As a Lifetime Member of the SME, I’ve been to a few AUTOFACT
conferences before. I’ve even been a speaker. But this was my
first time attending one on foreign soil.
It didn’t happen in a vacuum. The location in Basel was the
Schweizer Mustermesse (halls of the Swiss Industries Fair) where
concurrently ran the SAMA International Exhibition on Advanced
Techniques for Industrial Production, Automation and Robotics; Fabritec
84, the International Trade Fair for Fabrication Installations in
Electronics; and the SWISSDATA Exhibition for Data Processing in
So far as manufacturing engineering is concerned, this sounds like
high tech sliced at least four different ways.
The shows got the big crowds. The conference has its own entrance
up the side street with an attendance shy of 200. If you want to get a
copy of the 17 papers published for the occasion, SME headquarters in
Detroit has some for sale for $35 to members, $45 to others.
One paper not in the book was In-Line Testing–Key to Automatic
Assembly in Watch Manufacturing by W Salathe, VP Engineering of ETA.
That is the outfit that makes the Swatch. A Swiss on the floor of the
Fabritec show already had filled me in on the idea that Swiss banks have
backed a consortium to set up automated lines to get their share of the
watch business back from foreigners.
They are said to be tooled up to make in excess of 10 million
Swatches a year.
In earlier technological times the Swiss watch got its accuracy
ffrom the precise manufacture and assembly of mechanical parts.
Today’s analog quartz watch consists of a tuning-fork-type
oscillator quartz of 32 kHz, an integrated circuit serving as dividing
chain and motor driver, and a motor as the electromechanical transducer
driving the gearing of the hands. A battery provides the energy.
Accuracy comes in tuning the quartz. What fewer mechanical parts are
used have less need for precision.
The Swatch is nonrepairable. All connections are ultrasonic welds.
The glass lid is welded to the plastic case. Every one is automatically
leak tested. They have a product designed for automated production,
assembly, and testing. Salathe’s final words: “An absolute
necessity for such an operation is an easy to use and powerful in-line
I was no impressed that I went right out and bought one for 49.90
Swiss Francs, which at the time converted to about $21 (US). (Eddie
Bauer had it in his Christmas catalog at $35.)
With due respect to the keynote speaker, Prof Gunter Spur’s
presentation of The Evolution of Industry–with all the basic concepts
of advanced manufacturing technology we’ve been reading, writing,
and speaking for the last 30 years–I see the Swatch example as a
practical keynote lesson in what it takes to be competitive in world
The conference chairman was Eberhard C Stotko, manager of
Automotive Industry and Computer Integrated Manufacturing for IBM,
Muenchen, West Germany. He said the focus of Autofact events was
computer integrated manufacturing (CIM), also referred to as the
“Factory of the Future”…how the manufacturing industry will
function and operate in the ’90s and beyond.
He said a mouthful: “The driving forces towards wanting to
effect these changes in industrial operations are the quest for survival
in a highly competitive world market, and growing public concern about
the negative impact of industry on environment and natural resources,
energy, and quality of life. The name of the game is regaining or
maintaining competitive posture in light of new rules.”
We can use CNC, CAD/CAM, FMS, robots–the various tools of
automation–to build CIM systems. Putting all the bits and pieces
together involves expertise in information technology. Some Europeans
at least see Autofact Europe as a potential to exchange across national
borders the know-how to do this.
Despite my personal multilingual deficiencies, I came away with the
understanding that the Europeans are pointed in the right directions for
more high-tech manufacturing.
Even the show and conference business is highly competitive. It
will be interesting to see what city in which country hosts Autofact