SFA meets 2017 Manufacturing Technology Trends

manufacturing technology trends

2017 Manufacturing Technology Trends

Being a technology-related company, part of what we do is about keeping up with trends. We were definitely excited to see we meet the criteria of this beautifully articulated piece from the ARC Advisory Group on 2017 Manufacturing Technology Trends to watch for.

“The automation industry appears to be evolving at a faster rate right now than at any time in its history,” writes Craig Resnick of ARC, which is a research and consulting group that keeps up with industry changes, especially in terms of IIoT technology. “Commercial technologies continue to infiltrate the industrial automation space, especially wireless and mobility solutions.”

“One of the biggest end-user challenges remains unscheduled downtime,” Craig says. ” IIoT-enabled solutions, such as remote monitoring and predictive maintenance, can help minimize, if not totally eliminate this, which would deliver a rapid ROI (return on investment).”

With machine monitoring solutions such as Predator MDC and Scytec’s DataXchange, as well predictive maintenance solution Bigfoot CMMS, we combat the issue of downtime and meet the needs that Craig mentions. It is also worth noting that DataXchange can be integrated with Bigfoot. As far as wireless and mobility solutions, we offer many hardware options, as well as many of our software options being able to be accessed via Smartphones and tablets, where you can receive notifications of any machine issues.

“The Industrial Internet of Things…offers tremendous potential to transform and improve business processes,” Craig continues. “But prospective end users need help to quantify and justify the associated investment, and – in some cases – the associated risk.”

If you need any help with convincing the decision maker of your shop floor to consider these solutions, or if you have doubts before you make these investments, give us a call today! We are toll-free at (877) 611-5825 and we also have a responsive chat feature on our website. We can also be contacted via social media.


Hire a Professional Technician – It’s Worth It

shop floor cabling

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Professional Technicians are worth the investment

With the popularity of YouTube, Reddit, WebMD, and similar sites, we are definitely a culture obsessed with DIY (AKA “do it yourself”). While this is great for cooking or hobbies, it is not necessarily the answer for everything pertaining to a job focused on manufacturing production.

Here are the top 3 reasons you should hire a professional technician when implementing manufacturing hardware and software solutions versus going it alone:

Reason 1: Don’t assume the price tag to consult with a professional is going to be outlandish. Take for instance the techs at SFA – you have the option of bringing them to your shop all over the USA, or getting a very affordable Support contract, where they can help you over the phone with a remote session. It’s sometimes as easy as them seeing a photo of the hardware that is having a problem, or having access to your screen where you are running into a software roadblock, and having it fixed within a half hour or less phone call. Some problems may take longer to fix, but wouldn’t it be nice to know it’s a problem that can be fixed without flying a technician out to you?

Reason 2: Hardware needs to be handled and wired a certain way. Your run of the mill computer and related products, such as a commercial wireless internet router and even commercial USB connectors/cables, are an entirely different entity compared to manufacturing hardware implements. Hardware for powerful and expensive manufacturing machines need to be wired and placed a certain way to help with baud rates, and manufacturing shop floor cabling (as you can read in this previous piece) are durable yet complex. It is best to let a technician install it for you, or tell you how to install and wire it over the phone, so you can ensure data will transfer correctly, you don’t potentially void a warranty, and that you also protect your investment.

Reason 3: Free up more time to get back to work, rather than struggling with something that is potentially foreign to you. You made a great decision in making an investment to increase productivity and OEE, and if you went with SFA, you have a group with years of experience behind you to help you in-person or over the phone. You’ve got a job to do, and so do we – and our job is to make yours easier. Why not take advantage of a Support team based in the USA that will actually pick up their phones or reply to emails?

Want more reasons why to use our technicians? Give us a call today at (877) 611-5825. You can also fill out a contact form here, or chat with us on social media.

Comfort for Cloud Technology Concerns

cloud machine monitoring

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Evaluation of cloud-based machine monitoring

If you use cloud-based machine monitoring or have been thinking about it due to the affordable cost of it, there is likely one big question on your mind: what happens to my data?

We have provided a configuration graphic for your reference in this blog about where exactly the data is pulled from, where it goes, and how it gets back to you. Other than this concern of how the data is grabbed and presented, there are a few other concerns people can have with using a service that is cloud-based versus on premise. Let’s explore those concerns here:

What is the cost and what kind of commitment do I need to make?

The $45 per machine, per month option from machine monitoring solution DataXchange has been a very attractive addition to many shop floors. The best part is that this monthly option does not require a long-term commitment, and it includes software updates, plus support.

Paying as you go is a great option for customers to feel if at any time it is not working for them, they can try something else. It also allows them more financial freedom to invest money into other areas of their business, such as marketing or hiring more people to fill the manufacturing skills gap.

Read more! 

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The Case for Change: Automation & IIoT

manufacturing technology trends

Shop Floor Automation & IIoT

Embracing 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) stated on a study previously published on their site that “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 stated in a piece that “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 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 fill out a contact form so we can get in touch with you on your time.

3 Reasons Not To Buy a New CNC Machine Tool

cnc machine tool

Thinking of Buying 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.

machine purchase

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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 fill out a form so we can get back to you at your convenience. Call (877) 611-5825 and make the most of your New Years shop floor resolutions today!

Leverage Your IT Team with SFA

cnc machine computerLeverage Your IT Team

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 shutdown 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 fixed. 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 fill out a contact form.

Top 3 Tools for Continuous Improvement in 2017

Continuous Improvement

Top 3 Tools for Continuous Improvement

If 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 spreadsheets 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 switchboxes, 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 fill out a contact form. You can also read our many Customer Testimonials to see for yourself the benefits of our solutions.

Hazardous Waste Certifications Reminder

hazard signsHazardous Waste Certifications Reminder

Is 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

toxic waste A 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 rao@dtsc.ca.gov

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. You can also fill out a contact form so we can get in touch with you.


Cabling is More Complex than Imagined

shop floor cabling

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Why NOT to do CNC Serial Cabling Yourself

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 setup tutorial over the phone with Support. They also could have saved money by getting shorter cabling.

shop floor cabling

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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.

Corporate Training at MOXA

MOXACorporate Training at MOXA

To keep up with the rapid changes in communication technology, our support team is often tasked with visiting our vendors, such as MOXA, to learn about the latest products they have to offer. It is very important to us to be as knowledgeable as possible about the products we sell and support.

Our latest tech training was held at the MOXA corporate office in Brea, California. Being an integral part of our product line, Moxa products are very sophisticated communication devices that we are proud to use as part of our automation solutions. During the visit, our support team was trained on the latest wired and wireless devices in the Industrial Ethernet Lab.

In our ongoing effort to provide the best solutions to our valued customers, our staff has up-to-date knowledge to help facilitate your shop floor’s automation solutions.

Check out some photos from the event on Facebook. For more information on our hardware, check out more information or call (877) 611-5825