December 21, 2009
Rickey Moulder probably won't forget the workday he had Thursday. Moulder is press brake department supervisor for Impulse Manufacturing in Dawsonvile, Ga., and on Dec. 17 he got to explain a bit about sheet metal fabrication to Vice President Joe Biden. An Associated Press photographer even got a great shot of him holding a sheet metal part and standing next to a sign explaining the company's press brake operations. That's not something you see every day.
The vice president visited the rural north Georgia community to tout a $33 million project that will bring a fiber-optic Internet network to the region, representing one of the first funding awards from $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus money Congress approved earlier this year.
According to the local paper, the Dawson News and Advertiser, Biden said that businesses like Impulse Manufacturing "are forming the tools that will, in turn, fashion the work of the 21st century."
For years Impulse has had close ties with local economic development groups. The company has hosted numerous visitors, from foreign representatives to government officials like Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, who accompanied Biden on his visit Thursday.
According to Bobby Densmore, Impulse's director of operations, the fabricator learned it would be hosting the vice president only a week ago. Before the speeches, Biden and Perdue toured the facility, and each department supervisor—including Moulder—got a chance to talk about the fabrication process.
"He asked where parts were used," Densmore said. "One of the parts was for a golf cart, and he asked where it was used and about how it was actually formed. He seemed to understand the process and ask relevant questions."
Impulse Manufacturing employs 150 people and operates out of a 150,000-square-foot facility. Along with advanced fabrication technologies—flat-cutting lasers, a tube laser, robotic welding, modern press brakes, and so on—the company uses some cutting-edge software. It employs Exact Software"s JobBOSS to monitor shop floor operations, and integrates some of that information onto a Web-based platform that Impulse developed internally. Externally, employees can log on to a virtual personal network and view up-to-the-minute productivity data, at least in theory. The area"s Internet connectivity slows things considerably.
"It's almost a line-by-line display sometimes," Densmore said. "It sometimes looks as if we're working with an old-fashioned dial-up connection."
Impulse engineers also share DXF files with customers. Customers can log on to Impulse's site and upload the part files, but it can be a tedious process because of the slow connection. With a robust Internet infrastructure, the process might not be so tedious.
Managers at metal stamper Ralco Industries know how a robust Internet connection can change a business. Jim Piper, president of the Auburn Hills, Mich., company, said he's planning to double the size of the business in the next 12 months. And this is a business that's closely tied to the automotive industry.
How is this possible? Piper named combination of factors. For one, the company adopted lean manufacturing and works to continually improve operations. Another factor is something more unusual: Ralco brought in an enterprise resource planning and manufacturing execution software platform that's in the cloud—a software as a service, or SaaS. The company accesses most company data through a Web server.
Ralco doesn't have a significant IT staff, nor does it use an on-site server. But it has integrated the manufacturing software down to the shop floor and machine-control level. Every few seconds or so, the manufacturing software, from Plex Systems, reads information from the press controls and keeps watch over shop floor operations. And the software isn't even on-site. The software and all of Ralco's manufacturing data sit on secure, off-site data centers owned and operated by Plex. Instead of investing in servers and IT personnel, Piper invests in backup Internet connections to ensure the connection remains as continuous and robust as possible.
Piper couldn't do such a thing without a robust Internet infrastructure, and this doesn't exist in much of rural America—a fact the people at Impulse Manufacturing know all too well.