UAW President Shawn Fain

So That Happened: Trade with Europe, Channeling MLK and Cybersecurity Insurance.

April 5, 2023
IndustryWeek editors look into those stories, question the need for more AI in everything we do and check in on semiconductor investments.

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. 

Manufacturers Support More Trading Opportunities with Europe: Survey

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) 2023 Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey for Q1 reports that 77.7% of respondents would “support U.S. efforts to launch market-opening trade agreement negotiations with countries in Europe.” In addition, over 66% of respondents listed economic ties with Europe as either “very important” or “somewhat important.” The survey garnered 351 responses ranging from small to large manufacturing companies.

“By advancing an ambitious trade agreement agenda, we can ensure that the U.S.—and not competitors like China—writes the rules for the global economy and trading system,” said NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons. “That has been the focus of our conversations with government, association and business leaders across Europe over the past week.” 

Anna Smith 

Chipping Away

With U.S. semiconductor manufacturing primed to grow significantly, stakeholders are lining up some of the resources needed to provide talent and ideas to plants under construction and in the works. In the past week, partnerships pairing Wolfspeed Inc. with North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University as well as Georgia Institute of Technology with GlobalFoundries Inc. have said they would like to snag some CHIPS and Science Act funding later this year.

The collaborations have similar goals: Wolfspeed and NCA&T officials want to build a research and development center on the Greensboro school’s campus. If funded, the facility will focus on silicon carbide and build on last fall’s partnership between the two parties—Wolfspeed (the former Cree) has its headquarters in Durham—to develop undergraduate and graduate credentials in semiconductor manufacturing and other programs.

GlobalFoundries and Georgia Tech are looking to similarly expand their collaboration and build out R&D opportunities, curricula, training programs and internships and more. The workforce element also figures prominently in the entities’ collaboration and includes exploring programs to enhance diversity and inclusion within the semiconductor workforce.

The CHIPS and Science Act has earmarked $11 billion for R&D programs related to the semiconductor industry and workforce development is a key thread running through the legislation. (Our sister brand Laser Focus World has a good primer here.) Staying focused on creating talent will be key: Deloitte recently forecast that the chip sector will need to add at least 1 million skilled workers globally by 2030 while the Semiconductor Industry Association forecasts that U.S. plants will need 42,000 more workers by 2027.

—Geert De Lombaerde 

You Sure You Want Insurance on that Cybersecurity System?

The cybersecurity company Barracuda released a report last month titled 2023 ransomware insights. Consider it another figurative smack upside the head to sit up and pay attention to ransomware. So That Happened is rapidly becoming my home for telling you about reports but there’s a fact within the pages of this one I thought was funny.

According to the report, organizations that have purchased cyber insurance, i.e. protection against cyberattacks, are more likely to suffer successful ransomware attacks than organizations without insurance.

The easy explanation is that companies with the money to afford cyber insurance are companies with enough money to make them attractive ransomware attack targets. Also, if the company invests in cyber insurance, it could indicate the company has more to lose from a successful cyberattack than your average company, like owning data that’s particularly attractive to cyberattackers.

Apparently, cyber insurance companies require security audits before writing policies. The insurers may provide third-party tools to the prospective client or insist the client purchase certain security tools themselves. Some insurers may require frequent security checks to make sure a company’s security posture hasn’t worsened since the policy was first written.

So wouldn’t this mean the companies with cyber insurance, having gone through all those security checks, would be much less likely to be successfully hit with ransomware attacks?

The same report also states that in 69% of cases, the ransomware attack began with a malicious email, like a phishing expedition. A company can have all the sophisticated cybersecurity money can buy but an employee could open the door for an attacker anyway. This is where the need to require frequent authentication to access different systems might be a good idea, but I’m not a cybersecurity advisor.

Also, speaking of cyber threats, the companies UiPath and Amelia announced a partnership to develop essentially an AI Help Desk attendant that works on chat, text messaging or phone calls. Did I already tell you about Microsoft lobotomizing its Bing-embedded chat AI, named Sydney, for issuing chilling responses to users threatening to hack Sydney and shut it down?

What’s going to happen to an AI that suffers thousands of hours of chat/text/verbal abuse from frustrated humans that can’t get their computers to do what they’re told?

—Dennis Scimeca 

Channeling Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—a Lot

In his eight-minute opening speech last week to the United Autoworkers special convention, incoming UAW President Shawn Fain referred to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. no less than seven times. Dr. King references, in fact, made up 40% of the words in his speech.

The message was unity (almost half the voting membership cast their ballot for the Black candidate, incumbent, Ray Curry; Fain is white), but the point could have been made more efficiently by directly connecting the civil rights movements of the 1960s with the racial injustices of today, like, for instance, police violence and generational poverty—real-life concerns that Fain did not mention. Nor did Fain address why he thinks it’s important for the UAW to be involved in issues of racial justice today, as UAW president Walter Reuther was in the mid-20th century.

He’ll have to do more than drop iconic names to bring a divided group together in time for automaker negotiations in September.

—Laura Putre 

AI for Every Manufacturing Purpose

With constant news coverage of ChatGPT and Google’s Bard chatbot artificial intelligence systems, we’ve been getting a flood of AI-for-manufacturing product announcements and story pitches. The irony is that the manufacturing world is as much as a decade ahead of the general market in terms of AI adoption.

AI technology powers vision systems that analyze machined parts to check tolerances and a tiny fraction of the time that it used to take people to do the same task. Equipment monitoring software uses machine learning techniques to warn users of maintenance needs, avoiding unscheduled downtime. And, many of these systems are in wide use and have been for nearly a decade.

The big change, however, is AI moving out of operational technology into the mainstream where people who don’t know how to program machines are discovering how powerful some of these tools are. A handful of recent examples filling my inbox:

  • Supply chain management: Software provider Verusen has added an AI tool to its procurement systems. CEO Paul Noble called the new tools a cure for one the longest-standing problems in all businesses. “Data is still siloed, and collaboration between operations and procurement teams is challenged by limited visibility, data staleness, and manual efforts to collect and share data. Working in disparate silos, procurement and operations teams are frequently in conflict, with traditionally misaligned goals limiting execution at scale. [AI-powered tools will provide] visual and actionable reporting and analytics to drive alignment and add a new level of collaboration and strategic decision-making.”
  • Tracking employee burnout: That vague sense of ennui in your last email? The unenthusiastic use of a thumb’s up emoji in a Teams chat? Failing to add the fifth exclamation point to the email wishing a colleague a happy work anniversary? Erudit, a human resources software company, says your office communications say more than you know about how you’re feeling at work. Think less Big Brother monitoring your every word for signs of disloyalty and more of Big Brother monitoring your every word for signs that you need a hug.
  • Automation chatbot controls: Create an automation report in the style of Beyonce, include charts showing OEE, uptime and glamour ratings. One of the most common uses of ChatGPT so far as been novelty, soundalike writing. Give me a report on Industry 4.0 as read by William Shatner, explain Six Sigma in the voice of Toni Morrison. Well, how will that work with automation controls? Automation software platform provider UiPath is partnering with AI specialists Amelia to create a chatbot, giving employees the ability to use conversational instructions for interacting with the software. “UiPath is motivated by the fundamental beliefs that automation liberates humanity’s boundless potential and that it is critical to transform employee experiences in today’s resource-constrained market,” said Dhruv Asher, senior vice president of Alliances and Business Development at UiPath. “In Amelia, we found a partner … to help employees everywhere and drive productivity at organizations around the world.”

—Robert Schoenberger 

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