost $20 trillion by 2017 and interest payments about to take off with rising interest rates.

- Throw in a arms-race with China and Russia and the aging Baby Boomers setting up the economy for dramatic increases in Social Security and Medicare

And the "fun" NOT is only just beginning. ;-)

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September 14, 2015

The Unbelievable Stupidity Of Raising Interest Rates

Interest rates have been near zero since the recession of 2008.

That supposedly to stimulate the economy. 

However, aside from a stock market bubble again, not sure we have a much stimulated economy.

We have a false low on the unemployment rate, while the the true percentage of the labor force working is the lowest in almost 40 years!

Moreover, manufacturing is down almost 40% from the 1979 peak with a loss of over 7.2M jobs

Commodities are at firesale prices as demand is sluggish and there is short-term oversupply. 

And innovation is facing a global slowdown

So people are out of work, we're not making things, demand is depressing prices, and even ideas are few and far between--not too rosy a picture, regardless of what some politicians may have you believe. 

Let's not forget that we have an over $18 trillion federal debt, and this is projected to grow ever greater as we borrow to fund social entitlements such as social security, medicare, etc. 

In this scenario, why would the Federal Reserve ever want to raise interest rates?

Well, if they don't raise rates, then they can't lower them later again when the economy really stalls out and goes into deep recession. 

Hence, this is seen as a tool for their financial toolkit--and if there are no tools with which to manipulate the economy, then there is no need for a (neutered) Federal Reserve. 

But think for a second what happens when the Fed raises rates, it's going to slow the economy even further than the chug chug chug economy that we are already dealing with. 

Maybe even more important, it will raise the amount of interest payments we must folk over on the trillions of dollars of debt we owe.  

Simply put, when we raise interest rates, we pay more interest on our already astronomically high national debt, and this pushes our national deficit up even higher as we borrow more to pay the interest on the previous debt. 

If you did this with your credit cards, you'd probably be looking at the equivalent of debtor's prison sooner or later. 

Rather than feed the Fed's toolbox with interest rate bumps and drops, why not keep rates low as long as they can stay low, reducing our interest payments, and curtailing our national deficit and debt. 

What about the stock bubble...that's a lesson investors will be learning about in their own good time--it's the stock market, stupid. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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August 1, 2015

Nothing Is Something AND Something Is Nothing


So the world financial markets continue to go haywire. 

The Uber glorified taxi service and app (with an almost half billion dollar operating loss) is now valued at--get this--over $50,000,000,000!

And commodities--you know the precious materials that REAL things are made off (gold, silver, copper, aluminum, oil, gas, coal, wheat, cotton, corn, soybeans, cotton, cocoa, coffee, sugar, beef, and more) hit a 13 year low. 

When the nothings of this world like a basic cab service become invaluable and the real things that power our homes, technology, transportation, and manufacturing become valueless--then we know a day of painful financial reckoning is coming. 

The markets can stand on their head for only so long before the blood rushes in and people become dizzy and see spots.

A reversion to the mean is the one something here that is inevitable, along with a pretty decent recession to boot. ;-)

(Source Photos: Andy Blumenthal)
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March 25, 2015

The Geometric Desk

Thought this desk was really nice. 

Professional, clean, hardwood, and very polished!

Not overly large, but I  liked the geometry of this thing, which made up for it.

The square draws on one side and the inverted cone on the other--very cool.

Great design, and seemingly good quality for home or office. 

Made in America? That would be especially nice (let's bring the manufacturing home!)  ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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August 9, 2014

Robots, Who's Telling Whom What To Do

There was an interesting quote about jobs of the future by Tom Preston-Werner in Bloomberg Businessweek:

"In the future, there's potentially two types of jobs: where you tell a machine what to do, programming a computer, or a machine is going to tell you what to do. You're either the one that creates the automation or you're going to get automated."

Already, we've seen manufacturing get outsourced by the millions of job to cheaper labor oversees or automated in factories by machines and robotics.

Similarly, agriculture has seen a large decrease in small family-owned farms, in lieu of mega farms run by multinationals and run by automated farm equipment with GPS and drones. 

The military is moving quickly to warfare by drones, robotics, and people geared-up in high-tech exoskeletons. 

Now in the sacrosanct service sector, where it has been said that it could never be done by anyone by local people within their communities, services are moving in the direction of robots. 

Perhaps we can ask if even in government, can there be a future where robots can govern better than we can--and get things done speedily and efficiently!

In one Sci fi hit after another, from Star Trek to Battlestar Galactica to Terminator, a future of humanity embattled by cyborgs predominates. 

Like in the show, Lost in Space, where the robot in wont to say, "Crush, Kill, Destroy," perhaps we can understand this as not jsut a physical threat as people's lives, but also to their ability to earn a living in a world where automation challenges us with the children reframe:

"Everything you can do, I can do better. I can do everything better than you. Yes you can, no you can't..."

At this point, I am not sure it is really a debate anymore, and that Preston-Werner is predominantly right...technology is the future--whether we are end up being eaten alive by it or are its earthly masters. ;-)
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January 17, 2014

China's Dangerous Socioeconomic Malaise

Fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal today on China's "Left Behind Kids."

While we hear about China as the rising Asian economic powerhouse, we do not often contemplate the socioeconomic impact of what is occurring there on Chinese families. 

As China rises to economic superpower status, more than 250 million migrant workers pour from the poor rural parts of China to the cities to supply the  relatively cheap labor to keep manufacturing humming and the economy brimming with growth.

Those left behind are 61 million Chinese children, who are growing up without one or both parents. 

One in five Chinese children haven't seen their parent(s) for at least 3 months.

But laws in China prevent children from coming to the cities with their parents in order to stem the flow of migration from rural areas. 

Chinese parents are saying, "We'll go wherever we can get the highest pay,"

Children are saying, "What's the big deal of having no mother anyway? I can grow up without a mom."

So while smog and pollution is spoiling beautiful China cities and harming people's physical health, the greater concern is that children are missing out on the loving, bonding, caring, and guidance that comes with a regular parental presence and good sound parenting from them. 

Understanding that strong parent-child relationships are critical to the formation of mental, emotional, and spiritual health of the children, the numbers and severity of Chinese children that are missing out on this is of great concern. 

While some children may be okay under the care of able grandparents along with regular visits or calls by parents, many others children, who don't have this, could end up having serious mental and emotional problems.

Already "more than 70% of children in rural China show signs of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression."

And as is often the case, anxiety and depression turn into resentment and anger.

With tens of millions of left behind children being forced to fend for themselves and hundreds of millions of migrant parents living in "dormitories, tents, or bomb shelters" away from their families and homes, what we have here is a bonafide socioeconomic ticking time bomb. 

Political pundits often point to the concern of China's power elite that the people will rise up against them and the Communist Party,
but I think the far bigger concern is to those outside of the system altogether. 

In my mind, the destruction of the core family will ultimately result in a tsunami of frustration, anger, and a weakening of social values.

Moreover, this  could very well spillover and lead to a dangerous rise of militancy, where people do not want to lash out against their political system or leadership, but rather against everyone else who took the goods that left them economically richer, but poorer in just about every other way. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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May 11, 2013

Factory Floor Servitude

As a kid, I was all too familiar with factory settings--my dad worked in one. 

Dad is an incredibly persistent hard worker who went to the factory every day--tuna sandwich in tow--worked hard and was the voice of reason in advancing the business--and worked his way up to manage the place.  My dad is a modern-day success story!


He worked in everything figuring out how to design products, make them, sell them, and ensure the business stayed afloat. A lot of people depended on him in the factory to keep production humming, put bread on their tables, and most importantly to be treated fairly and like human beings. 


My dad never became arrogant as he advanced himself, he always believed that we only have what the Almighty above grants to us. 


What a contrast between the way my dad managed a factory and the decrepit working conditions that led to the factory collapse two weeks ago in Bangladesh that has now left at least 1,038 dead. 


The collapse has raised ethical questions again about the horrific working conditions in factories overseas--where low wages and hazardous conditions is the rule--low wages lead to growing outsourcing and hence, a $18 billion garment industry in Bangladesh that has tripled in size between 2005 and 2010 and is expected to triple again by 2020. 


The average monthly pay in 2009--$47!


By 2010, Bangladesh had 5,000 garment factories--2nd only to China.


Now most of the factories are gone from the U.S. moving overseas to the cheapest providers, with jobs in manufacturing decreasing almost in half from nearly 20 million in the U.S. in 1979 to less than 12 million in 2010.


Bloomberg BusinessWeek (9 May 2010) chronicles the ten years of stagnant wages and horrible working conditions there--verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical punishment and humiliations for not meeting quotas (like having to forcibly stand on tables for hours and undress in front of workers), rare bathroom breaks to filthy and overflowing toilets, and much more. 


When the Savar building developed cracks on April 23, one man begged his wife not to go to work the next day, but when she called in and asked for the day off, she was told she would be docked a whole months salary if she didn't show up--she went to work and the building collapsed on April 24--leaving her buried under the rubble. Eventually, when the rescuers could not free her, they chopped off her legs!


Cheap labor means cheap goods--that's a draw for us getting more branded goods for less. In a large sense, our insatiable demand fuels the cruel, servile conditions overseas. 


This is also a broken market, where people sell their labor just to provide subsistence living for their families, while big corporations increase profits, investors smile all the way to the bank, and we get our boatloads of stuff cheap, cheap, cheap. 


There is nothing wrong with making money or saving money--it's an incentive-based system, but the only measure of success is not money. 


We need global standards of ethical conduct in the labor market, and this should be part of every organization's financial reporting, disclosure, and audit requirements.


People and organizations should not just be penalized for cooking the books or insider-trading, but for how they treat their people. 


Those organizations and leaders that balance making money with treating people decently have a leg up on those that don't--not that they will necessarily do better in the marketplace (maybe they won't), but that they make their money with their integrity intact and that's something money cannot buy. ;-)


(Source Photo: here with attribution to Ronn "Blue" Aldaman)



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November 23, 2012

Here, There, Made Where?

With so much of U.S. manufacturing activity going abroad, it is almost hard to believe that there is still a store in Elma, N.Y. called “Made in America.” According to the Wall Street Journal (23 November 2012), it’s true.

The store is 6,000 square feet and has sales of about a million dollars a year.

And as their name says, they only sell goods that are completely made in the U.S. of A.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to find lots of items there.
Forget literally anything electronic or that runs on a battery. It doesn’t exist.

Fashion clothes, also - go somewhere else.

Even if you are looking for a simple electric can opener, this won’t be the place.

How about some tea bags - Made In America has found that while there is still some tea made here, the bags aren’t. So it’s no longer stocked there.

However, if you are looking for simple things like socks, candy and greeting cards - this store may be the place for you.

Reflecting on this, I remember hearing Joel Osteen speak about how with pride, every country labels their goods, “Made In...” (wherever).

Osteen compared it to us human beings, the children of G-d, and how he imagined that even we have a label, or mark, on each of us, that we are made by our Great Creator.

Osteen said that it doesn’t matter how we look on the outside, that our Creator takes great pride in each of us - in what’s inside.

On one hand, it is deeply troubling that there are less and less “things” that we can label “Made in America.” However, perhaps we can still take pride, as G-d does, that what’s on the inside of us as a nation is what is truly valuable and inspiring to the rest of the world.

While high tech and hot fashion is no longer necessarily made here, the dream of human rights, democracy, freedom and creativity for all is still very much our own.

We still have that label - those values are “Made in America” and we’re lucky to have them.


That said, let’s get our American manufacturing engines working again, so we can compete effectively in the global marketplace, not just on ideas, but on hard products as well. ;-)

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Hollywood PR)

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October 1, 2012

Prefabricated Skyscrapers

Eleven years after the 9/11 destruction of the World Trade Centers, we are still waiting for the new Freedom Tower to go up.


Yes, there were political disputes on what type of building and memorial would be erected, what security features would be included, what the insurance would pay, and so on.

But then there is also just the shear length of time it still takes us to build a building—a skyscraper, but also other smaller and simpler structures too.

Wired Magazine (October 2012) is reporting on a new method for building construction coming out of China.

Unfortunately, China has been known for some time for unsafe building practices—perhaps doing things on the cheap and then paying for it in terms of consequences later.

Yet, this new technique promises to increase safety, as well as speed, while lowering costs.

If you are willing to give up some building pizzazz, then Broad Sustainable Building is perfecting the prefabricated skyscraper—and these have tested “earthquake-proof” for a 9.0 quake, cost only $1,000 per square foot (versus $1,400 normally)—a 40% savings, and a 30 story building can be built in just 15 days!

Now, Broad says that they even want to erect a 220 story mega skyscraper in 6 months—by March 2013.

Here’s how they do it:

  • Identical modules—each section is prebuilt in identical modules in the factor.
  • Preinstalled fixtures—Pipes and ducts are threaded through each module in the factory for AC, hot and cold water, and waste.
  • Standardized truckloads —with two stacked pallets, each pallet has everything needed to erect a section including wall panels, columns, ducts, bolts, and tools.
  • Lego-style assembly—sections are lifted by crane and installed quickly in snap-like fashion, including pipes and wires.
  • Slotted exterior—heavily insulated walls and windows are hoisted by crane and slotted into the exterior of the building.

Aside from a standardized, consistent, high quality building—it is energy efficient, generates less than 1% the construction waste, and is safer to construct.

As with the rest of the industrial age, this is just the first step in mass producing—in this case buildings—and like the Ford Model T, which came in only one color black and evolved to meet consumer tastes and needs, these building will soon come in all sorts of shapes and sizes but at a fraction of the cost and the time to build.

This is enterprise architecture applied to building architecture making use of modular design and construction, standardization, and consolidated engineering, manufacturing, and assembly to develop next generation products. 

(Source Photo: Minna Blumenthal)

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September 24, 2012

Baxter Disappoints


This new robot named Baxter, by Rethink Robots, is practically being touted as the greatest thing since Swiss cheese--"allowing our people to use their minds more than their hands"--but this demonstration video shows a clumsy and awkward robot instead. 

Bloomberg BusinessWeek (18 September 2012) actually calls it a "huge disappointment" and I've got to agree.

The product manager in video calls Baxter--developed with $62 million over 5 years--"easy," "complaint," and "collaborative," but unfortunately Baxter, the robot, comes off looking anything but as he slowly and laboriously tries to pick up and move items from one location to another, and the product manager pulls his arms and pocks at his screen/face to program it.

While I am a huge fan of robotics and see their potential to transform our society--where robots can becomes surrogates for humans in everything from work to even odd companionship, I do not see the breakthrough here by Rethink Robots--except in the affordability of this robot to be used in manufacturing for only $22,000 a unit. 

What I do like about Baxter is that it is generally a good-looking device--with a solid looking grey base and long 9 foot wingspan red stretch arms.  I even sort of like the eyes and brows giving it a humanoid nature, but the quirky and flimsy looking red screen hanging off the main body looks chinsy. 

Also, if the robot is so "friendly," you'd almost expect it to be on wheels and mobile with the ability to speak, so that it could more genuinely interact with others, but it does not.  

Baxter is the brainchild of one of the pioneers of the Roomba vacuum--another toyish device that I wouldn't spend a dime on. 

Maybe, the way to look at it is that we need to take baby steps before we get the real iRobots coming to us--and hopefully that day will come soon.

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February 19, 2012

The Soul of A Shoe

I took these photos today of a cross section of a shoe. 

I was surprised that this was all there was to it. 

So what costs $140???

A little cowhide on the outside, a little cushion on the inside, and a some rubber sole on the bottom. 

Add some eyelets and laces, and some stitching to hold it all together. 

While there are certainly lots of styles, colors, and sizes out there, most are sort of commoditized, boring, and non high-tech.

Where are those jet-powered rocket shoes they promised when I was a kid.

Come on Nike--"just do it."



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October 2, 2011

Robots Are Not Just For Fighting

"The AlphaDog Proto is a lab prototype for the Legged Squad Support System [LS3], a robot being developed by Boston Dynamics with funding from DARPA and the US Marine Corps. When fully developed the system will carry 400 lbs of payload on 20-mile missions in rough terrain. The first version of the complete robot will be completed in 2012."

According to Boston Dynamics, AlphaDog will follow a leader with computer vision or travel via GPS to designated locations.

The video shows a truly amazing display of the robot galloping, traversing obstacles, recovering from being pushed, and even rolling over and getting up from a supine position.

AlphaDog is designed as a true workhorse and resembles something more out of a Mad Max movie than what you would think of as supporting our next generation war fighters. Note: I'll take a flying hovercraft with pinpoint fire laser ray beams over a 4-legged robot workhorse any day! :-)

But with the array of sensors and weapons supported by drones flying overhead and robotics sentries on the ground, and 4-legged robots ferrying supplies to the front lines, the battlefield is quickly changing to man and machine fighting side by side, and maybe one day machines fighting in lieu of people.

While MIT Technology Review states "This is just what soldiers need," I'm interested in seeing future applications of these robots not just for the military, but also in terms of how they will change areas such as law enforcement, fire and rescue, construction, assembly-line production, transportation, medicine, service industries, and more.

Robots are not just for fighting, although it looks like AlphaDog could give anyone a good kick in the teeth and keep on lugging its load.

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February 2, 2011

Half Man, Half Machine


I continue with my infatuation with everything robotics.
Here, the new Second Generation Exoskeleton Robotic Suit, the XOS 2, from Raytheon (Note: this is not a vendor endorsement)
Life imitating art--these robotic suits have been a favorite in Iron Man and the movie Alien.
I can't forget the scene in Alien when Sigourney Weaver puts on the robotic suit to fight the alien on the shuttle and blasts the alien into deep space.
In only 3-5 years, our military men and women will be wearing these and fighting with super-human capabilities.
The big hang-up with these right now is that they are tethered to a power supply, which limits mobility, but as the video explains, untethered versions will be coming soon.
I can envision commercial versions of these being worn in construction, manufacturing, warehousing--making work easier for people, decreasing job-related injuries and raising productivity.
I can also foresee theme parks where kids (and adults) prance around in mini-versions of these robotic suits and pretend they are superheros.
I also imagine these will make it into law enforcement, fire and rescue, and other emergency management functions where keeping the peace or saving lives can be enabled by robots and exoskeletons too.

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January 2, 2011

The Robots Are Coming

Forget waiters and waitresses, the new Japanese Hajime Robot restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand invested almost $1 million on 4 robotic waitstaff.

You order your food by touch screen computer, and there is a countdown on the screen for when the food is ready and the robot brings it out to you.

While the samurai clad robots are not the best looking—their huge eyes are a little cartoonish—they are certainly quite dexterous and able as they nimbly serve the food in this restaurant and dance for the customers in between courses without missing a beat.

Initially automation affected the jobs of blue-collar workers in manufacturing and mechanical work as robots displaced people on the “assembly line.” Now we see the trend continuing and expanding with automation entering the service industry and jobs involving customer interaction, entertainment, and retail being affected. This is happening not only in restaurants, but also elder care (like robot uBot5 being developed out of University of Massachusetts), and in major retail establishments such as in warehouse automation with Kiva Systems robots being employed by major companies like Gap, Staples, and Zappos.

Further, the expansion of robots into traditional human work is also happening in our military—think Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or Drones) like the Predators and Reapers, the robotics pack animals that can carry hundreds of pounds of gear (like Big Dog) and various bomb disposal robots. This is just the beginning.

We are witnessing the transformation of our workforce from traditional blue- and now even white-collar jobs to those with an emphasis on knowledge management (think engineers and technology professionals working at companies like iRobot, Intel, and Apple). This has obvious implications for selection of education pursuits and availability of professional opportunities in the future for our children and grandchildren.

The robots are coming. The robots ARE coming!


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June 13, 2008

What Goes Around Comes Around and Enterprise Architecture

As an enterprise architect, I have always wondered about the trend of outsourcing our manufacturing jobs out of country-- where as a nation we erode our manufacturing base and ship this capability to China, India, Mexico, and other countries where labor is plentiful and cheap.

Yes, in the short term we are taking advantage of the lower costs of manufacturing in other countries, but long term, I always questioned the viability of this strategy thinking that surely every nation needs to maintain a core of critical manufacturing and service capabilities and infrastructure to guarantee self-sufficiency, protect itself from eventual global disruptions, and ensure the continuity of its existence.

I believe that some day (and maybe relatively soon), we will regret the near-sightedness of our decisions to move production abroad for the sake of the dollar today.

Interestingly enough, I read in the Wall Street Journal today, 13 June 2008, that “stung by soaring transport coasts, factories bring jobs home again.”

“The rising costs of shipping everything from industrial-pump parts to lawn mower batteries to living-room sofas is forcing some manufacturers to bring production back to North America and freeze plans to send even more work oversees.”

I thought to myself—Hallelujah!

No, I am not happy that oil prices are soaring and that inflation is looming everywhere, but I am cautiously relieved that perhaps, we as a nation will wake up in time to secure our economic interests at home and not send our entire manufacturing base and capabilities out of country.

Ironically (da!), the further we move our factories away, the more it costs now to ship the goods back home.

“The movement of factories to low-cost countries further and further away has been a bitter-sweet three-decade long story for the U.S. economy, knocking workers out of good-paying manufacturing jobs even as it drove down the price of goods for consumers. But after exploding over the past 10 years that march has been slowing. The cost of shipping a standard 40-foot container from Asia to the East Coast has already tripled since 2000 and will double again as oil prices head toward $200 a barrel…In the world of triple-digit oil prices, distance costs money.”

The other thought that always kept coming to mind was that as we continue to move manufacturing abroad, the increasing demand for labor would drive the cost of labor up, and eat away at the cost differential making the overseas move a moot point.

Again, I read today in the Journal the story I always felt was bound to be told and to continue to unfold: “The cost of doing business in China in particular has grown steadily as workers there demand higher wages and the government enforces tougher environmental and other controls. China’s currency has also appreciated against the dollar…increasing the cost of products in the U.S.”

One problem with trying to bring the jobs back home…

“Much of the basic infrastructure needed to support many industries—such as suppliers who specialize in producing parts or repairing machines—has dwindled or disappeared.”

What goes around, comes around. The jobs (some) are coming home (although net-net, we’re still losing manufacturing jobs). As a country, we‘ve benefited in the short-term from outsourcing, but in the long-term, I believe we’ll have done ourselves a good deal of harm.

Does this sound unfamiliar?

Think national deficit—big time. Think gargantuan problems with social security, Medicare, health care, and so on.

All too often, we behave with short-sightedness and like infants, the desire for immediate gratification. But as enterprise architects, I believe we need to think long term and often defer gratification for long-term competitiveness, self-sufficiency, and survival.


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