Autofact Europe 84 conference in Switzerland Essay

As a Lifetime Member of the SME, I’ve been to a few AUTOFACTconferences before. I’ve even been a speaker. But this was myfirst time attending one on foreign soil. It didn’t happen in a vacuum. The location in Basel was theSchweizer Mustermesse (halls of the Swiss Industries Fair) whereconcurrently ran the SAMA International Exhibition on AdvancedTechniques for Industrial Production, Automation and Robotics; Fabritec84, the International Trade Fair for Fabrication Installations inElectronics; and the SWISSDATA Exhibition for Data Processing inIndustry.

So far as manufacturing engineering is concerned, this sounds likehigh tech sliced at least four different ways. The shows got the big crowds. The conference has its own entranceup the side street with an attendance shy of 200. If you want to get acopy of the 17 papers published for the occasion, SME headquarters inDetroit has some for sale for $35 to members, $45 to others. One paper not in the book was In-Line Testing–Key to AutomaticAssembly in Watch Manufacturing by W Salathe, VP Engineering of ETA.

That is the outfit that makes the Swatch. A Swiss on the floor of theFabritec show already had filled me in on the idea that Swiss banks havebacked a consortium to set up automated lines to get their share of thewatch business back from foreigners. They are said to be tooled up to make in excess of 10 millionSwatches a year. In earlier technological times the Swiss watch got its accuracyffrom the precise manufacture and assembly of mechanical parts.Today’s analog quartz watch consists of a tuning-fork-typeoscillator quartz of 32 kHz, an integrated circuit serving as dividingchain and motor driver, and a motor as the electromechanical transducerdriving the gearing of the hands.

A battery provides the energy.Accuracy comes in tuning the quartz. What fewer mechanical parts areused 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 automaticallyleak tested.

They have a product designed for automated production,assembly, and testing. Salathe’s final words: “An absolutenecessity for such an operation is an easy to use and powerful in-linequality-control system.” I was no impressed that I went right out and bought one for 49.90Swiss Francs, which at the time converted to about $21 (US).

(EddieBauer had it in his Christmas catalog at $35.) With due respect to the keynote speaker, Prof Gunter Spur’spresentation of The Evolution of Industry–with all the basic conceptsof advanced manufacturing technology we’ve been reading, writing,and speaking for the last 30 years–I see the Swatch example as apractical keynote lesson in what it takes to be competitive in worldmanufacturing today. The conference chairman was Eberhard C Stotko, manager ofAutomotive Industry and Computer Integrated Manufacturing for IBM,Muenchen, West Germany. He said the focus of Autofact events wascomputer integrated manufacturing (CIM), also referred to as the”Factory of the Future”.

..how the manufacturing industry willfunction and operate in the ’90s and beyond.

He said a mouthful: “The driving forces towards wanting toeffect these changes in industrial operations are the quest for survivalin a highly competitive world market, and growing public concern aboutthe negative impact of industry on environment and natural resources,energy, and quality of life. The name of the game is regaining ormaintaining competitive posture in light of new rules.” We can use CNC, CAD/CAM, FMS, robots–the various tools ofautomation–to build CIM systems. Putting all the bits and piecestogether involves expertise in information technology. Some Europeansat least see Autofact Europe as a potential to exchange across nationalborders the know-how to do this. Despite my personal multilingual deficiencies, I came away with theunderstanding that the Europeans are pointed in the right directions formore high-tech manufacturing. Even the show and conference business is highly competitive.

Itwill be interesting to see what city in which country hosts AutofactEurope 85.

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