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Autofact Europe 84 conference in Switzerland.

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 Industry.

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 quality-control system."

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 manufacturing today.

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" 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 Europe 85.
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Author:Keebler, Jim
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Jan 1, 1985
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