William Ng
William Ng

William Ng is a perfectionist who loves to tell a good story and brings that passion to all of ThomasNet News’ publications, including Industry Market Trends (IMT), Career Journal, Procurement Journal, Machining Journal, and Fluid & Gas Flow Journal. Will leads a team of staff and freelance writers and journalists that bring readers in manufacturing and industry the reliable and accurate information they need to run their business. He is in charge of providing editorial vision and leadership to increase ThomasNet News’ audience engagement and recognition in the industrial marketplace.

Will, who has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Polytechnic University and a master’s degree in journalism and technical communications from New York University, brings journalistic experience and training that spans more than a decade. Prior to joining ThomasNet, he was a managing editor at Northstar Travel Media, covering the U.S. and international business travel and meetings industries. Earlier in his career, he was managing editor for Modern Plastics, covering the global plastics manufacturing industry.

Will lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., with his wife, Vivien. He loves both playing and watching sports and is an avid fan of the New York Rangers. He is also an audiophile in his spare time.

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Editor’s Note: No Firm Left Behind

The National Association of Manufactuers/Industry Week third-quarter survey shows the most optimistic manufacturing outlook in more than two years, but there is a less encouraging feeling among small manufacturers.

Only 82.7 percent of manufacturers with 50 or fewer employees had a positive outlook, and even less, 65.4 percent, predicted increased sales over the next 12 months. It’s the same kind of measured expectations that have filled the National Federation of Independent Business’ optimism index for months and prompted its economist to note that small business is failing to play any big part in the economy’s steady if not spectacular growth. Considering 98 percent of U.S. manufacturers have under 500 employees and are classified as small businesses, manufacturing needs the small portion of the sector to have sustained, long-term success.

Both the NFIB and NAM/IW surveys continue to cite the unfavorable business climate of taxes and regulations as a big-time obstacle. But a Washington policy reprieve may be coming this week as the House is expected to pass the $1 trillion stopgap government funding bill that includes a nine-month extension of the Export-Import Bank, the controversial export credit agency. It’s true that Boeing accounts for 30 percent of the loans and loan guarantees Ex-Im underwrites, leading critics to deride it as “Boeing’s bank,” but it’s also true that 90 percent of Ex-Im’s trade financing went to small businesses – more than 3,000 of them.

Businesses with under 500 employees account for one-third of all U.S. exports, which are strengthening again. Undoubtedly, the Ex-Im fight will be renewed next June, when opposing sides again debate the bank’s expiration versus long-term extension with or without changes. Right now, with the number of manufacturers expecting export increases down by 10 percent, says NAM/IW, and small business growth lagging, all business avenues are required.

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Editor’s Note: Clear and Present Strength

On my flight to Chicago, I sat behind a gentleman who was reading Wikipedia’s entry on numerical control. My intuition told me this man was no stranger to NC control. Maybe he was just brushing up on a layman’s explanation to indoctrinate the 15,000 area students expected at IMTS 2014 in manufacturing

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Such is the mind power that has descended on Chicago for the IMTS trade show, manufacturing’s biennial extravaganza that virtually occupies every square inch of McCormick Place. On Sunday I got a sneak preview of exhibitor move-in, witnessing a hot mess of skids, crates, and boxes along with cadres of engineers and technicians frenetically setting up rows upon rows of live, working machinery demos all this week. It was the grunge before the glitz: 1,475 exhibitor stands, 2,035 companies, 1.28 million net square feet of exhibit space, and registration that should go well over 100,000 before the show is all said and done.

A prominent machine tool supplier brought the entire multinational company, it seemed, to premiere machines and a new GUI-based, networkable machine visualization and production management tool. All over IMTS, “digital manufacturing” are the operative words this year, focused on integrating information technology for visually intuitive machine performance monitoring to raise factory and employee productivity. And such metrics are being linked to up-level management systems to compare real time against reference.

Peter Eelman, the VP in charge of IMTS, said “combined operation,” linking machinery with automation, is a recurring theme at this show, adding that, based on attendance and exhibitor numbers not seen since the ‘90s, IMTS is “back in growth mode.” So, too, is manufacturing, but judging by the digital manufacturing buzz, it is also evolving.

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Editor’s Note: Pardon the Interruption

The general media hyped up 3D printing as the end of manufacturing as we knew it. We knew better than that to be true, as it has proven to be a supportive rather than disruptive technology. We won’t be seeing the real game-changing effects of 3D printing until we design and engineer products around it.

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Editor’s Note: Protect This House

In the digital manufacturing era, it’s time for manufacturers to step up on intellectual property protection with stout, proactive defense. And it’s not just China that companies should be keeping their eyes on in the handling of proprietary data.

IP theft provides free R&D to beneficiaries, which lowers their investment costs and allows them to manufacture and sell products below cost to undercut victims. The National Association of Manufacturers chalks up IP theft’s economic impact over 10 years. It’s easy to point the finger at the Chinese, since they are responsible for 70 percent of all IP piracy, inasmuch as a NAM study cited software theft by Chinese solar manufacturers abetted the U.S. solar manufacturing industry’s collapse. In May, a federal indictment was brought against the Chinese military for cyber-espionage of U.S. manufacturers – including a solar company — to give China’s state-owned companies competitive trade secrets.

Today, a company doesn’t have to be doing business in China to be victimized. As the indicted hackers illustrate, digital tools like malware and network intrusions make it convenient to steal from a building in Shanghai — or anywhere for that matter, by anyone with enough financial motivation and wherewithal. A new Kaspersky Lab study says IP loss affected 21 percent of manufacturing businesses over the past year, with internal operational information and customer data most commonly stolen. These and IP are the three things manufacturers fear most losing.

But what’s alarming is that businesses reported they were willing to suffer some financial losses from cybercrime because it is less costly than upgrading their preventative IT. With so much end-to-end collaboration in today’s supply chains, that attitude could result in far-reaching damage to customers and suppliers that ought to make everyone nervous.

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Editor’s Note: Making Marketing ‘Pop’

For a building, the World of Coca-Cola could be one of the greatest promotional vehicles ever created. There aren’t many places where people pay to learn more about a product and the organization behind it. It’s a marketer’s fizzy dream come true.

While in Atlanta recently, I visited the museum, handing over the entrance fee and getting entranced for a couple of hours. Anyone who’s been there knows that a lot more than product marketing (like free tastings of 60 international Coke beverages) is at work. There’s also the viewing of memorabilia, a watered-down version of a bottling plant, and short films discussing Coke advertisements through the years – aka content marketing. Manufacturing companies don’t have Coca-Cola’s luxury of being able to use commercials as a commercial, but their marketers are taking up content marketing nonetheless. And they are doing it on social media, with videos, as a guest article from ZOG Digital informs.

There’s good and bad news. Only 30 percent of manufacturing marketers say they are effective at content marketing. But they are using video to do storytelling increasingly rather than hard sell through product demos. They are engaging and gaining followers, fostering brand awareness, and retaining customer loyalty rather than simply generating leads – just like the pull marketing the World of Coca-Cola uses. Some have even used humor. In our digital media age, video content marketing on social networks will share more marketing budget dollars with in-person events and is something every manufacturer must learn to master.

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Editor’s Note: Sea Change, See Future

The other day, feeling reminiscently, I went onto a Walkman fan site and spent some idle time perusing the chitchat among collectors of vintage personal cassette stereos and looking at photos of one of the greatest consumer products in history.

I did that shortly after getting news that Sony is exiting the e-reader business just like the PC business. Once an infallible titan, the company’s retreat was a necessary ignominy as part of a multiyear restructuring to get back to profitability after years of letting its stranglehold on personal audio and brand pizzazz slip away to Apple and the iPod, before finally forfeiting its consumer electronics crown altogether. Getting out of the losing battle with Amazon’s Kindle was just another example of how innovation and technology leadership passed Sony by in just about every area where it competed because it was too confident or slow to adapt, as in the case of sticking with physical audio media when MP3 was taking over.

Sony’s struggle represents the high price to be paid when we don’t embrace and follow change — though my personal and sentimental sides ache for the company’s comeback as an idea-driven company that can consistently deliver hit products again, like its PlayStation game console. I grew up in a Sony household, with my dad swearing by its TVs and products, and like everyone, I had a Walkman. It would be a real shame to keep looking at Sony with nostalgia instead of renewed excitement.

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Editor’s Note: A Crystal Ball for Machinery

What if you could tell the future? Yes, you’d be rich, very rich. How about the next best thing: Knowing when a piece of machinery or equipment is about to break down? Predictive maintenance could be just as much an altering experience.

As Big Data continues to grow, so too will predictive analytics and its ability to detect failure patterns from machine logs, quality reports, and unstructured data and then warn production managers in real time. LNS Research writes that predictive maintenance is still in its early development stages, but the possibility of making scheduled (and likely unneeded) maintenance a thing of the past in favor of just-in-time maintenance — right before the machine goes off tolerance, resulting in more uptime — is too good for manufacturers not to begin exploring.

Predictive maintenance could have a big impact on OEM and MRO parts buying, putting some bona fide muscle behind blanket purchase orders, which procurement writer Kelly Barner covers. No longer would more than a minimum number of spares for production machinery have to be carried, and replacement-part deliveries become JIT. Maintenance engineers and material planners/buyers can live in harmony and bask in shared credit for cost-control efforts. Driven by predictive condition monitoring, inventory management is simplified, unnecessary maintenance is eliminated, costs go down, and profits go up. Maybe predictive maintenance could make you rich after all.

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Editor’s Note: The Sun Comes Up Again

The eulogy for the U.S. solar module manufacturing industry seems to have had been written prematurely. For the survivors of the Chinese goods onslaught on the American solar market, they now could be seeing a large-scale retreat — and new life.

After stemming the flood of below-cost solar modules from China in 2012 with tariffs, the federal government is readying a new round of duties to further prevent Chinese makers from dumping products onto the U.S. The measures have brought relief to U.S. makers, some of which are even expanding with new production plants. Also, Chinese producers are thinking of starting U.S. plants to avoid not only the tariffs but rising logistics costs of importing. The suddenly exploding solar market in China has them turning their attention back home, too.

That is not necessarily good news for utility-scale buyers and solar installers that have benefitted from low-price Chinese equipment. Analysts have said higher market prices could hamper growth of U.S. solar power, as it vies with other renewables for clean energy position. But in the long term, energy providers will be driven to look for other efficiencies in the value chain to deliver the lowest-cost electricity. Modules are a means to an end only, and right now, the tariffs’ leveling of the playing field for domestic makers and potential effect on Chinese newshoring investment are boons to American manufacturing.
William Ng, Editor-in-Chief, wng@thomasnet.com

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Editor’s Note: The Battle of Loos

You’ve probably seen the headlines on the Web of a manufacturing company limiting scheduled bathroom breaks to six minutes a day to recoup lost production time. It’s head-turning stuff.

hardhat

U.S. Engineering Employment to Grow by Quarter-Million Jobs

Kelly Services’ latest Engineering Employment Outlook forecasts what the U.S. engineering labor market will look like by 2023 as well as takes a snapshot of employment conditions today, including top jobs and salaries. The demographics and skill sets of the engineering workforce will also continue to evolve.

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