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So that Happened: Virtual Work Leads to Nausea, Manufacturers Explain How Science Works, Peloton Throws in the Towel on Manufacturing

July 13, 2022
Plus, Lordstown Motors’ alpha dog takes a nap, Mercedes-Benz puts its money where its mouth is and Pascagoula, Mississippi’s largest single employer looks to add 2,000 jobs.

Editor’s note: Welcome to So That Happened, our editors’ takes on things going on in the manufacturing world that deserve some extra attention. This will appear regularly in the Member’s Only section of the site.

Can I Get a Cleanup on Virtual Aisle 9?

Working in the Metaverse could make you throw up. You could also be more frustrated, anxious, feel worse in general and be generally less productive than the rest of us working in the real world.

Positive benefits of working in VR have been noted in research studies, like creating a virtual office on a virtual beach and reducing the distractions provided by everyone else in the office around you. A virtual office may be personalized in ways that someone is likely unable to get permission for in the real world, like filling it with plants and turning the office into a green space that reduces stress. These are precisely the sort of illusions that made the promise of VR so attractive in the first place.

According to the authors of a new research study from Coburg University of Applied Sciences, Germany; Microsoft Research; University of Cambridge; and University of Primorska, Slovenia, those benefits were observed in short-term experiments. The new study, Quantifying the Effects of Working in VR for One Week, is based on a five-day, eight-hours-a-day work week in which participants worked in a VR environment designed to be comparable to a desktop environment.

Simulator sickness scores in VR among the participants throughout the week were significantly higher compared to physical offices. One of the symptoms of simulator sickness is nausea. In other words, it honestly is entirely possible that working in VR could make you vomit.

Metaverse enthusiasts specifically and VR proponents generally may take issue with this research paper on many points but the most obvious (and extremely valid) is that the researchers by intention made zero efforts to create a VR office space that took advantage of what is possible only in VR.

The researchers tried to replicate a real-world office with a keyboard and curved monitor by strapping an Oculus Quest 2 VR rig onto a participant, giving them the exact same keyboard and simulating the curved monitor in VR and then measured frustration, anxiety, simulator sickness, etc. to compare the two sets of data for each participant.

Virtual offices are not how any manufacturers I have encountered or read about are using VR technology. As a training tool, VR seems fantastic (as I stated last week). So, the moral of the story for the IndustryWeek audience is if you're going to incorporate VR into your org, don't hand it out to the administrative personnel and for the love of Pete don't stick anyone in there all day.

Dennis Scimeca

Peloton Steps Further Away from Manufacturing

In February, Peloton Interactive called it quits on Peloton Output Park, the more than 1 million-square-foot manufacturing site it had started to build in Ohio. Now it has called it quits on manufacturing altogether.

The New York-based company announced on July 12 that it would cease making its own bikes and treadmills and outsource manufacturing operations to Taiwan’s Rexon Industrial Corp., with which it has an existing relationship. Peloton CEO Barry McCarthy said the move will simplify the supply chain and improve the company’s cost structure.

“We believe that this along with other initiatives will enable us to continue reducing the cash burden on the business and increase our flexibility,” he said.

McCarthy was named to Peloton’s top position in February after disastrous business results led to the layoff of more than 2,500 employees and the departure of company founder John Foley from the CEO role. And the cessation of work at the Ohio manufacturing site, of course.

In Tuesday’s announcement, Peloton also said it would suspend operations at Taiwanese manufacturing company Tonic Fitness Technology, purchased in 2019, through the remainder of 2022. Not mentioned was commercial fitness equipment maker Precor, which Peloton finalized the purchase of in April 2021. However, a Peloton spokesperson said the July 12 announcement did not include the Precor business. 

Peloton has a lot of work ahead of it. Third-quarter results released in May showed a loss of $757.1 million.    

Jill Jusko

Doing the Lordstown Shuffle

So, is the lesson we should be reminded of here that even the alpha male can get taken down on pretty short notice?

We’re being a bit snarky here in passing along the news from Lordstown Motors Corp. that—chief among a series of management changes—CEO Dan Ninivaggi has made way for Ed Hightower, the veteran Ford and GM executive who has been the electric vehicle manufacturer’s president since November. Ninivaggi’s new role as executive chairman has him focused on partnerships and raising capital—the type of work he did in getting across the finish line a complex asset-sale-and-partnership deal with Foxconn parent Hon Hai Technology Group two months ago that essentially kept Lordstown’s alive.

In many ways, the transition makes a lot of practical sense for Ninivaggi, Hightower and Lordstown as a whole—including for the company’s investors looking for big production ramps thanks to Foxconn’s muscle. And it’s worth noting that Lordstown’s management changes news included word that Ford veteran Donna Bell has come aboard as executive vice president of product creation, engineering and supply chain.

Still, we couldn’t help but think back to the company’s late-February earnings call, when an analyst pressed Ninivaggi about who was really in charge. Taking the bait, Ninivaggi expressed his faith in Lordstown’s chosen path and his senior team before adding that, “If you want to know who the alpha male is in this company, you’re talking to him.”

Things can change in a hurry.

Geert De Lombaerde

Mercedes-Benz Puts Big Money into Employee Training

While everyone talks about investing in their employees, Mercedes-Benz is doing it—to the tune of about $1.5 billion.

The company’s program, Turn2Learn, whose goal is “sustainable personal development” will give employees access to continuing education and lifelong learning, the company says.  Using e-learning platforms, customized learning paths and other continuing education programs, it will get employees up to speed for current and future capabilities.

“For a fully electric and digital future as a luxury brand, we have generated a noticeable sense of new beginnings at Mercedes-Benz,” says Sabine Kohleisen, human resources & labor director at Mercedes-Benz Group AG. “Turn2Learn takes this up and puts the qualification for all employees at Mercedes-Benz on a new level… Lifelong learning is not a buzzword, but the condition for success—for the company and for each individual colleague.”

The company is committed to this upskilling and employees have completed almost 1.3 million hours of professional and personal training last year in Germany alone. In 2021 there were around 75,000 participations in training courses on software, coding and IT at Mercedes-Benz Group AG worldwide. The workforce in production is also in the middle of the qualification process. Since 2020, around 57,500 employees have successfully completed further training on topics related to electric mobility at MB Tech Academies in Germany.

Adrienne Selko

HHI’s Ingalls Shipbuilding to Hire More Than 2,000 Employees

Touting its mission as “building ships that protect and defend our freedoms,” HHI Ingalls Shipbuilding division plans to hire 2,000 full-time shipbuilders at the massive facility in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

The division builds amphibious warships, destroyers and national security cutters on an 800-acre facility, having recently completed a state-of-the-art upgrade that includes covered workspaces to keep shipbuilders dry and cool.

In recent years, Ingalls Shipbuilding facility upgrades have also included additional hydration stations, improved access to work sites and tool rooms, and expanded meal choices in the shipyard, including a Chick-fil-A.

“With over 500 different jobs, there is no limit to what you can do at Ingalls,” said Susan Jacobs, vice president of human resources and administration. “Shipbuilding is hard work, but we strive to make sure our shipbuilders have the tools and conveniences they need to do the hard work well.”

Adrienne Selko

Bringing Back that Manufacturing Magic

Back in the 1980s, the venerable Mister Rogers and his crew visited factories to show kids how everyday things like shoes, crayons and macaroni and cheese were made. The workers went about their jobs and showed the fascinating processes involved, as machines thrummed, gears turned and soothing Mister Rogers jazz piano played. Those videos, while dated now, made unfamiliar concepts—manufacturing, engineering, technology—feel as exciting as an amusement park ride.

Recently, the NEW Manufacturing Alliance in Wisconsin had a fresh opportunity to dazzle kids with manufacturing when a math teacher asked for help answering a common student question: “When am I ever going to use this in the real world?” A video series, Get Real Math and Science, which teams up with manufacturers in Wisconsin, was born.

The 70 videos feature manufacturers teaching science, math and engineering concepts, from third grade through high school, using real-life issues at the plant; they also show off technology and equipment and provide a window into the possibilities of manufacturing careers. In one video, leaders at pet food manufacturer Carnivore Meat Co. use math to find the perfect size for their dog food patties, which they’re shifting from round to square to save packaging and storage space. McCain Foods illustrates the concept of viscosity by explaining the science of the batter that coats a cheese stick (and showing off their mesmerizing conveyor belt in the process). Georgia-Pacific illustrates how they add absorbency to paper towels with processes called creping and embossing (with a fancy engraved roll worthy of the finest scrollwork).

Teachers brainstorm the ideas for the videos, of which there are now more than 70, with the manufacturers. The end result may not have a cool-jazz accompaniment, but it is accompanied by teacher-written lesson plans to make things more user-friendly.

Coming in October: a visit to Alliance Laundry, a manufacturer of laundromat equipment in Ripon, Wisconsin, to show the science of getting clothes clean. Pass the popcorn: We hear it features the incredible feat of cleaning a load of billiard balls without damaging the washing-machine drum.

Laura Putre

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