FIRST Robotics

Do you know about the FIRST® Robotics program? D+M Metal Products has been proud to sponsor a local team for this educational competition in robotics for a number of years now. We think this is a great way to encourage young people to learn about robotics and think logically and creatively. Michigan is a manufacturing state, and the participants in the FIRST Robotics program are part of the future of Michigan manufacturing. They will one day design the products that will help make our lives safer and better.

 

What Is FIRST Robotics?

 

Dean Kamen, the inventor of the iBOT and the Segway PT and many other patented devices, founded FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) in 1989 as a program for generating interest in STEM. FIRST offers many robotics programs for students in grades K-12. The FIRST Robotics competition is for high school students.

The FIRST Robotics competition works this way: In January FIRST gives teams around the world a challenge. These teams have six weeks to build a robot that can accomplish this challenge. Then these teams compete against each other tournament style to learn which team’s robotic invention works best. Teams are awarded on design, performance, interaction with other teams, and even team spirit.

FIRST describes it this way:

“Under strict rules, limited resources, and an intense six-week time limit, teams of students are challenged to raise funds, design a team "brand," hone teamwork skills, and build and program industrial-size robots to play a difficult field game against like-minded competitors. It’s as close to real-world engineering as a student can get. Volunteer professional mentors lend their time and talents to guide each team. Each season ends with an exciting FIRST Championship.”

D+M Metal Products sponsors That One Team which is made up of high school students from Rockford, Northview, and a number of homeschooling families. The components that are used in robotics can be expensive, so we have been happy to create and supply some of their needs.  That One Team is self funded outside of what they receive from their sponsors.

As we’ve discussed before, automation is becoming hugely important to manufacturing and to our industry in particular. New technology is changing the way businesses run and workers do their jobs. The teamwork and engineering skills that kids learn in the FIRST Robotics program will help them as they progress through high school, college, and in the workforce. If you would like to join That One Team or help or officially sponsor this team, contact them here.







 

weldments

D+M Metal Products has both the experience and the expertise to produce a large variety of large weldments for our clients. We’ve highlighted some of our weldment projects before on this blog, specifically our sculpture work, but here we will define what large weldments are and what challenges are involved in steel weldment fabrication services.

 

What Are Large Weldments?

 

D+M Metal Products fabricates any number of weldment units by welding one-half to one-inch-thick plate steel or metal pieces together into one weldment assembly. We do a broad spectrum of work with steel, alloy, and metal, and our engineers are proficient at weldment assembly design. They translate designs into CNC machine code, then the components are cut out and welded together. Many industries need large, heavy metal weldments, including the fork truck, AGV, pallet manufacturing equipment, and other heavy equipment industries.

 

Challenges of Large Weldments

 

Fabricating large weldments can be a complex and unforgiving task. Do it wrong the first time, and fixing it will be costly for the shop and result in delays. The weldments that go into large pieces of equipment often weigh thousands of pounds, for example the bucket on an earthmover. Some parts or components are even larger, but no matter how large they are and how much stress they may place on other parts of the structures they are attached to, they need to fit and to hold up over time.

Parts can also move as they are welded. “A very large metal part heats up as it is welded, and as the part heats up, it begins to shrink. That’s why it’s important to include slip planes in large-fixture design. The slip planes are incorporated into fixture designs to allow for some movement of the part. In some instances, the part can move as much as 0.197 inches during welding.” This means the fixture must hold the parts securely and accommodate these parts’ movements as they absorb the heat and twist or bend. Again, only an experienced welder has the knowledge to predict and accomplish this type of welding.

After a fixture is fabricated, it must be tested. This must be done right the first time as multiple retakes are not a viable option for large weldments, and the fixture must be perfect before it is shipped to the customer. When the fixture is right, it has to be disassembled for delivery, shipped, and then reassembled when it reaches the customer. Shipping is challenging, often requiring special permits and accommodations, but it needs to be done with care and efficiency so the customer is not waiting too long for delivery.

All of the above challenges are ones we understand and handle regularly for our clients. Some of the weldment projects D+M Metal Products fabricates include:

  • Heavy frames
  • Machine housings
  • Construction equipment
  • Material handling equipment
  • Transportation equipment
  • Mining machinery components
  • Agricultural equipment
  • Motor bases
  • Statues
  • Other custom projects

 If your company needs weldment design or fabrication done, please contact us at 616-784-0601. We would be happy to talk to you about any special requirements your weldment projects need and how we can accommodate them.





 

Manufacturing Day was this past Friday, and there are plenty of articles written about Millennials and why they need to be recruited in order to ensure that manufacturers continue to have the labor they need to succeed. One aspect of generational change that is often overlooked, however, is that Baby Boomer workers are retiring from manufacturing in increasing numbers, and certain skills they have will be lost - unless companies encourage collaboration between these workers and those from younger generations.

So much of the emphasis in manufacturing is on breakthroughs in technology and increased automation and how these affect process and output. It’s assumed that Millennials, since they’ve been exposed to continuously updated technology since they were children are better suited to the new tech. However, Baby Boomers have their own skill sets. Baby Boomers, for example,  learned a strong work ethic from their parents. They also have longer attention spans and need less encouragement to complete their tasks. They don’t have the same expectation Millennials do that their daily tasks will be exciting or important. They just want to be paid and promoted, not praised.

Baby Boomers also have a lifetime of experience under their belts. They watched the progression of technology from mechanical to computer-driven. They also have a lifetime of knowledge about workplace interactions. While Generation X workers have the reputation for wanting to work independently and disliking micromanagement, both Baby Boomers and Millennials are comfortable working within groups, and Boomers make for good mentors - something Millennials consistently report wanting more of at work.

Given that Baby Boomers have a lot to teach, if at all possible they should be paired with Millennials to transfer their knowledge and their ideas about work to younger coworkers. In some industries, Baby Boomers are being let go because companies think younger workers are more of a bargain. Their wages or salaries are lower, and benefits far less expensive. This is a short-sighted approach. Many Millennials come out of the school system unfamiliar with the way the workforce runs and struggle with absorbing the rules and norms and settling in. They are known for bouncing around from job to job and not staying in one position for very long - the opposite of Boomers.

Manufacturing needs workers who can be trained and who will stay in the positions they were trained to do. Pairing a Baby Boomer who has experience, knowledge, good social skills, and will pattern necessary workforce habits with Millennials who need guidance and crave connection in the workplace is a win-win. Some companies are rewarding late-stage Boomers for this mentoring with time off and other benefits. They want them to postpone retirement to do this critical work.

Older workers often feel like the high tech world we live in is passing them by, but Baby Boomers already have a lifetime of experience adapting to change and a host of other skills. This Manufacturing Day we should focus on how workers of all generations can help make our industry stronger and better by using the variety of strengths and skills they possess and helping each other to succeed.



 

How are you feeling? Are you stressed out? Do you get enough sleep at night? If you are a typical American today, you are probably not as healthy as you could be. The stress of work and daily responsibilities can take a real toll on the body over time, but there are simple things people can do that would help mitigate this. One area nearly all Americans can do better in is exercise. There are a number of ways to add movement to your daily regimen.

 

Americans Are Exercise Deficient

 

In 2013, a CDC survey revealed that the vast majority of Americans do not get enough weekly exercise. Researchers collected data from more than 450,000 Americans ages 18 and up. They asked respondents how often they engaged in aerobic activity outside of work and for how long. According to the survey, only 20.6 percent met the total recommended amount of exercise, with the ones most likely to exercise being those between the ages of 18 and 24. Men were more likely to get enough exercise than women, but only 23 percent of men reported exercising 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity or a combination of the two.

An inactive person runs a greater risk of developing health problems like type 2 diabetes and heart disease over time. One study linked a sedentary lifestyle to the above problems, as well as breast and colon cancer, estimating that 5.3 million deaths each year are a result of physical inactivity. This number is comparable to the number caused every year by smoking.

 

How Much Exercise Are You Getting?

 

While the CDC survey monitored the amount of exercise people reported doing outside of work, work heavily factors in for most people, with the amount of exercise people getting varying widely depending on what they do for a living. The good news for people in our industry is that manufacturing workers get, on average, far more exercise than do office workers. Factory workers walk about 3.9 miles per day or 9,900 steps - more than retail sales staff, teachers, and much more than the average American who walks only 5,117 steps on average, with men a bit more active than women.

The question, then, is: How many steps counts as the “moderate-intensity aerobic exercise” the CDC recommends for health? Researchers say 10,000 steps a day qualifies. This is approximately 5 miles of walking and by itself constitutes a moderately active day.

Most Americans are only getting about half that, however. In order to add more steps to your day, look for ways to be more active either at work or on your free time. Walking at lunch or during break time can make a big difference in the number of steps you take. Talking short walks in the morning and evening can also help as can parking farther away or using the stairs instead of the elevator. If you are not sure how much exercise you are getting, buy a cheap pedometer to track your steps throughout the day. Being aware of your own personal activity level is the first step in creating a healthier, more active lifestyle.

The good news is that simply adding more exercise can improve physical health, lower your stress level, help you get better sleep, and reduce your risk of chronic illness. Most Americans do not realize how sedentary they are compared to people in other areas of the world or their own ancestors. This is entirely fixable, though, and with a little extra effort, you can reach or exceed the goals the CDC sets for maintaining good health.

 

Back in March D+M Metal Products sent out a letter to our customers. This letter discussed changes in the price of steel, specifically increases in the price of steel and how that would affect them and us going forward. Since that time, the Trump administration has announced further tariffs on steel and aluminum. How do these tariffs and domestic production of steel affect the price of the products we manufacture for our customers? What is the outlook on the price of steel moving forward?

 

Less Domestic Steel Shipped in April, More Imports

 

On June 11, 2018 The American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) reported that U.S. steel mills shipped 7,798,326 net tons in April. This was a 6 percent decrease from the tonnage they shipped in March of 2018. All of the following were down 6 percent: cold rolled sheets, hot dipped galvanized sheets and strip, and hot rolled sheets.

Demand for steel remains high, so steel imports were up 12 percent from March. The U.S. imported a total of 3,738,000 net tons (NT) of steel in April 2018, including 2,860,000 net tons (NT) of finished steel. Year-to-date totals on imported steel were also up - 1.1 percent for steel and 2.3 percent for finished steel up over steel imported year to date in 2017.

“Key finished steel products with significant import increases in April compared to March include line pipe (up 87%), heavy structural shapes (up 57%), tin plate (up 53%), reinforcing bars (up 47%), hot rolled bars (up 39%), sheets and strip hot dipped galvanized (up 24%), sheets and strip all other metallic coatings (up 23%), standard pipe (up 20%), cut lengths plates (up 16%), and plates in coils (up 11%). Major products with significant year-to-date (YTD) increases vs. the same period in 2017 include plates in coils (up 43%), hot rolled sheets (up 40%), line pipe (up 31%), oil country goods (up 25%), mechanical tubing (up 23%) and hot rolled bars (up 12%).”

A huge spectrum of American companies need steel to manufacture their products. This steady demand has already lead to higher prices, but the increasingly complicated trade situation with America’s trade partners Mexico, Canada, and the European Union make things even more tangled. The U.S. typically imports about a third of its steel, but that’s unlikely to remain true with the added tariffs Trump has just imposed.

 

New Tariffs

 

In March the U.S. Government announced that it would be imposing tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. This caused the price of aluminum to rally. Initially Canada and Mexico were exempt from these tariffs, but as of the end of May, President Trump made it clear that there would no exemptions for Canada, Mexico, or the European Union. U.S. companies will now have to pay 25 percent tariff on imported steel and a 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum.

As a result, E.U. Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic announced that as of July it will begin imposing duties on a list of U.S. products. Canada also announced retaliatory measures. A trade war has begun.

How much tariffs on steel will curb imports is not yet known. Globally, steel prices will likely go down minus U.S. demand (China ramped up its steel production 5 percent in April and exports soared). That’s good news for foreign manufacturers. In the United States, it’s a different story. Already the price of U.S. Midwest domestic hot-rolled coil steel has risen almost 39 percent year to date - good news for American steel mills. For the manufacturer, it’s a different story, though. It costs more for the manufacturer to produce, and the market for his products just contracted considerably.

As of now, there are not enough American steel mills and aluminum smelters producing and competing with each other to drive the price of steel down. How soon this may change is still unknown. It’s also unclear how President Trump’s strategy of hard negotiating with the U.S. trade partners will continue or for how long. All of this means that any industry or company that relies on steel or aluminum will be held hostage to unpredictable pricing for the foreseeable future.