Supporting Student Invention Through Sponsorships

We all know how important it is to get young people interested in technical careers and to support their STEM education journey. At Red River Precision, we do this by getting involved in the community and sponsoring a local robotics team, Westwood Robotics.

The Westwood Robotics Team primarily does what their name suggests – they build robots. But beyond that, the team teaches students the fundamentals of design, problem solving, and outreach. Every year they take part in at least two major competitions. In the fall, they participate in BEST, and in the spring, they build a much larger robot for the FRC competition. They also host an FLL tournament themselves.

This past year was an especially active one for the team as they also exhibited their creations at Maker Faire and several other events. As far as successes, last year Westwood Robotics won the BEST marketing presentation, BEST Team spirit, and one of their members took home the Dean’s list award from FRC. They also placed 4th in BEST overall, 34/41 at the regional, and advanced to 34/67 at the world event, which had much steeper competition.

Red River Precision is pleased to see how far the Westwood Robotics team has come. We’ve been proud sponsors of the team, donating water jet cutting and form parts for them to use in their robots. These students are the next generation of manufacturing leaders, so we’re happy to help them build their careers in this hands-on way.

Learn more about the Westwood Robotics team by visiting their online site. To learn more about Red River Precision and our capabilities, visit us online or call 512-244-1508.

Trends and Forecasts in the U.S. Oil and Gas Sector

Over the past year, the United States has made significant strides toward energy independence. With the crude oil export ban lifted in January 2016, exports of crude oil have finally started to rise. While we still import most of the oil used in the U.S., we are growing our position as a low cost supplier internationally.

Liquefied natural gas (LNG) has seen similar successes thanks to low prices and growing demand. This is a good thing for end-users, but does present added competition for the oil industry. Costs need to remain low among both resources to stay competitive in this changing landscape. Even within the natural gas sector, low prices have created a buyer’s market where suppliers have less control. This can certainly present a challenge down the road.

Other challenges include natural disasters. 2017 saw an active hurricane season that included Hurricane Harvey, which ravaged Texas. While the oil industry bounced back fairly quickly, the destruction left behind is a constant reminder of how vulnerable the supply chain is to unforeseen circumstances.

New technologies aim to reduce some of this vulnerability, however. The introduction of artificial intelligence in the oil and gas sector has led to greater oversight of energy production. Automated data analysis makes it faster and easier to see which wells have the highest production, and which ones may require attention. The goal is to maximize productivity while keeping costs down.

The constant data analysis can also show which oil wells may be malfunctioning or require service. Repair crews can be deployed before a major breakdown occurs, which can prevent downtime and reduce costs. Automating data entry can even improve accuracy and make it easier for everyone to view data in real time and make informed decisions. It also makes forecasting easier since you can refer back to monthly numbers and track trends.

Over the next year, we expect to see greater investment into new technologies to streamline oil and gas productivity and tracking. We also expect 2018 to be a strong year as we continue to boost exports and remain competitive as a global energy supplier.

As a sheet metal fabricator supporting the oil and gas industry, Red River Precision is already seeing heightened demand in this sector. We expect to see this trend continue throughout the year, and hopefully beyond.

Exploring New Semiconductor Materials

Semiconductors play a major role in many advanced electronic devices we use daily. They are used to conduct currents and are made up of crystals. Silicon is the most prevalent material used due to the low cost of it in raw form, the simple processing required, and its many useful functions.

Semiconductors are used to conduct electricity while doubling as an insulator. There are two main types of semiconductors: N-type and P-type.

N-type semiconductors typically use phosphorus in the crystals, which is referred to as a dopant. Phosphorus atoms have five electrons in their valence, or outer ring. They are able to bind with four silicon atoms that are adjacent to them. The fifth electron has nothing it can bond to and is free to move around. This allows the atoms to behave as if they are single valence electrons in a typical conductor, such as copper.

P-type semiconductors occur when a dopant has just three electrons in its valence shell, such as boron. When boron is added to the crystal, three electrons bond but there is one silicon atom left, leaving a hole. The hole acts like a positive charge. The holes can move around inside of the crystal as electrons repeatedly try to fill them.

As new semiconductors are discovered the functionality of electronic devices will likely continue to improve. Take for example hafnium diselenide and zirconium diselenide. Electrical engineers at Stanford University have found these two semiconductors to have properties more desirable than silicon.

The two newer semiconductors are able to rust in a beneficial way which gives them an added insulation, something other semiconductors aren’t able to do. These semiconductors are also able to take up less space and they have the energy necessary to switch transistors on in the correct range. Although more research is necessary, these two semiconductors look to improve our electronics greatly once they can be incorporated into new electronic devices.

Here at Red River Precision Manufacturing, we’re a full service manufacturer of custom metal prototypes and products. Our capabilities include shearing, punching, water jet cutting, forming, sawing, drilling, and welding. We pride ourselves on keeping up to date with all the latest advancements in our industry, including those in semiconductors.

Want to know more about how Red River Precision supports the semiconductor industry? Give us a call at 512-244-1508 to learn more.

The Growing Use of Drones in Telecommunications and Other Industries

As time has gone on and drones have developed, the commercial usage of drones has grown and evolved. A variety of industries have learned to adapt drones for usage in their particular fields:

  • MIT Technology Review has noted that drones can be employed throughout the crop cycle to provide solutions. From providing 3-D mapping for early soil analysis before a seed has been planted, to automated crop spraying; with easy and regular crop monitoring and health assessment, drones can ease the workload of farmers, making them more efficient.
  • For security usage, drones can cover more ground, faster, and without endangering a human security guard in order to investigate perimeter breaches or gauging disasters to deploy first responders. Software is being developed so that drones can identify intruders, and follow thermal images until intruders can be responded to.
  • Just as in agriculture and security, the speed and accuracy of drones makes them appealing to the construction sector. When paired with sensors and the proper computing tools, drones can take data that can be transformed into 3D structural models, topographical maps, volumetric measurements, and more. This ability to cut cost while improving accuracy is incredibly valuable.

The telecommunications sector is starting to see great applications for drones as well. They have great potential to cut down time, money, and danger to employees. As PwC noted in their recent report, T-Mobile has already demonstrated the advantages – using drones, they were able to conduct a pilot test of antenna masts at a stadium in Utrecht, a test that took roughly 15 minutes. Conversely, traditional methods would have taken roughly a week.

In addition to maintenance, drones also can reduce the expense and improve the accuracy of planning and network optimization. They can be deployed for radio-planning and line-of-site testing between radio towers to help select the right frequencies, appropriate antenna heights, and site locations. Drones can also help to test network strength, an idea already being tested by Nokia.

Our metal fabrication abilities and water jet cutting services at Red River Precision allow us to service a wide variety of industries, including the telecommunications, construction, and semiconductor industries. Drones will not only be a big part of the industries we work with, but also a part of our business as well, with the potential to produce components for these cutting-edge machines. Contact us and let us know about your metal fabrication or water jet cutting needs – we’ll be happy to see what we can do for you. Make sure to keep up with us on LinkedIn and Twitter as well!

How the IoT is Boosting the Semiconductor Industry

Everyone seems to be talking about the Internet of Things (IoT) these days – it’s a big, buzzy concept that many cite as the future of connectivity, affecting numerous facets of everyday life. For many though, the IoT is a bit of an abstract idea.

The IoT is about inter-networking “things” – everything from vehicles, to appliances, to building systems and much more – so that they can be better integrated. This allows for reduced human intervention while improving efficiency and accuracy. With the integration of sensors and actuators, the usage is expanded even further.

In the industrial sector, this could have an immense impact when it comes to equipment management, manufacturing process control, and asset and situation management. This can allow for dynamic response to production needs, real-time optimization of the manufacturing process, and much more. One area where it has seen major progress is in monitoring machines to predict and prevent potential failures.

The Center for Intelligent Maintenance Systems, comprised of professionals as well as cutting-edge institutions, has developed methods to assess the degradation of industrial machines through sensors and cloud-based monitoring, and continues to develop more thorough systems for the future. By having computers and machines communicating, the aim is to achieve near-zero breakdown performance, and sustain it through self-maintenance capabilities.

For instance, a sensor could track the movements of a band saw blade, and when it detects it is at a certain point where it will need replacing, it could signal an ordering system to order the part for arrival just prior to the time the blade needs to be replaced. The user could then swap out the blade and continue working right away, with limited human interaction in the chain of actions.

This is driving an increase in demand that has not been seen before, presenting the semiconductor sector with steady growth and plenty of opportunity. In 2016, it was reported that global semiconductor sales were up 12.3% over the previous year, with the total sales of $338.9 billion being a record high for the industry.

Just recently, Intel announced their intent to invest over $7 billion in capital for a research and development location. Expected to be completed in three to four years, the factory in Arizona is expected to provide 3,000 full-time jobs to the area. Intel is only one of many companies investing in the future of the semiconductor industry – particularly in Southeast Asia and China, there is active investing in semiconductor production, including state-backed investments.

Here at Red River Precision, we are experienced in fabricating high-quality components for the semiconductor industry, as well as components for the medical industry, automotive industry, oil and gas industry, and many more industries. We produce custom projects to customers specifications, and pride ourselves in high-level, on-time performance. For more information, contact us online, and make sure to follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn for the latest news and projects.

Unique Waterjet Cutting Application: Mosaic Tiles

What is Waterjet Cutting?

Simply put, Waterjet cutting involves a very high pressure stream of water directed at a material intended to be cut or engraved. The force generated by this jet of water facilitates easy manipulation of the base material and the precision to create not just straight cuts but a number of patterns and motifs.

Often the jet of water is mixed with abrasives, and this stream is used to sculpt harder materials like tiles, metal and ceramic. The water-only jet is ideal for more pliable substances like rubber.

Why is Waterjet Cutting Preferred?

First and foremost, Waterjet cutting is a technology that works very quickly – almost five times faster than Wire EDM when used on sheets that have a relatively low thickness. This applies to both custom pieces and bulk processing.

Waterjet technology is quite affordable and largely relies on the skill of the handler for optimal results.

Most importantly, when a jet of water is used there is no distortion of the material that is being worked on. There is no visible “Heat Affected Zone” (HAZ) and the properties of the compound don’t change either.

Waterjet cutting is versatile, taking on everything from glass, rubber, and mosaic to carbon reinforced plastics.

Applications in Architecture and Design

mosaic tile cutting

Waterjet cutting of mosaic tiles

A unique application of waterjet cutting has been found in architecture, as waterjet cutting is used to shape and mark mosaic tiles.

The design process is carried out in two parts. The primary pattern is developed using sophisticated CAD technology. Once this blueprint is created, the waterjet equipment is programmed to follow its specifications for unparalleled accuracy and precision. The end products stand up to stringent quality checks and comply with dimensional restrictions.

Want to know more about our Waterjet Cutting services? Feel free to call 512-244-1508 for details.

The Future Is Now: Bridging the Skills Gap with Robotics

According to the International Federation of Robotics, there are over 1.1 million robots working globally. But these robots aren’t the humanoids made popular by Hollywood movies, and some of them might not be readily recognized as robots at all.

The robots that are capturing the world’s attention have a major role to perform – and that’s taking over repetitive and dangerous tasks from their human counterparts on the factory floor.

Trends in Manufacturing & Robotics:

  1. First and foremost, the use of robots isn’t something that is new to manufacturers. The automotive industry has been dependent on automated job flows assisted by robots for a long time. In fact the recent surge in productivity in the sector can be traced back to effective delegation of tasks that require strength and precision.
  1. New breakthroughs in robotics will enable the creation of affordable mechanized “helpers” that can be trained by their human counterparts and possess improved capabilities of sensing and memory. From picking to packing to inspection, all aspects of manufacturing that do not call for complex decision making can be assigned to robots.
  1. Robotics is the surprise ally of manufacturers! Robots can not only take on the unfilled production jobs that are not interesting to young workers, they have also captured the interest of the next generation of engineers and programmers who are still in school. These prospective candidates might just consider a career in manufacturing when they realize that modern jobs often include designing, programming, and working alongside advanced robots.

Cultivating Early Robotics Interest

Success is the best motivator. Red River Precision recently assisted The Westwood High School Robotics team and contributed our expertise in crafting the team’s entrant into the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC).

Named #2583, the prototype performed impressively and even earned a place in the semi-finals.

Red River hopes that this victory is the start of a romance with robotics that can change not only the lives of these students but also the fate of manufacturing in the US.

Texas Manufacturing Increases After Spring Slump

Factory production in Texas increased in August and September, showing an uptrend since the spring slump. According to the production index reported by the Federal government, manufacturing activity growth rose from 0.4 in July to 4.5 in August. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas conducted a survey in September, with manufacturers across the state reporting strengthened capacity, production, shipments, and employment.

The recent election and gas prices could turn out to affect the near future of manufacturing, although capacity use and shipments are higher than they have been for two years. Some respondents of the survey reported an increase in employment with a majority of firms hiring more workers. Wages, benefits, and number of hours worked also increased. Around two-thirds of survey respondents anticipate general business activity and their companies’ outlook to improve over the next six months.

According to the forecast summary from the comptroller for the State of Texas, the state is poised for growth in most areas. The gross state product is estimated to increase by almost $46 billion dollars from 2016 to 2017, so while some manufacturers still feel the slump, post-election reports may continue to show improvements. The Texas economy is the 10th largest in the world and despite oil prices dropping, strongly continues to expand.

Red River Precision Manufacturing, Inc. is a full service custom manufacturer of metal prototypes and products. Based in Austin, Texas, We contribute to the Texas economy by offering shearing, punching, water jet cutting, forming, sawing, drilling, welding, quality control equipment, inspection reports, certificates of compliance and AutoCad, Solid Works, and ProCAD/CAM software.

Custom Manufacturing is the Key in Turnkey

Not every metal fabricator can handle turnkey projects. Because we are a full-service manufacturing company, turnkey projects are easy for us. What exactly is turnkey? A turnkey product is one where the customer delivers specifications and the manufacturer builds the complete item. In our industry it is a fabrication of a complete product, not just a part that is a piece of a larger item or component.

A perfect example is this turnkey project we completed recently. A customer came to us to produce a steel enclosure for a medical laser. The customer delivered the exact specifications and we took it from there. The first step in the process was creating the CAD programming followed by a multi-step manufacturing process that turned cold rolled steel into a 16” x 16” x 40” electronic enclosure.

It is projects like this that set Red River apart from other manufacturers. We can meet the expectations of customers through streamlined and cost effective processes. The list of materials we work with is wide ranging and includes aluminum, copper, alloys, Molybdenum, stainless steel, and titanium. Secondary services are available for many different finishing options. With short turnaround times and expert machining specialists, we offer precision and extremely high-quality results every time.

At Red River Precision our extensive capabilities allow us to work with a wide range of industries such as automotive, architectural, oil & gas, and medical. From individual components to completed products, there isn’t a challenge we can’t meet.

If you need a product made to your exact specifications, please give us a call. We will work with you from the beginning to the end to make sure that it is 100% accurate and exceeds expectations.

How to Attract the Next Generation to Manufacturing Jobs

Have you heard about the skills gap? The Skills Gap Report was first published in 2001 by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte. It was a “landmark study identifying the mismatch between the skills of available workers and skills that manufacturers demand.” The 2015 Skills Gap Report reinforces the findings of earlier reports that manufacturers will continue to face challenges in finding talent to prevent worker shortages in the near future.

Attracting the right workers to the industry is a must. As the Millennial generation enters the workforce, manufacturers will need to learn how to become more attractive to the next generation. One of the first steps is changing the view of the industry to potential employees. Manufacturing stills holds the reputation as being dirty or dangerous and providing little job security. Those of us in the business know that isn’t true. So, how do we appeal to millennials?

To become attractive to the workforce of the future, Motivated Monday offers insight into what Millennials are looking for in an employer. These 12 ways may help you understand this next generation to not only attract them but to retain them in the industry.  They are:

  1. Technology: Millennials have been raised with the best and newest technology. State of the art and cutting edge are where they gravitate to.
  2. Purpose: Millennials want to work for the greater good. A sense of community outreach and culture of purpose are what they are looking for.
  3. Work/Life Balance: Workplaces that allow employees to enjoy work, family, and fun are the most appealing.
  4. Feedback: Regular feedback is required to build employer loyalty. Communication is a key factor.
  5. Personable: Millennials want to connect and engage with bosses on a personal level.
  6. Training: This generation loves to learn new skills. Keeping this generation engaged at work takes training and development opportunities.
  7. Socialize: The 20-30 somethings want to build comraderies and loyalty. Outside of work socializing helps connect them to their workplace.
  8. Collaborative:  This group has been working in groups their whole lives. They thrive on working together to meet goals and having their ideas and input count.
  9. Challenge: They love to be challenged but require the right motivation to help them rise to the occasion.
  10. Charity: Raised in a community-service environment, they respond to companies that give back.
  11. Competitive: This group loves to win. A competitive atmosphere will drive them to hard work.
  12. Trustworthy: Trust does not come automatically for this group and must be earned. But, once they trust you they will give you their loyalty.

Our work with young people (see our April blog) has given us this insight into the workforce of the future. The talent is out there, but to maintain a strong workforce and eliminate the skills gap we must adjust to the changing times and understand where the next generation is coming from.