Modifying the manufacturing mindset

ASU Assistant Professor Feng Ju creates tools for real-time factory floor decisions


May 6, 2020

Global manufacturing has entered a new era. Some people call it smart manufacturing or Industry 4.0. Companies apply complex information systems to manage what happens on a factory floor, where almost everything is monitored and processes are streamlined.

“Even so, uncertainties happen all the time,” said Feng Ju, an assistant professor of industrial engineering in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering at Arizona State University. “A production component may fail, or new orders arrive that demand rush delivery. There are many possible sources of disruption at a factory, and any one of them can mess up scheduling or production execution.” four men using a tool in an automation lab Feng Ju and his team at ASU's Manufacturing and Service Automation Lab are developing tools to advance factory operations and minimize production disruptions. Photo by Connor McKee/ASU Download Full Image

Consequently, Ju’s Manufacturing and Service Automation Lab team at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering is developing novel computational tools to prevent or minimize the cascading effect of any production disruptions. They do so by applying huge amounts of manufacturing data to support real-time decision-making that enhances production efficiency, quality and safety.

“Our work seeks to support a new generation of manufacturing automation,” Ju explained. “Forty years ago, we saw computer-aided control introduce electronics to the factory floor. That level of automation delivered tools with mostly single purposes. It was very stiff or static.”

Ju points to the example of car manufacturing. Automotive production does rely on complex assembly lines, but the architecture of those same production facilities actually limits the design options for new cars.

“Ideally, the robots and controllers that assemble one type of vehicle should be able to support the assembly of new car designs, too,” Ju said. “However, traditional industrial systems are quite rigid. They are configured and installed to manufacture specific things, and require a lot of engineering effort to reconfigure.”

Ju says that industry now needs the ability to design applications or tools for novel purposes.

“We are moving from high-volume manufacturing with very limited variation in output to low-volume production with constantly varying demands,” he said. “So, we need production facilities that are dynamic. But this kind of change requires a completely different mindset.”

Ju explains why most manufacturing has not innovated to the extent of consumer electronics, for example. When consumers want a new smartphone, they want all the latest features and functions. By contrast, manufacturers traditionally don’t pursue novelty. They acquire industry-standard components for their production system.

“They are thinking about just the final product, and their factory is simply the means of fabricating it,” Ju said. “Moving forward from this model requires thinking of the design and manufacturing process as actually part of what businesses are delivering to customers.”

Enhancing local manufacturing

As a case in point, Ju and his team have been commissioned by Tennessee-based LM Industries Group, or LMI, for a project meant to improve a large-scale additive manufacturing process that fabricates an autonomous, multipassenger shuttle bus called Olli.

“It’s similar to a home 3D printer in that it works through a layering process, but it’s obviously much larger and more complex,” Ju said. “One of the things we are doing is gathering a vast number of thermal images of the print bed to get a sense of real-time changes in layer temperatures during production. We can use this information to create predictive models about the thermodynamics or temperature changes that occur over time in this setting.”

With these models, Ju explains that LMI can identify a production strategy to permit the most efficient, layer-by-layer printing process as they speed up production and increase quality.

“Large-scale additive manufacturing processes are still a fairly new technology,” said Nils Hofmann, director of labs for LMI. “I am certain that this research will uncover additional potential for LMI and ASU to cooperate and create further research opportunities.”

Ju is particularly excited about those future opportunities, since the Olli shuttle bus is just one application of a broader concept.

“The focus of their work is developing flexible, local manufacturing,” he explained. “Consider it a microfactory. The idea is to bring design and production capabilities to individual neighborhoods. People could design and 3D print their desired products right down the street, and then pick them up locally with short lead time. Think of the logistics and warehousing savings, and the reduction in waste. The potential is very exciting.”

Streamlining factory-floor performance at Intel

Ju and his research team also have just started a three-year research project with the Intel Corporation at the company’s campus in nearby Chandler, Arizona. Nital Patel, the principal engineer for assembly test manufacturing systems at Intel, says Ju’s efforts will address a fundamental problem.

“How do you make real-time decisions to keep your manufacturing flow on target given unanticipated disruptions?” Patel said. “Traditional methods look at using simulation coupled with optimization to make these decisions, and these cannot provide answers in real-time. This is of extreme interest as we push the boundaries of using advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence in an industrial decision systems setting.”

Ju explained, “The Intel factory produces many different semiconductor products in a broad range of quantities. And with so many manufacturing processes taking place in the same space, there always are questions to consider about how to make sure that production facilities are being used in the most efficient manner. So, our team is working on several different decision-making tools to better streamline production on their factory floor.”

These projects with LMI and Intel demonstrate the commercial value of the research that Ju and his team are conducting at the Fulton Schools. But recognition of Ju’s innovative work extends beyond these projects.

The National Science Foundation awarded Ju a new $400,000 grant this spring to support research enabling more proactive control of industrial production systems. Also, Ju has been recognized as a 2020 Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. This SME award honors just 15 people under the age of 36 for exceptional accomplishments and contributions to the manufacturing industry.

Alongside such significant professional acknowledgment, Ju remains devoted to advancing new talent within his team at ASU. He doesn’t recognize a boundary separating research and teaching. They happen simultaneously, in real-time.

“It’s very important for my work with students to stay at the front-end of the technology used around the manufacturing world,” Ju said. “We all are fascinated by the opportunities that we have to make a real difference to industry.”

Gary Werner

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

480-727-5622

ASU alum on making it in the film industry and how Hollywood is pivoting


May 6, 2020

When Eric Dachman graduated from ASU in 2013 with a bachelor's degree in marketing and a minor in film, the Scottsdale, Arizona, native already knew he wanted to move to Los Angeles to work in the film industry. He took the leap after working for a marketing agency in Scottsdale, and he credits ASU’s Film Spark initiative in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre and its director, Adam Collis, with supporting him through the transition. Dachman became Film Spark’s first official employee, helping out with film festival logistics for “Car Dogs.”

“The Film Spark experience was beyond valuable,” Dachman said, “as I was able to help connect other ASU students together looking for jobs in Hollywood.” man standing in front of movie posters ASU alum Eric Dachman at the premiere of the film "Midway" in 2019.

In his current role in marketing at Lionsgate, he is overseeing the social media strategy for Lionsgate Live, a four-week campaign in which some of the most popular Lionsgate films are being streamed for free on YouTube to raise money for furloughed movie theater employees. This Friday, May 8, Lionsgate Live will stream “John Wick” at 6 p.m.

Below Dachman talks about what it takes to make it in L.A., how the industry is grappling with the impact of COVID-19 and Chris Evans’ iconic “Knives Out” sweater, among other things.

Question: When did you become interested in film and the film industry?

Answer: I was always interested in movies, and since I was 13 years old I’ve had a passion for cinema. That’s when I started playing around with my camcorder and making my own little videos. I entered lots of film festivals in high school.

Q: What kind of movies did you make?

A: Very silly parodies. I once made a bowling movie (based on) “300.” I did an interview show called "Da Eric D Show" — a parody of "Da Ali G Show" — where I interviewed my teachers. It was a silly thing I could do with my friends.

Q: What did you study at ASU?

A: I started as an architecture major, and that lasted for about two days and I realized I needed to switch to film. I was film production at first, but then I switched over to marketing and film studies. Film marketing and the business side was more my passion. I did film studies as a minor.

Q: What was your first step on the road to the career you have now?

A: My final semester, I got an internship at a company in Scottsdale called Fingerpaint. Their clients were Disney, Universal and Lionsgate. They were a field marketing agency, boots on the ground, grassroots outreach for Phoenix. We were an extension of the studio, to host promotional screenings, word of mouth screenings, ways to spread the word for our studio clients. As an intern, I had this screening of “Monsters University” — this was the turning point for me. I was in charge of filling the room with college students, and not just from ASU. I got Sparky and the antelope from GCU and the artichoke from Scottsdale Community College — I grabbed a whole bunch of mascots, and we had a monster-filled screening. Being able to own that was when it turned for me. And they offered me a full-time job after I graduated.

Q: What do you think caused them to offer you the full-time position?

A: I gave it 110 percent. I gave my full effort there, and even when my hours were complete, I’d stay and talk with my bosses to pick their brains about the industry because I was very curious. As I was onboarding and training the new interns, I told them, “You get out of it what you put into it.” Taking advantage of the opportunity and the wealth of knowledge that was there was what made me successful and what made my interns successful.

I was genuinely passionate about the film industry. I was hungry always to learn more. Some people fake it a little bit, but I really truly wanted to know as much as I could. I always knew I wanted to end up in L.A. in the film industry, and this job was a step in the direction I wanted to go. I was basically trying to prepare myself for the future.

Q: When did you make the move to L.A.?

A: I was (at Fingerpaint) for a little over two years, and then I realized in order to grow I needed to move to Los Angeles. I took a trip (to L.A.), I met with about 10 different people who all said, “Just move out here and worry about the job part later.” So I moved out with no job. I crashed in my aunt and uncle’s house out in the (San Fernando) Valley, and it was a full-time job filling out applications. That’s when I started with Film Spark. Two months after that, I landed my first job at Imax headquarters, as the digital marketing coordinator working on the new imax.com.

Q: What did you do there?

A: I was responsible for a lot of digital marketing initiatives, but I also wore a lot of hats. It was an incredible opportunity, because Imax works with every studio, so I got to see how every studio works. Eventually I switched over to social media and I was running all the Imax social media accounts across Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. When I got this job at Lionsgate, I was a little sad to leave Imax. We had a great team. That’s where I first started doing red carpet coverage. They’d send me to premieres to interview the cast members for content.

Q: Why did you leave Imax?

A: It was just time to take the next step toward another opportunity to grow. Very often at Imax we were an added layer in a film marketing campaign. On the Lionsgate side, we get to own the campaign completely. On the studio side, I get to come up with the ideas and there’s more flexibility. You see the ideas from the very start to the very end. Lionsgate has lots of room for flexibility with our creativity. If you have a great idea, it doesn’t have to go through layers and layers of approval.

Q: What’s something you’re proud of in your current job?

A: One of my career highlights was our “Knives Out” social media campaign. Our team had an opportunity to really try something new and create some noise within a crowded social media space. Too many studios are often repetitive on social media. So the question was, how do we break through the noise?

From the very beginning we knew we had a great movie in our back pocket, but we had to find a way to separate ourselves from other murder mysteries. It was being released during Thanksgiving, in a very crowded marketplace for movies. 

In the social media space, our team is always talking about the difference between talking at fans and talking with fans. Talking at fans is a little bit bragging about yourself. We decided to talk with fans — joining in on the conversation, whether it was cultural moments within the social media space or picking up on a discussion. It was more enjoying the conversation and talking like the fans talk. We used some tools for social listening to see what topics were popping up the most. The main driver of conversation was Chris Evans wearing a sweater. To capitalize on that, we had a full day where we changed the official Twitter name on our Twitter page to “Chris Evans’ Sweater Stan Account.” The whole day we tweeted about Chris Evans in the sweater, thirsty captions of us enjoying Chris in knitwear. We really created some noise to separate ourselves, because then we got press mentions, and whole stories about our focus on a simple sweater.

Q: How’s the pandemic affecting things for you?

A: It’s definitely affecting the industry in that we don’t know what the future of the moviegoing experience is going to look like. We are hoping that when the world is normal, people are going to be excited about going to the movies. But are people going to be rushing back to the theater to see a movie with a bunch of strangers?

We are doing this pretty cool experience now, Lionsgate Live, where we’re streaming some of our best Lionsgate films for free on YouTube to raise money for furloughed movie theater employees, through the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation. It’s a four-week campaign, every Friday, and we’re showing “Hunger Games,” “Dirty Dancing,” “La La Land” and “John Wick.” Jamie Lee Curtis will be our host throughout the campaign. We loved working with her on “Knives Out.” She’s a sweetheart.

It’s tough to say what the future of our industry is going to be. We really truly want to preserve the movie theater-going experience, because there’s nothing like it. But who knows what the future holds? So we will have to continue to get creative.

Lionsgate Live event details:

“John Wick” — Friday, May 8, at 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET

ASU students and alumni can either join the watch party using #LionsgateLive on Twitter or donate to the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation dedicated to helping furloughed movie theater employees at lionsgate.live/donate.

Deborah Sussman

Communications and media specialist, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts

480-965-0478