Magazines come and magazines go. According to Oxbridge Communications, 113 magazines were launched in North America in 2015, while 35 books folded. In 2016, an astounding 7,216 magazines were available in the United States, compared with 6,809 titles in 2007.
ASSEMBLY was born in October 1958 with the name Assembly & Fastener Engineering. Although its name was later shortened to Assembly Engineering, and subsequently to ASSEMBLY, it was then, and is today, a magazine of ideas and methods: a forum where manufacturing and design engineers can find and share practical knowledge about tools and techniques for joining piece parts into finished products.
There are B2B magazines that are older than ASSEMBLY. Indeed, BNP Media, ASSEMBLY’s parent company, owns several, including Engineering News-Record (144 years old), Architectural Record (127 years old), National Provisioner (125 years old), Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery (108 years old), The Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration NEWS (92 years old), and Candy Industry (74 years old).
ASSEMBLY may not be the oldest B2B publication, but no magazine has covered America’s assembly lines better. Moving forward, we will continue to provide up-to-minute information on the latest technologies and best practices for all things assembly.
During the past 60 years, ASSEMBLY introduced you to programmable logic controllers, computers, CAD, lean manufacturing, DC electric fastening tools, robots and other technological advances.
What were the most significant developments in product assembly in that time? We put the question to you.
“Significant usage of automation in factories began in the 1950s,” says Rick Brookshire, group product manager for Epson Robots. “Simple machines—that is, simple by today’s standards—were created to replace assembly workers. However, these were primarily mechanical solutions. Combining mechanical machines with computers allowed machines to become intelligent, thus improving throughput, flexibility and the number of things machines could be used for. Examples include PLCs, robots and motion devices.”
“The most significant enabling technological development for our industry in the past 60 years has been servomotors and integrated motion control systems,” says Mark Burzynski, president of systems integrator The Arthur G. Russell Co. Inc. “This is the underlying technology of today’s positioning systems used in robots, machine tools and 3D printers. Of course, the advancement of computer technology was a prerequisite to multiaxis control systems.”
“During the past 60 years, the development of robots played a major role in increasing product assembly,” says Lori Logan, marketing manager for DEPRAG Inc. “Six-axis robots, SCARA robots, Cartesian robots or delta robots—regardless of industry, these machines have evolved into an immense support for assembly. Robots come in so many different configurations and sizes—the advance of the robot was unstoppable.”
To Alex Spurgeon, operations manager at ToolTex Inc., computers were the most important advancement in manufacturing.
“There has always been great resistance to new technology because of the hassles of the past, but new technology is getting more and more intuitive to the point that anyone can use it,” he says. “Ten years ago, it was a battle just to establish communication with a device, now it’s a breeze. Ten years ago, you needed years of training to become a proficient CNC operator, but now with software like Fusion 360 from Autodesk, I can turn a guy with good computer skills into a seasoned machinist very quickly.
“Advancements in computing speed are allowing normally complex devices—vision systems, for example—to be extremely cost effective while still very powerful. It boils down to how fast a device can process code. It expands the developer’s capabilities, which opens new opportunities for features. Thanks to Moore’s law, we will see capabilities increase exponentially.”
Others argue it’s not hardware, but software that’s had a greater impact.
“3D CAD has been the most significant development in product assembly, because it enabled engineers to design in real-life units of measurement, check clearances and avoid many mistakes inherent with 2D and manual drafting design methods,” says Peter Doyon, vice president of product management at Schleuniger Inc. “3D CAD shortened the product design cycle and enabled multiple engineers to work on different parts of the same project. 3D CAD is the foundation of modern design and is used in all aspects of product assembly, including exploded view drawings, assembly instructions, robotic assembly and complete automation lines.”
“The widespread availability and adoption of enterprise resource planning software has enabled people to more effectively manage the increasing complexity of products, assemblies, operations, materials and the extended supply chain,” argues Brian Burke, senior product manager at Bishop-Wisecarver Corp.
For some, the biggest advance in manufacturing technology in the past 60 years came along a little more recently. “In October 1969, the first ARPANET communications were sent between Leonard Kleinrock’s lab at UCLA and the Stanford Research Institute. Kleinrock invented packet switching, a basic Internet technology,” says Keary Donovan, market development manager for elliTek Inc. “ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) was the precursor to the Internet. The Internet revolutionized modern communication, including from the assembly line to the enterprise and from the customer to the enterprise.”
For others, the biggest change in assembly hasn’t come from manufacturing technology, but from the products being assembled.
“The most significant development in assembly has been the miniaturization of products, requiring ever more exact tooling and precision fastening,” says Tom Rougeux, regional sales director at WEBER Screwdriving Systems Inc. “Fasteners have become extremely small, and the equipment needed to automate them has become more challenging to manufacture.”
Troy Waldherr, North American sales manager at Tox-Pressotechnik, has a similar take. “The most significant development in assembly has to be modern materials, which have led to the development of new fasteners and higher precision assembly machines,” he says. “That, in turn, has allowed more complex assemblies to be more easily mass produced.”
What Lies Ahead
That was then, this is now. Today, ASSEMBLY continues to report on the latest manufacturing developments, including reshoring, lightweighting, collaborative robots, additive manufacturing and the Industrial Internet of Things. What will the future bring?
Not surprisingly, many of you expect big things from the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), data analytics and artificial intelligence.
“The challenge since the first machines received computer intelligence is that they must still be programmed by humans,” says Epson’s Brookshire. “We can’t just tell machines what to do like we can with human workers.
“During the next 20 to 30 years, data collection and artificial intelligence will converge to optimize assembly processes. IIoT will be used to give devices the ability to communicate their status and much more. All this data will be useful for figuring out optimal assembly solutions using automation products (such as robots) on the factory floor. Programming for specific tasks will be reduced significantly, and simple tasks will be doable either automatically or by humans simply telling machines what to do. It’s exciting and scary at the same time.”
“The continued advancement of computing power, specifically quantum computing, will lead to industry advancements we can barely imagine,” predicts A.G. Russell’s Burzynski. “Products will be better designed, and they will be assembled by smart machines that will automatically adapt to changing inputs. Machine intelligence will add a whole new dimension to product assembly.”
“Artificial intelligence applied to an assembly process will be the most significant change that I see for the next 20 to 30 years,” adds DEPRAG’s Logan. “While AI has proven to be rather difficult, the continued development will help tremendously with any future assembly project. I can see intelligent, aware, self-correcting and self-guiding products and processes, both used in manufacturing and as an end-product.”
“In the future I see AI and IIoT contributing to even more advanced assembly equipment that will be able to adjust on the fly to variances in incoming material, allowing for higher accuracy and more flexibility in assembly processes,” says Tox’s Waldherr. “Communication between machines will allow our equipment to improve their processes via feedback loops.”
“Quantum computing will certainly be a part of design and manufacturing in 20 to 30 years,” says ToolTex’s Spurgeon. “It will be doing a vast majority of design work as opposed to humans, and will do it very fast. ‘Generative design’ is the term.”
Nanda Kumar, president of Eaton Corp.’s Aerospace Group, believes additive manufacturing will become more important.
“In the future, we see a significant percentage of our portfolio being made through additive manufacturing,” he says. “The technology enables consolidation of traditionally separate components, dramatically reducing the need for joining and assembly processes. Additive manufacturing also enhances the flexibility of the manufacturing process, allowing manufacturers to run a larger variety of components down the same manufacturing line. The ability to directly print production parts will lower costs by reducing infrastructure and inventory. It will also allow us to provide customers with optimized solutions. We see additive technologies as a growing opportunity and a key enabler in strengthening Eaton’s competitive advantage.”
Schleuniger’s Doyon agrees. “Additive manufacturing will continue to evolve and improve,” he says. “Not only will it be used for prototypes, it will be used for full production runs, eliminating the need for expensive tooling and reducing the quantity of parts and fasteners in many assemblies. While 3D printing has largely been limited to plastic parts, 3D printing of metal parts is in its infancy and will be perfected in the future. This will become another very significant development.”
Weber’s Rougeux takes a more cultural view.
“The future will see greater compression of product life cycles, resulting in the requirement for advanced, flexible manufacturing solutions,” he says. “Next-generation manufacturing technologies will result in faster, less expensive output. The significant aging of the population and the below-replacement-rate of population growth will result in fewer consumers and fewer qualified producers. This will be the drive for artificial intelligence, collaborative assembly and collaborative design technologies.”