Podcast Product Pulse Innovative Tools And Equipment Affecting The Industry

Podcast: Product pulse — Innovative tools and equipment affecting the industry

March 16, 2023
In this episode of The Tool Belt, Laura Davis, editor in chief of New Equipment Digest, offers her insight and perspective on new technologies affecting the manufacturing industry.

Laura Davis is the editor in chief of New Equipment Digest (NED), a brand part of the Manufacturing Group at Endeavor Business Media. NED covers all products, equipment, solutions, and technology related to the broad scope of manufacturing, from mops and buckets to robots and automation. Laura has been a manufacturing product writer for six years, knowledgeable about the ins and outs of the industry along with what readers are looking for when wanting to learn about the latest products on the market. Plant Services editor in chief Thomas Wilk recently spoke with Laura to get her perspective on new products and innovations that are affecting the industry, as well as the upcoming partnership between Plant Services and New Equipment Digest.

PS: You know, one of the things that jumped out right away about NED and your work on it is that you're in a really unique position, where you are the first to see and hear about all kinds of new and innovative technologies across the breadth and depth of industry. Now I know I have a hard time keeping track of just the maintenance and reliability technologies that we cover. You've got a mission that spans industry. So I'm curious to know, with your editor’s eye since you're seeing everything across the board, what kind of categories are you currently seeing a lot of product innovation happening in?

LD: We're definitely a bit different from other publications in our company, since our focus is solely on new products. Not just products but equipment and technology in the manufacturing space, which as you said is very, very broad. So we see everything from you know a new cleaning spray to safety lanyards, motors and drives, all the way to VR maintenance. It's very, very big. It can get overwhelming at times with all the new stuff coming out.

But lately, the biggest thing we're seeing is AI. It's huge right now, and it's starting to hit the commercial and consumer space but it hasn't necessarily been something new in manufacturing. We've been dealing this with for a couple years now, especially in preventative and predictive maintenance. But it kind of goes hand in hand with IoT, smart factories, smart plants. What we're seeing now is instead of a few years ago, we were reporting on, “oh this machine has an app, isn't that neat? This sensor has Bluetooth. That's really cool.”

Now we're at a point where these products are coming out with AI integrated into them. There's a lot less connection steps, and we're really finally getting to that point of the smart connected factory. My machine can actually tell me not just the real time data, but it's smart data, it's doing rolling averages over time of everything that's happened, not just today. I think that's really interesting because we've been talking about these smart factories for years. It's always been like, “oh, we're here now. We're here now.” We're really just starting to get there, and as it becomes more ubiquitous, even smaller companies are going to be able to get in on the action. I just think it's really cool.

PS: Yeah, that's a really useful insight I think for a lot of our listeners. In the past couple of years since COVID hit, one of the things that happened in maintenance was that people were reassessing how to fill plant resources, when either (a) they were out sick for up to two weeks with COVID or (b) just decided that they were going to look for different kinds of jobs. And so remote monitoring technologies really took the really took center stage. People who had been maybe soft peddling towards them slowly, suddenly engaged in and make sure that they knew what kind of sensors they would need to listen to what kind of assets. What you're saying too now is that AI is boosting these assets and it's almost becoming a turnkey offering where a lot of the noise is being filtered out right there on the device sometimes before they transmit data back to home base.

LD: Definitely, yeah. The only other area is kind of in the same vein, not a smart factory but a smart warehouse. With the reshoring and onshoring initiatives, we're seeing a lot of increased automated storage systems, robotics in the warehouse, kind of moving people away from the labor intensive jobs, and making it so the robots can do those things. They're not new systems, but the additional features and getting the worker out of that stressful physical everyday environment is becoming more common, which is really nice.

PS: Interesting. I would think there would be a parallel concern with safety technology too, because as you get more automated in the warehouse and you get these larger AGV type vehicles moving materials around, you have to have the safety component first and foremost so the vehicles don't bump into people or worse.

LD: Right, yes.

PS:  I guess I shouldn't be surprised that vision systems are so powerful these days, but some of the stuff still does take my breath away when I realize what could be done.

LD: Yeah, I remember one of my first factory tours, they had the tape-guided AGVs going around and they were like, “do not walk in the path of the tape, you will get run over.” Now I think we've moved quite beyond that. I don't see as many products coming out with the tape guidance. It's all just the presence-sensing systems now.

PS: Yeah, you can look on YouTube and see any number of videos out there which show the sensing systems taking care to not bump into either warehouse shelves, warehouse assets, and most importantly, people. About a year ago I had the chance to go see that the Spot robot from Boston Dynamics, and I even got to drive it a little bit. Boston Dynamics was pairing up with a couple of technologies from UE Systems and RDI Technologies to get robots into spaces in the plant which were difficult for people to get into, in order to take sensor readings on the assets.

LD: That's a fun one. Spot’s always fun to see the news about.

Read the rest of the transcript

About the Author

Thomas Wilk | editor in chief

Thomas Wilk joined Plant Services as editor in chief in 2014. Previously, Wilk was content strategist / mobile media manager at Panduit. Prior to Panduit, Tom was lead editor for Battelle Memorial Institute's Environmental Restoration team, and taught business and technical writing at Ohio State University for eight years. Tom holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MA from Ohio State University

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