The Case for Change: Automation & IIoT

Manufacturing shop floor automation progression of technology - machine monitoringEmbracing manufacturing shop floor automation and the Internet of Things (IoT), or in our case, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), will help the American manufacturing sector as it tries to keep pace with the millions of MFG jobs that need filling. Implementing automation tactics such as machine monitoring, DNC software, job scheduling, CMMS, and more, does not intend to replace people who could do these jobs, but rather to make up for the fact that there is a sufficient skills gap in manufacturing. These tools also help to make the jobs of those who are still in this industry, or just entering it, more efficient and easy.

NIST (the National Institute of Standards for Technology) states “intelligent automation systems could make greater contributions to US manufacturing” and also provides many factors as to why automation, and yes, increasing Robot density level (Robots per ever 10,000 manufacturing workers) can benefit the Made in America movement. Especially considering that in 2008, we had 4.7 workers per every retiree in this country, but by 2050, it is projected to drop to 2.7 workers per retiree, which will no doubt effect the manufacturing sector.

An article from Information Week regarding the aging workforce encouraging the IoT movement states “small companies need technical support to implement new technologies.” Aside from Government measures such as the Manufacturing Extension Partnership and Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Commitees, there is also the significance placed on the willingness of businesses to take the leap to embrace new tech. The George Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute did a 2012 survey of Georgia manufacturers and while 24% of these shops said technical skills are an issue, 27% also said they were not willing to spend funds on employee training. Adding certain automation tools that are quick to learn could benefit both these issues, as they can often be more affordable than expected.

The benefits of IIoT towards lean manufacturing should also be considered. “Applying the industrial internet of things (IIoT) enables new means for removing waste,” says the ARC Advisory Group, responding to an inquiry from tech publication Ziff Davis. “For example, IIoT can be applied to equipment for condition monitoring and predictive maintenance. Maintenance is performed when needed rather than on a fixed time period, which can reduce maintenance costs by 50%.”

The bottom line here is that embracing IIoT and automation on manufacturing shop floors is just a natural progression of how this industry is changing. In the 1700s and 1800s, we had manual machines for manufacturing. The 1940s were when we were first introduced to NC (numeric control) machines, then we gained CNC (computer numeric control) machines. Each time these new innovations came around, it was likely a culture shock, but embracing these changes has made our industry what it is. It’s time to keep moving.

If you are interested in how automation and the IIoT can help your shop floor, we would love to help! Call (877) 611-5825 or contact us via one of our social media channels.

New Shop Floor Man Comics

SHOP FLOOR MAN comic Christmas Holidays 2016 Machine Monitoring MFG

Click comic for a larger view on Instagram

Shop Floor Man, our manufacturing comic book hero, has been on some new adventures since we last posted the Halloween strip here on our blog. Let’s see what other machinist hijinks he has gotten up to, since we last left off.

Since the holidays just passed us, it was natural that this time of year entered into Shop Floor Man’s realm. In this strip, we learned the real reason why machine monitoring was implemented into our cartoon protagonist’s shop. Santa always knows when someone is doing something naughty, even on a manufacturing shop floor!

Then today, we saw that Shop Floor Man looks to have made a New Years Resolution by replacing complicated, antiquated job scheduling techniques with graphical job scheduling. This is sure to save him lots of time and aggravation.

Shop Floor Man comic job scheduling

Click comic for a larger view on Instagram

If there are any manufacturing or machinist themed adventures you would like to see Shop Floor Man explore in future comics, we would love to hear from you!

Contact us here, or via one of our social media channels. We are also available at Toll Free at (877) 611-5825. Remember – our solutions are better than our comics.

3 Reasons Not To Buy a New CNC Machine Tool

3 reasons to not buy a new CNC machine tool With the start of a New Year, you may be thinking about purchasing a new CNC machine tool, or tools, for your shop floor to help with productivity. You may be of the mindset that a brand new machine would be great, similar to the feeling of buying and sitting in a brand new car, but there are three factors to consider as to why buying a new machine right now is not the best time:

Repurposing money for a new machine into helping fill the manufacturing skills gap is a wiser move. With a huge portion of this industry retiring from the workforce within the next decade, the loss is definitely being felt. With a younger workforce slowly coming on board, the solution may seem to be to invest in newer equipment, similar to what the new work force is bring trained on.

The issue here is that buying a new machine, which can cost five to six figures, especially more if you are investing in multiple machines, is money that is being spent on tools. What about the people who work on the tools? Especially if you are leasing new equipment, it will be hard to pay it off with less of a work force.

The best strategy would be to spend thousands of dollars not on new machine tools, but on a new workforce. Giving them solutions to make legacy machines operate more smoothly has the potential to help production surpass goals, as well as keeping the Made in America manufacturing workforce afloat.

New machine sales haven’t been prevalent in over two years. According to EDA, a data-driven market insight company, there was a huge spike in buying or leasing new machines between 2000 and 2001, with a minimum of 2k machines sold per month between August 2000 and January 2001. February 2002 was when new machine sales/leasing finally dipped below 1k units per month.

Buy a new CNC machine tool has been a low priority for years

Click the graph above for a larger view.

This event seemed to trigger a trend for low sales of new machines until October 2003, when sales started to recover. Sales and leasing of new machines hit a healthy stride until January of 2009, sales significantly dropped.

Since that point, sales and leasing of new machines has been up and down – new machine sales or leasing has not surpassed 2k per month since December of 2014. Sales or leasing of used machines has always been consistent, and even surpassed new machines once in 2001, for half of 2002, more than half the year in 2003, once in 2009 and once as recently as October 2015.

Leveraging the tools you already have saves time and money. Adding supplements to the tools and equipment you already have will save you precious time, teach you new skills, plus the benefit of money being saved by not buying new machines or losing production time by staying with what you have and not changing it.

Time spent by manually tracking data or using spreadsheets for job scheduling can be replaced with machine monitoring or graphical schedulers. Instead of hoping programs send to machines or dealing with programs too large to download to machines, use DNC software to drip-feed (it will also save you the time from going back and forth to the PC, or bringing your laptop all around the shop). If you are constantly replacing cabling due to a caustic shop floor environment, maybe now is the time to go wireless.

If you are interested in more info, we invite you to give us a call or chat with us on our site. Call (877) 611-5825 and make the most of your New Years shop floor resolutions today!

SFA’s Top 10 Moments of 2016

Top 10 Moments of 2016 - A Happy New Year SFA Blog

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2016 was a pretty crazy year! With 2017 racing toward us, we here at Shop Floor Automations wanted to share our Top 10 Moments of 2016, whether they were inspiring, or just sentimental to us!

MOMENT # 10: The NTMA Business Expo night at the Belching Beaver Brewery. We had a lot of fun, and great food, at this NTMA event. We also gave away a USB Connect and the winner was Eddie from Aerotek! You can read more about the event by clicking here.

MOMENT # 9: Visiting OSML (Open Source Maker Labs) via NTMA. We loved getting to visit this maker workshop. At OSML, people of all ages get to learn about 3D printing, welding, making robots, woodworking, and much more. You can read about how to participate in what they do at OSML by clicking here.

MOMENT # 8: Getting inspired by a visit to Workshops for Warriors. Hernán Luis y Prado founded this program where they wish to combat the manufacturing skills gap and give veterans much-needed work that is not only stable but well paying. If you want to help this amazing organization, you can read about our visit here. We also got to interview Hernán at FABTECH 2016, which you can watch here.

Shop Floor Man Comics in the MediaMOMENT # 7: Another big moment for us was when we premiered our comic character Shop Floor Man. Not only was it a cute idea, but it was also a statement from us that we really want to delve into the new media movement that is growing within the manufacturing industry.

“This is great for social media,” Christina M. Fuges of MoldMaking Technology stated about Shop Floor Man’s creation. She wrote about how our Marketing Coordinator “heard how social media isn’t valuable for this line of business, but believes this could not be further from the truth.”

Shop Floor Automations Top 2016 moments

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MOMENT # 6: Social events at our company, such as our office parties, the bowling night we had, and going to the top of Willis Tower in Chicago, were all a hoot. Because some of our employees work in other offices around the country, it can be difficult for all of us to get together. We are grateful for all of the moments we have been able to have all our employees under one roof to get together and enjoy each other’s company.

MOMENT # 5: Halloween was a lot of fun this year. Everyone brought in snacks and we had a costume contest. The winners were Amanda as Beetlejuice, Amy as Wonder Woman, and Greg as a Minecraft character.

MOMENT # 4: Seeing Blue Man Group in Las Vegas during FABTECH 2016. Sam and Greg were “dragged” to see Blue Man Group by Amanda, who is a big fan of the crazy music trio. The guys ended up loving the show and everyone stayed afterward to meet some of the Blue Men. It was a fun bonding experience and our faces were sore from smiling and laughing during the show.

MOMENT # 3: Farewell to John. This is one of the bittersweet moments of 2016. John had been with our company for five years, but he decided that it was time to move on and pursue some of his dreams. We definitely support that he wanted to spread his wings, so we threw him a farewell party at Fuddruckers, one of his favorite places to grab a burger.

Top 2016 Moments from SFA

          Click photo above for larger view.

MOMENT # 2: Premiering the Multi Connect at IMTS 2016. Although the device is not ready for purchase yet, setting it up for display at IMTS and FABTECH has garnered a lot of interest. We look forward to the possibilities it has, and as you can see, it definitely is a good looking piece of tech!

MOMENT # 1: We love all of the moments this year in which we got to interact with our amazing customers. Whether it was over the phone, at a shop visit, or at a trade show, thank you for making us who we are today.

Honorable mention to Michael at MiniMachine, who posed for this great photo for us at IMTS 2016.  He uses Predator DNC through us and loves our G-code shirts. He actually came to that show already wearing the shirt, and he filmed this customer success story, too!

Happy New Year from Shop Floor Automations! If you want to make 2017 great for your shop floor, call us at (877) 611-5825. 

Leverage Your IT Team with SFA

Computer versus CNC machine guide for IT Department

Click the guide for a better view of the info

It is a safe bet your company has an IT Department or person helping you out with computers and other technical aspects within your office. However gifted your IT person is, it does not necessarily mean they may be a good fit for fixing problems on your manufacturing shop floor. This is why we want to help you leverage your IT Team with the Solutions and Support we are famous for.

We have all likely seen the crazy stereotypes of IT people portrayed in pop culture. Some examples include the scathing Nick Burns character on “Saturday Night Live”, or Nick from “The Office” (same first name – irony?) who gets mad that no one includes him in the office community and throws people under the bus using their personal info only he could see.

The truth is, your IT person or IT team is a valuable part of your infrastructure. We want to work with them so that they can focus on what they are talented at, instead of guessing what solutions are needed with your machines. To use an analogy – just because a cook works in a kitchen doesn’t mean you would expect them to fix the oven they work with when it’s broken. Another analogy – you would not ask a psychologist to perform open heart surgery because even though they are a doctor, they are not trained in that specific area of expertise.

To use an analogy – just because a cook works in a kitchen doesn’t mean you would expect them to fix the oven they work with when it’s broken. Another analogy – you would not ask a psychologist to perform open heart surgery because even though they are a doctor, they are not trained in that specific area of expertise.

Here are three pieces of advice we would give to IT specialists, or their bosses, about working with CNC machines and alike manufacturing equipment:

We are here to help you – We are not here to belittle or make your IT department look bad in any way, shape or form. We also do not intend to replace your IT department, since we are here to help you with the solutions for your machines and not technical issues that IT is more accustomed to. We want to free up your IT department to do what they do best, which will save you potential time and money lost if someone in IT accidentally breaks something, causing a shut down in production.

Be upfront about changes made – Did IT change the entire network infrastructure? Did they play around with settings to experiment? Being honest with us on the phone during a technical troubleshooting call (as well as in person) is the best protocol and we promise we won’t be mad. We just want what you want, and that is for the problem to be fixes. It ultimately saves you time that you can compile to use on your ticket for future issues and it makes both our jobs easier and quicker.

Other quick, helpful hints – Be sure that the machine is on when we are troubleshooting hardware during a remote session, so we can replicate the issue. We also do not recommend updating software yourselves – software specific to these machines can be a bit intricate, so we can update it for you and configure it to work best for your shop floor employees. Also, having IP addresses and passwords on hand when we call in or visit the shop is extremely helpful and a big time saver.

Ready to see what we can do for you and your IT team? Call us at (877) 611-5825 or chat with us on any of our social media channels.

Unconventional Machine Monitoring

Unconventional Machine Monitoring from SFAWe love it when we get to surprise people who work for manufacturing shop floors, machine shops and job shops with what exactly our solutions can be used for. The general assumption is that our hardware and software only works on CNC machines, but the reality is far different. For instance, one of our techs relayed this story of how we helped implement machine monitoring to help prevent environmental conditions from halting production.

“This Aerospace company was painting airplane parts and in order to do that, you have to control the environment,” one of our longtime technicians said in an interview. “They have 9 different stations within the facility, but these 2 air handling systems were basically the best way to indicate whether they were working or not, in terms of temperature and humidity.”

“We just wired the machine monitoring into the air handling systems, which is different from what we normally do,” our technician said. “Normally, we wire into a CNC machine or a particular device, or something like that. This was just kind of a different way of doing things.”

Though it was a creative challenge, SFA was able to get it done for the customer, with time to spare. “We had to dig into the schematics and figure [out] just exactly what was turning that whole system on and off. We planned for an entire day for each machine, but I actually ended up finishing early!”

This is just the tip of the iceberg for monitoring unconventional machines or systems. Aside from a dairy farm that we help monitor, there are also other examples. “Autoclaves are kind of a strange one, and some of the other techs were talking about forklifts, which is pretty interesting.”

“There is a whole set of different things we can tap into that we’re not really [doing] right now,” our tech says, “and it’s just a matter of finding the right condition to be met. To say ‘this is what is actually considered cycling, running, or operating’.”

To learn more about machine monitoring in manufacturing, click here. We also invite you to call us at (877) 611-5825 or visit us on social media

Holiday 2016 SFA Newsletter

Holiday 2016 SFA NewsletterThis is an archive of our Holiday 2016 SFA Newsletter.

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays from all of us here at SFA!

We have special holiday hours the 23rd & we’re closed the 26th. We are back
the 27th – thank you!

Click HERE to see the new Holiday-themed Shop Floor Man comic strip. Enjoy!

Toll Free: (877) 611-5825

Connect with us on Social Media

Link to original newsletter HERE

More about the Shop Floor Man comic series:

“With an eye toward a younger manufacturing audience, the company has launched a Web comic series,” says Jedd Cole of TechSpex. “With the intention of carving out a space for manufacturing-related humor on social media, especially Twitter.”

“The comic appears in two-panel stories in which the main character, Shop Floor Man, shows life with SFA’s solutions compared with exaggerated horrors he faces elsewhere,” Cole continued. “Other comics will riff on familiar trials faced by machinists everywhere, as well as other industry-related humor.”

Shop Floor Automations (SFA) is doing its job to attract a younger manufacturing audience by working its social media channels and developing a comic strip series called Shop Floor Man Presents,” Christina M. Fuges of MoldMaking Technology writes.


Top 3 Tools for Continuous Improvement in 2017

Continuous Improvement Tips from Shop Floor AutomationsIf you frequently attend a fitness gym, you know that you have a goal. You want to lose weight or gain muscle mass. Sometimes, you may require the assistance of a trainer to meet these goals. You are aiming for continuous improvement of your physique or health.

With a manufacturing process, you likely don’t want to aim at just meeting your quota – you want to take on new clients and surpass your goals to make more money for everyone who works on your shop floor. This is where solutions such as machine monitoring, job scheduling and DNC can come in handy towards the goal of continuous improvement in manufacturing.

“Continuous improvement, sometimes called continual improvement, is the ongoing improvement of products, services or processes through incremental and breakthrough improvements,” states ASQ, a global knowledge network in America dedicated to improved business management tactics.

Here are the Top 3 ways you can aim for the goal of continuous improvement on your shop floor in 2017:

1 – Implement Machine Monitoring. Collecting and processing real-time data from machines is extremely valuable in manufacturing. Getting emails or text notifications when there are issues with production is crucial to making sure the Made in America movement is on its game. Having accurate production data can help make better-informed decisions about machine utilization and can often be integrated with other programs or hardware. Especially with the $45 per month, per machine Cloud option from DataXchange, it is certainly more affordable than most shop floors expect! FYI – DataXchange can also be integrated with Bigfoot CMMS for plant maintenance.

2 – Utilize Job Scheduling. A real-time graphical scheduler will not only replace outdated spreadsheets, but it can also accomplish such tasks as tracking jobs and helping you move them to another machine with less utilization when there is unexpected downtime. It can help you redirect the time you would have spent manually updating and filing spread sheets on other pursuits. Also, even though it’s not a crystal ball, a job scheduler such as JobPack will allow you to see up to 365 days into the future for scheduled jobs.

3 – Adopt DNC Software for CNC Communications into your routine. Why manually manage and send programs? What if programs are too large to download at machines for operators? You can have revision control and spend less time either running back and forth from a PC, or bringing a laptop from machine to machine. Don’t just hope for a program to send to a machine, or rely on switch boxes, or worry about constantly replacing RS232 cabling.

Interested in any, or all, of the solutions above? We are ready to help you achieve your continuous improvement goals. Call (877) 611-5825 or connect with us on social media. You can also read our many Customer Testimonials to see for yourself the benefits of our solutions.

Hazardous Waste Certifications Reminder

Hazardous Waste DisposalIs your manufacturing shop floor not certified for proper hazardous waste disposal for the upcoming new year? Are you not disposing of hazardous waste appropriately? If you said “no” to either factor, or if you are not sure, it can cost you.

The list below are some items from the EPA’s Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) list of Universal Waste. If you are not disposing of these items properly, it can cost your shop floor a minimum of $110 per day and up to $27,500 per day for RCRA violations! That kind of a financial hit can cause a huge issue for the Made in America movement and to our economy.

Whether you are generating this waste, transporting it, or at a facility that is supposed to treat or properly dispose of these items, it is a grave mistake environmentally and it will financially hurt you.

Does your shop work with any of these materials?

  • F-listed wastes used in manufacturing, such as solvents
  • Used Oil
  • Underground Storage Tanks
  •  Batteries
  • Certain pesticides (P-listed and U-listed wastes)
  • Mercury-containing equipment (M-listed wastes)
  • Lamps
  • Cathode Ray Tues (CRTs)
  • CRT glass
  • Aerosol cans
  • Anything deemed ignitable, corrosive, reactive, or toxic by the EPA

Gas Mask for Hazardous WasteA company called Lion Technology is very familiar with these violations and gives regulatory compliance training/support in how to properly handle these materials. “In a settlement reached with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control  (DTSC), a major US delivery company will pay $3,357,975 to resolve allegations the company mishandled damaged containers and packages of hazardous materials,” they shared in this blog post on their site.

If you have any questions about what constitutes as waste that needs proper disposal, call (916) 324-2428 or send an email to

If your shop is all up to date on hazardous waste certifications and is staying on top of disposal methods, kudos to you! Need some solutions to make your shop floor’s productivity better? Call us at (877) 611-5825 for info on our hardware, software and support team.


Cabling is More Complex than Imagined

CNC Machine Shop Cabling

Click photo above for a larger view

When it comes to running a machine shop floor, we know that the machinists and engineers, as well as those behind the scenes managing and in IT departments, are really smart, resourceful people. We are grateful when these individuals ask us for help in optimizing their production process, whether they shop with us over the phone or just buy items off of our store without prior consultation. We do notice, however, and we mean no disrespect, that some of these folks make a huge assumption that cabling is not a big decision – trust us that IT IS. 

For those who prefer the traditional method of transmitting data via cables in their shop floors versus going wireless, there are many choices out there. Trying to save money by using commercial Ethernet cabling, or even worse, trying to use telephone cables, can result in massive issues on the shop floor. Sure, you save money short term, but the cons outweigh the pros.

In the first photo of this post, we see that our Wired CNC Connect has been jury-rigged with some velcro straps to keep the way-too-long cables in place. While this seems like a good organizational method, this shop is potentially endangering the signal at which they are sending programs through these cables by doing this.

It also doesn’t help that the device isn’t mounted on the machine, in the machine, or on a flat surface near the machine, for easy monitoring. It also looks like the device is in a location that is hard to reach, so all around, this could have been a quick set-up tutorial over the phone with Support. They also could have saved money by getting shorter cabling.

CNC Machine Shop Cabling

Click photo above for a larger view

In this post’s second photo, we see that commercial, store bought cabling is being used. Aside from the fact that we see the returning dilemma of the cable being way too long, there are other risks involved.

With low-quality cable like this, there can be data loss during the transmission, which can result in dropped characters, which can result in a crash of the machine. Also, the harsh environment of a manufacturing shop floor will make this cable not long for this world. Custom, triple-shielded cabling made for the shop floor would have been the better choice.

The bottom line of this piece is to not make anyone feel bad for the choices they make for their shop floor equipment. This is a slowly changing industry and yesterday’s solutions may not work anymore, so that is why you have come to us. We are here to help your production thrive and to also only sell you services that you need. If a shorter cable costs less but is the best option for you, that is what we would recommend. Nothing more and nothing less.

Ready to see what we can do for you? Call us at (877) 611-5825 and check out our cabling solutions here.