Abb Robotics
Abb Anti Test I

So That Happened: Robots Declare War on COVID, Talking About Dad's New Girlfriend in Manufacturing Terms

Feb. 8, 2023
IndustryWeek editors look into those stories, more challenges under the USMCA, electric/industrial suppliers launching consulting wings and using capital spending as a recruitment tool.

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.

Manufacturer Faces Second Charge of Violating Workers Rights Under USMCA

In September 2022 the United States and Mexico announced they had employed the USMCA’s Rapid Response Labor Mechanism to successfully resolve a workers’ rights matter at an automotive components plant located in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. The initial petition raised concerns that workers were being denied the right of free association and collective bargaining. Mexico investigated and took action, including holding a supervised election in which workers voted in favor of an independent Mexican union.

The response was swift, with a resolution reached less than two months after the U.S. requested a review. Recent actions, however, suggest that September’s successful resolution is not complete.

Late last month U.S. again invoked the Rapid Response Labor Mechanism with respect to the Manufacturas VU facility in Piedras Negras and has asked Mexico to once more review whether workers’ rights of free association and collective bargaining are being denied in violation of USMCA obligations, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

In a letter to Mexico Secretary of Economy Raquel Buenrostro, the U.S. raises concerns that the manufacturer’s actions support one union and “disfavor the newly representative union, LSOM” by restricting its supporters’ access to the facility and meting out unequal discipline for union activity, among other practices—all of which harm the ongoing collective bargaining process at the facility.

It’s too soon to know how this second request will unfold. However, earlier this year, several members of the House of Representatives issued an open letter with respect to the new complaint against Manufacturas VU (which was received in December 2022). Among their comments was this recommendation: “We also urge the departments to resist closing any case under the RRLM in response to positive on-the-ground developments without concrete assurances that violations will not be repeated.”

Jill Jusko

Capex is a Recruiting Tool

Here’s a gentle reminder from Graphic Packaging Holding Co. (No. 177 on the IW U.S. 500) that every factor counts in manufacturers’ efforts to recruit and retain talent. Yes, the little things matter but so do the biggest items on firms’ balance sheets.

Alongside their quarterly results, the team at Atlanta-based Graphic Packaging this week announced they will build a roughly $1 billion coated recycled board plant in Waco, Texas. The project also calls for the company to shut down three smaller plants in Ohio, Iowa and Quebec and will grow Graphic Packaging’s net capacity by about 5% when it opens in three years.

After extolling the productivity and environmental benefits of the plan and its ability to provide a step change to Graphic Packaging’s profitability, President and CEO Mike Doss quickly moved to the HR component when talking to analysts. He lauded the work of the teams at the three plants set to close but noted that they’re smaller and aging and thus a tougher sell to workers still in high demand.

“Our ability to attract new talent to work in places like that, it's diminishing quite frankly,” Doss said. “We need to have modern facilities that are well capitalized, control rooms that are digital in nature […] People will work in those kinds of environments.”

Geert De Lombaerde

Schneider Electric, Emerson Create New Business Units to Target Sustainability, Digital Transformation

By combining their own power and renewable energy capabilities with the software and technology of the recently acquired Mita-Teknik, Emerson has launched the Ovation Green software and automation solution portfolio.

“Countries around the globe are focused on transitioning to a clean energy economy in the coming decades, and while green energy is a simple concept everyone understands, the road to implementation is not always clear,” said Bob Yeager, president of Emerson’s power and water solutions. “With the Ovation Green portfolio, our software, support and solutions are unified in one system from a single trusted provider to help power producers more quickly, easily and reliably manage their renewable electricity operations,” he said.

Ovation Green will have data-driven asset control and management solutions to help power generation companies meet the requirements of their customers. The portfolio will assist power producers by gathering, collating and contextualizing data across a single or multiple sites to provide a clear view of renewable operations and delivering a single set of software and solutions in one standardized system.

While Emerson pushes further into sustainability, one of its chief rivals is targeting digital transformation for continued growth. Schneider Electric is launching a consulting and deployment service to help its customers adopt transformational technologies.

The consultancy business will focus on:

  • Operational efficiency and workforce empowerment
  • Asset optimization
  • Cybersecurity
  • (And of course) sustainability and energy efficiency

Schneider announced the service at ARC Research’s ARC Industrial Forum in Orlando, Florida, where ARC Vice President Craig Resnick said, “According to our research, about 83% of end users and OEMs are moving forward on their digital transformation journey, but only about 7% feel they have completed the process. Therefore, it’s imperative that end users and OEMs consider using digital transformation services, such as those offered by Schneider Electric, to accelerate their digital transformation journey and more quickly derive financial benefits, while decreasing unplanned downtime.”

Anna Smith

Million Girls Moonshot Initiative Picks Second Cohort of STEM Ambassadors

The Million Girls Moonshot has recruited a second “Flight Crew” cohort of youth ambassadors following the success of its 2020 group. The 43 girls, aged 13-18, will share their experiences in afterschool and summer STEM programs with other children while also receiving public speaking training and interview coaching to prepare them to enter STEM careers.

The program was founded by the STEM Next Opportunity Fund and is partners with the Afterschool Alliance, a nonprofit organization that supports afterschool programs, as well as Qualcomm Inc. and Lockheed-Martin in the private STEM sector.

“After huge success with our first cohort, we know expanding the Million Girls Moonshot Flight Crew is a phenomenal way to make the biggest impact for hundreds of thousands of young people across our nation,” said Teresa Drew, deputy director at STEM Next and director of the Million Girls Moonshot, in a statement.

Several Flight Crew members said they started their own school groups and hopes that they could serve as role models for other girls interested in STEM.

Amanda, a tenth grader from Nebraska who hopes to go to space someday as an astronaut, said “Everyone who wants an opportunity in STEM should have one. I’ve seen a lot of girls not participate in activities because of their self-image and we should all have the opportunity no matter what other people think of us.”

—Ryan Secard

Truly, Madly, CNC Machine-ly

Manufacturing + podcast has a high potential to = snoozefest. Actually, anything + podcast is often a snorer. But our attention piqued when we saw the list of topics covered by Elk Grove, Illinois, precision machine-shop owner Jim Carr on his new, emphatically titled podcast, “My True Position.”

Season 1 topics include:

  • Continuing in the family business when Dad has a girlfriend
  • ACH fraud: It’s only a matter of time
  • Parting ways with a 21-year veteran

Wondering how a small-business owner broaches the topic of Dad’s girlfriend in a 13-minute podcast and still keep things professional, we were compelled to listen to Episode 1.

The answer? Keep it respectful, and spend the first six minutes talking about installing a new CNC machine. That way, you show that you really know your audience and what they care about.

Laura Putre

Robots Join the Fight Against COVID-19

Understanding and controlling the continued spread of COVID-19 requires lots of testing, especially as the virus mutates, making it more resistant to vaccines. One of the best tools to study the ongoing spread? Testing, testing and more testing.

There enters a massive bottleneck. Testing patients for neutralizing antibodies (immune system defenses against pathogens that people get from being exposed to the COVID-19 virus or through vaccines) can be a slow process. One lab tech can typically run about 15 tests per day, according to ABB Robotics.

The solution (no surprise here given that ABB is an automation supplier) is a robot. ABB, working with the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Houston, developed a robotic cell that can perform up to 1,000 antibody tests daily.

A lab technician loads samples into a drawer in the cell where a boxed-in, multi-axis robot handles them and sends them into an adjacent box where automated dispensing systems apply chemical reagents to test for antibodies. ABB and UTMB officials say the project went from design to finished cell in about 18 months.

“The ability to carry out more daily tests is the key to generating more data on individual immunity profiles that will help control the further spread of the virus,” said Dr. Michael Laposata, professor and chairman of the department of Pathology at UTMB. “By transforming the rate at which testing can be carried out and eliminating the need for large numbers of laboratory staff being exposed to the potential risk of infection in manual testing, the automated system we’ve developed with ABB provides an accurate, fast, flexible and safe way of meeting our goals.”

Robert Schoenberger 

Sponsored Recommendations

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of IndustryWeek, create an account today!