20 June 2018
US High-Tech Design Show Exhibitors Bless Trump's Import Tariffs
Maintaining that US manufacturing is booming, exhibitors at the Cleveland Advanced Design and Manufacturing Expo cited President Trump's steel and aluminium import tariffs as the spur for the re-shoring that has rebooted the sector.
"The Europeans are crying about import duties on steel and aluminium – too bad. They've been screwing us for too long."
While that was the personal opinion of Neal Johnson, President of Stanfordville Machine, a New York-state based CNC machine-parts maker, it was fairly representative of the overall sentiment at this year's Cleveland-hosted Advanced Design and Manufacturing Expo (ADM), which bills itself as providing, "A solution for every challenge". Overall, the consensus at the event was that the Trump administration's America First trade policy had been the ideal solution to the considerable challenge of rebooting the US manufacturing sector.
Clearly warming to his theme, Johnson said: "Previously, when we were up against foreign competition, it wasn't a level playing field, as in Europe and China labour costs were hugely subsidised by the respective governments. Now, though, the President's agenda is all about making global trade a little fairer, something that I have to support.
"At the end of the day, we are not trying to compete with China. That is something that US manufacturers can't do, at least not in price terms. We can, however, compete when it comes to quality and trust – making sure that the parts meet the original specifications and that the material used is what was agreed."
Striking a similar note, Cory Homer, Vice-president of Profile Grinding, an Ohio-based contract-machining company, said: "Right now, we are seeing stuff coming back from overseas, with customers who had once out-sourced to China re-shoring for intellectual property and shipping reasons.
"Years ago, when everything was going to China, price was the primary driver of the majority of decisions. Now, though, it's more about quality and delivery rather than just price and lead times."
The recently imposed tariffs on certain steel and aluminium imports, however, have caused as many problems as they have solved for some US companies. Acknowledging the uncertainties his company has had to contend with, Paul Farley, the Marketing Manager of MBKit Systems, an Ohio-based extruded aluminium cage maker, said: "We were waiting for the election to be over to figure out which direction it was all going to go. For us, given that we import aluminium and the tariffs are going up, we've yet to determine how this will affect our business overall."
As a sign of the mixed reaction to the tariffs, other members of the MBKit Systems' team had quite a different view as to the likely consequences, with Technical Sale Manager Andrew Browning saying: "It might actually help us as the aluminium tariffs are not as high as those on steel. As our biggest competitor is actually steel, the lower cost of aluminium could see us taking on some of that business."
Another consequence of the White House's current policy regime is that demand for manufacturing equipment and services has increased across the US, a development that has required certain businesses to optimise the efficiency of their operations. A clear case in point here is Ohio's Virtual Manufacturing, a specialist in the provision of bespoke software for the manufacturing sector.
Outlining the company's particular niche, Vice-president for Sales Zachery Casto said: "Our best market is the job-shops, places where guys are having to deliver short-runs of different parts on an everyday basis. They are always having to deal with something new and they are always having to work out the best way to produce it, whether by using a mill, a lathe or something else.
"Our niche is on the programming side, devising the tool-path that creates the codes that run the machines. We also are able to simulate, so users can see a dry run on the computer first. Crashing on a computer is a lot cheaper than crashing in reality."
While smaller operations are obliged to keep up-to-date with the latest technology in order to remain competitive, Casto maintains that certain other US manufacturers are falling well behind, saying: "Production environments are always the toughest as, in many cases, the staff there may have been running the same programme for 20 or even 30 years. While a lot of improvements to the process may have emerged over that time, they have no real incentive to update how they do things."
Despite this reluctance to move with the times in certain quarters, a good number of the attendees at this year's event were clearly only too keen to adopt the latest innovations, particularly those representing smaller businesses. Noting the willingness of the more compact and sleeker operations to engage with new tech, Robert Foster, an Account Manager for Faro Technologies, a Florida-based 3D measurement specialist, said: "We are seeing a lot of relatively small businesses – especially those in the OEM and automotive aftercare sectors – that are keen to get into customising and want a fast way to prototype, which is where we come in.
"Our primary product is a measuring scanner arm, which can scan in an end products' 3D information very quickly, then process that to create a prototype. The system is available for about US$43,000 and, once you pair it with the required software, you are pretty much ready to go."
Further innovation was on offer from Ohio-based Kyntronics, which was debuting its electrohydraulic system at the show. Outlining its benefits, Sales Manager Rick Chrisyson said: "It's a self-contained unit and it uses a servomotor to drive a pump attached to a hydraulic cylinder. This eliminates the need for any of the conventional hydraulic infrastructure. There's no hose, no valves, no pumps and no accumulators.
"It's very efficient and very controllable. As you have precise control over the servomotor, you can integrate multiple actuators and deliver a co-ordinated action, which is very difficult with hydraulic cylinders. Overall, the system is 50% more energy-efficient than conventional mechanical alternatives, while costing about the same."
In the case of the range of sensors on offer from Pennsylvania-based Powercast, it was power transmission rather than power consumption that saw them score over a number of the alternatives already on the market. Outlining their particular application, Chief Operating Officer Charles Green said: "We have a transmitter, which generates an RF field. It sends that field out over a distance, then the antennae on our range of custom chips detects the field and converts it to DC, which can directly power a device or be used to recharge batteries.
"We've been in business for 15 years, primarily in the industrial sector. Over that time, we've developed a speciality in providing sensors for rotating machinery and developing wireless robotic arms."
The 2018 Advanced Design and Manufacturing Expo (ADM) took place from 7-8 March at Cleveland's Huntington Convention Center. The event, which was co-located with the ATX manufacturing automation show, featured more than 250 exhibitors and attracted an estimated 2,600 visitors.
James O'Donnell, Special Correspondent, Cleveland