Sanitary, High-Quality Automation Technology for Food Packaging Equipment

Automation in the food industry has evolved greatly over the years. Long gone are the days when a lack in climate, temperature, and clean processing conditions leading to dangerous outbreaks of severe foodborne illnesses or spoiled products was common. However, despite our advanced technology, knowledge of diseases, and ability to control distribution systems, there are still some instances when a lapse in quality along the food processing line has led to illness and even death in some communities. Because our food industry is vast, it’s critical that everyone working to farm, ship, process, package, and distribute products meets high standards for hygiene and safety. At Forpak, we support global food safety with innovative solutions to automating food packaging equipment for the bakery, meat, and pizza industries. Our production equipment provides automated systems for sorting, laning, transferring, stacking, conveying, and discrepant product rejection. We also work with clients to design and build custom solutions that can be seamlessly integrated into existing production systems.

Food Packaging Equipment

For any kind of food packaging equipment, safety and quality comes from increased automation systems that can be subject to frequent sanitation. The greater a machine can be automated, the lower the risk of human error, contamination, or worker injury. Automated systems also work faster, more precisely, and with lower long-term costs than manual production.

Improve Quality

Forpak incorporates Rockwell Automation’s Allen Bradley control systems and NEMA 4X rated electrical enclosures into our equipment. These features improve quality and sanitation for all our customers.

Allen Bradley Controls:

Rockwell’s programmable logic controllers (PLC) and programmable automation controllers (PAC) offer micro- to large-scale precision-based processing. These controllers are programmed through industry leading software programs, including Studio 5000 and FactoryTalk View ME. With Allen Bradley controllers, our food packing systems can move products rapidly down the production line while analyzing damage or other issues at reject points. Customers can trust Forpak equipment to increase their production speeds and improve the quality of every step in the process.

NEMA 4X Rated Enclosures:

Controllers and other electronics installed in Forpak designs are all protected with NEMA 4X rated enclosures, which are built with corrosion resistant materials, including stainless steel and aluminum. They are sealed to protect electrical systems from dust, rain, splashing water, hose-directed spray, ice, and other foreign objects. This means they have full washdown capabilities for routine equipment sanitation. They also provide visual access to controls and screens with viewports when needed.

All our equipment utilizes Allen Bradley controls and NEMA 4X rated enclosures for maximum quality and efficiency in an automated production line. To learn more about the automation tools we incorporate into our food packaging equipment, contact Forpak at (612) 419-1948 or forpaksupport@multisourcemfg.com. You can also request more information online today or request a quote to get started with us today.

Part 2: Numerical Control Systems and the History of CNC Machining

This second part of our two-part blog covers the early beginnings of computer numerical control (CNC) and some of the first turning machines, which includes turning machines developed in the mid to late 1700s, lathes used in gun copying during the 1800s, and other preliminary forms of automated machining. Today’s CNC operations utilized in many fabrication industries were developed from John T. Parsons and Frank L. Stulen’s work in engineering punch card systems. Their abstract programming and numerical control designs were studied and tested in an U.S. Air Force funded research project through Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Modern CNC machining gives manufacturers a vast range of fabrication capabilities for machining, turning, lathing, milling, and more. As a contract manufacturer, MultiSource Manufacturing LLC utilizes over 140 CNC machines, including 3-axis and 5-axis indexed milling and Swiss turning equipment. Our CNC hardware and software technology helps us meet customer needs for parts, components, and full assemblies in the medical device, aerospace and defense, semiconductor, food and bakery, financial processing, and many other industries.

Joseph Marie Jacquard Memorial Award

After Parsons and Stulen finally received funding from the Air Force, they began to test and build their by-the-numbers automated machines. By that time, Parsons Corporation entered into a full collaboration with MIT Servomechanisms Laboratory to build experimental milling machines. In 1968, Parsons received the first Joseph Marie Jacquard Memorial Award from the Numerical Control Society. In 1975, he was given an honorary plaque by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers naming him “The Father of the Second Industrial Revolution.”

Computer Aided Design

During the late 1950s, the successful engineering and understanding of numerical control systems led to the potential of programmable language systems that would soon become the basics of what we know today as CNC. The first computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) incorporated into CNC systems came in 1959 when the MIT laboratory began the “Computer-Aided Design Project,” funded again through the U.S. Air Force.

CNC Machining

CNC machining developed further throughout the late 1970s and into the 1990s. Toyota car factories in Japan implemented many new systems of lean manufacturing with CNC practices, General Motors (GM) had used CNC practices since the 1960s, and large vendors like International Business Machines (IBM) began to stock standardized CNC and CAD/CAM supplies.

Software Systems

Advancement of software systems, coding, computers, and other digital capabilities also improved the precision and range of CNC processes. Data storage capabilities grew throughout the 1990s, allowing more versatile, extensive, and portable systems, and the growth of the Internet opened doors for direct communication between machines and other components of production.

Manufacturing Abilities

Contemporary CNC machining continues to develop with expanding additive and subtractive manufacturing abilities. Our CNC systems allow us to manufacture at close tolerances without compromising extreme precision. To learn more about our fabrication services and our equipment, contact MultiSource Manufacturing LLC at (952) 456-5500. You can also request more information, or request a quote to get started with our team.

Strategies and Materials for Food Packaging Solutions

Forpak specializes in designing and building innovative food solutions that support global food safety and quality. Our equipment promotes sanitary processing and worker safety in the packaging and distribution of products for the baked goods, pizza, and meat industries. Packaging designs provide systems to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and other customers for industrial food processing and packing, including automated laning, transfer, stacking, conveying, sorting, reject systems, and more. Our engineers have also worked with several customers to design equipment that combines multiple operations into a customized, seamless machine. Our equipment is designed to be easily integrated into existing automated systems or new production lines, and our preventative maintenance program offers reliable services and client benefits to reduce downtime and minimize operational stress. For any unique food packaging solutions, Forpak has the engineering expertise and maintenance systems to get the job done.

Food Processing

In the food processing industry, hundreds of hygienic packing materials have been developed over time. Today, countless polymer, paper, cardboard, foil, glass, metal, ceramic, and even biodegradable materials are manufactured specifically for food-safe packaging. We design our equipment to work with multiple kinds of food packaging solutions, including the following.

Boxes:

Boxes are one of the most commonly used systems in food packing, and consequently, they come in a wide variety. They are made from paperboard, including solid bleached sulfate (SBS) and coated unbleached kraft (CUK) paperboard; corrugated cardboards with varying level of fluting and wall thickness; plastics that can be recycled or reused; and rigid boxes. While typically made from paper or cardboard materials, rigid boxes are condensed to be about two to four times thicker than any corrugated or paperboard containers. Most food products do not require rigid box packaging, but select high-end goods or very fragile foods do use these systems.

Bags:

Most bags used to package food products are made from a thin, typically plastic or foil-sealed material. Plastic, or poly, bags are durable, light, and highly customizable. Bags can be fabricated with many different sizes, shapes, and printed designs while remaining cost-effective and often recyclable. Poly bags for packing food can also include security features such as tape attachments or holes for carrying and hanging. Foil-sealed bags are useful for maintaining flavor and protecting food from bacteria and UV light exposure. This keeps products from spoiling or losing nutrients.

Food Packaging Solutions

Other food packaging solutions include cans, cartons, pallets, trays, and wrappers, but boxes and bags are the most prevalent systems. To learn more about food packing systems and how we engineer our automated packaging and organizing equipment, contact Forpak at (612) 419-1948 or forpaksupport@multisourcemfg.com. You can request more information online today or request a quote to get started with us today.

Part 1: Numerical Control Systems and the History of CNC Machining

Many items that people utilize and interact with on a daily basis were manufactured with computer numerical control (CNC) operations. CNC machining, as we know it today, dates back to the 1940s. Like many industrial operations and equipment, CNC systems were a result of military advancements to an existing technology in response to the demands of war. The even longer history of numerical control and CNC machines goes back as far as the mid-1700s, as you will read in the following.

CNC Machining

Modern CNC tools are precise machines capable of operating on multiple axes to manufacture products for a range of industries. At MultiSource Manufacturing LLC, we’ve provided high-quality, versatile CNC machining services since 1998. Across our multiple locations today, we have access to 140 machines, including 3-axis and 5-axis indexed mills, lathes, and turning equipment.

With our broad range of CNC technologies, we provide parts and assemblies for the medical device, semiconductor, aerospace and defense, food, financial processing, and many other industries.

Turning Machines and Cams

The history of CNC machining starts with the development of turning machines in 1751. These early tools were capable of limited automation to increase precision and eliminate some handcrafting steps in the production process. In the 1820s-1830s, American inventor Thomas Blanchard created gun-copying lathes. Following his footsteps, Christopher Miner Spencer created turret lathes in screw machines.

These were both cam-based systems of automation. Eventually, hydraulics were incorporated into cam systems, which allowed tracing machines to develop. These cam tracers could replicate the movement of a human machinist, trace templates, or otherwise record and replay fabrication patterns. Cams continued to develop into the First World War. Precision, control, power, and other technical aspects of manufacturing were also addressed in these early forms of automation. The main limitation of cam systems is their inability to read abstract programming.

Abstract Programming and Numerical Control

John T. Parsons and Frank L. Stulen, while working at Parsons Corp. in Traverse City, MI, are generally credited with the development of the first numerical control systems in the early 1940s. Parsons and Stulen worked with the first systems of punch card calculators to predict engineering queries. The use of punch cards inspired Parsons and Stulen to develop a rudimentary milling program that operated as a prototype of today’s 2.5-axis machine. They called this system the “by-the-numbers method” or “plunge-cutting positioning.”

After testing this system extensively, Parsons and Stulen engineered (on paper) a fully automated machining tool. However, they did not have the funding to fabricate a prototype, let alone perform tests and diagnostics. So not until 1949, when the U.S. Air Force arranged funding for Parsons Corp. to build the machines, were Parsons and Stulen able to start real developments that eventually led to manufacturing of the first fully automated computer numerically controlled machine.

In Part 2 of this blog, we will cover the history of Parsons’s and others’ invention and advancement of CNC machines.

To learn more about our services for CNC machining and contract manufacturing, contact MultiSource Manufacturing LLC at (952) 456-5500, request more information, or request a quote today.

“TACT WINS” Sanitation Practices in the Food Industry

The food industry is one of many that requires extremely rigorous sanitation practices every step of the way. Because the food industry distributes products worldwide, it’s critical for everyone participating in food production and packing to do their part in preventing the spread of foodborne illness and poor food quality. At Forpak, our part in supporting food safety and sanitation practices is our production of high-quality, innovative packaging systems. Our equipment meets multiple standards for food safety, including the NSF 3A Requirements for Meat & Poultry, the BISSC Standard for Baking, FDA and USDA standards, and our own strict policies for hygiene and food-grade sanitation.

The USDA’s Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) rules are the primary guidelines and requirements that reduce the risk of pathogen travel and ensure the safety of meat, poultry, and egg supplies. In addition to the rules of the HACCP and the other standards and regulations we design our equipment to fully meet, we also adhere to the elements of TACT WINS, an acronym for industry sanitation principles.

Time:

Time is a critical component of food production hygiene and industrial efficiency. Too little time spent cleaning equipment can lead to unclean surfaces, while too much time will waste valuable resources. With full wash-down capabilities, Forpak’s equipment offers the fastest, most hygienic cleanup options.

Action:

Sanitation actions include worker effort and the chemical action of cleaning solutions. Action is especially important with Forpak’s clean-in-place equipment to prevent the spread of contaminants throughout a facility and complete a sanitation process that limits production downtime.

Concentration:

Cleaning solutions should be concentrated enough to sanitize, but not so concentrated that they waste product and pose a risk to equipment surfaces.

Temperature:

Sanitation temperatures need to be hot enough to kill contaminants and remove non-water-soluble particles without creating risks to worker safety and equipment.

Water:

Water is a universal cleaning system for cleaning solution concentrates, rinsing, and destroying most particles that are present on food packaging equipment. NEMA 4X Watershed Enclosures on Forpak equipment protects all electronics and controls from water cover, allowing the rest of the machine full exposure.

Individual:

Equipment cleaning should be tracked with a record system. This helps keep a routine schedule and accountability for which employees performed the wash down.

Nature:

Soil, bacteria, and other natural elements in food should be noted and controlled in ways specific to the type of food product and the equipment used.

Surface:

All Forpak equipment is built with food-grade stainless steel to prevent the spread of contamination on surfaces and eliminate the risk of corrosion. Surfaces that come into contact with food products must be able to have regular, strict sanitation.

To learn more about standards and our packing equipment for the food industry, contact Forpak at (612) 419-1948 or forpaksupport@multisourcemfg.com. Request more information online today or request a quote to get started with us today.

 

Specialized Capabilities for the Fabrication of Semiconductor Components

MultiSource Manufacturing LLC has been fabricating semiconductor parts and full semiconductor assemblies for over 35 years. Our facilities have state-of-the-art equipment specialized for semiconductor component machining, and our engineers and technicians have the expertise to handle any industry-specific production requirements. When it comes to semiconductor manufacturing, we are an industry-leading provider of optimized parts and assemblies. With a Class 1 clean room, plastic fabrication and welding capabilities, and comprehensive tear down reverse engineering of various semiconductor components for OEMs and other customers, MultiSource has the skills and tools needed to get the job done.

MultiSource provides contract manufacturing services to a broad range of industries. Our collection of multi-axis machining centers, mills, lathes, and additional equipment with our staff experience and training makes our production floor one of the best for many projects, from prototype design to finishing touches.

For the semiconductor industry, our PFA fabrication and reverse engineering capabilities, as well as our state-of-the-art clean room, allow us to build parts and assemblies that require highly specialized fabrication techniques.

PFA Fabrication and Welding:

Fluoroplastics are utilized heavily in semiconductor part manufacturing. PFAs and other fluoroplastics have high working temperatures, non-stick properties, high resistance to chemicals, solvents, and electrical currents, and low friction surfaces. With PFA welding and other fabrication capabilities, we can create innovative solutions for housing circuit boards, microchips, and other semiconductor components.

Class 1000 Clean Room:

Semiconductor parts need to be fabricated in highly clean, contaminant-free environments. With our ISO Class 3 clean room, we work with a directed recirculating airflow that passes through heavily-filtered quarantining systems. Fabrication technicians wear full hazmat PPE and handle semiconductor materials with strict hygiene protocols. Our clean room and sanitary manufacturing practices ensure a quality product.

Reverse Engineering:

For years now, reverse engineering has been an accepted manufacturing practice in many industries. For the electronics and semiconductor industries, reverse engineering is recognized as an effective method of competitive intelligence. Our engineers have extensive education and experience for reverse engineering and improving designs of semiconductor components, from standardized industrial parts to unique formats of electronic gridding.

Our goal in all our semiconductor parts and assemblies is to optimize designs as we machine, fabricate, clean, test, package, and custom-crate each product. From microchip reticle handling and wet processing to plastic and steel manufacturing, we have virtually unlimited resources and capabilities for building parts and assemblies in the semiconductor industry.

To learn more about our fabrication of semiconductor components, contact MultiSource Manufacturing LLC at (952) 456-5500. Request more information, or request a quote to get started with us today.

Food Production Equipment Highlight: GSII Stackers

When it comes to supporting food safety worldwide, standardized sanitation practices in the production and packaging processes on an industrial level is key. The majority of frozen, refrigerated, and dry goods are distributed on a global scale. At Forpak, we manufacture unique automation solutions for food safety in packaging systems, including stackers, conveyors, transfers, reject detectors, sorters, laners, and custom designs for OEMs and other customers in the meat, bakery, and pizza industries. We work with trusted partners to source materials and parts, and our engineers and technicians are a skilled design/build team. Forpak is your one-stop-shop for the innovative design and manufacturing of food production equipment that can be easily integrated into new facilities or existing production lines.

Food Production Equipment

Each operation that goes into a food packaging production floor has its own specifications that can vary by product. Even within standard operations like laning, sorting, and stacking, the equipment needs to be fitted to product dimensions, weight, and more. Forpak is here to help clients working in food production fit in the exact extra step they need in their operations line.

One of the main kinds of food production equipment we design and build for clients is our stackers. The bakery, pizza, and meat industries all utilize packaging designs that often require multiple products to be stacked into one unit and transferred down the line.

Our GSII Servo Stackers are ideal for large products like pizza crusts, pita breads, and anything in between.

GSII Specs

  • GSII model stackers have touch-screen controls that allow technicians to specify stacking units through a graphics system.
  • The control system can handle multiple recipes with variable stacking and conveyor speeds.
  • Stacking uses servo-controlled actuators.
  • Stacks are transferred onto a continuously running Take Away Conveyor.
  • GSII stackers are designed to stack 80 pieces per minute in each lane.
  • Stackers have NEMA 4X Watershed Enclosures for full wash down capabilities.
  • Conveyors and other moving parts use Intralox modular belting.
  • Our stackers can handle products on 1-3 lanes.
  • GSII stackers come with cardboard feed options to automatically interleave cardboard separators between individual pieces.
  • All our products have CE compliance
  • GSII stackers run on 230/460 VAC with 3-phase power for long-term energy sustainability.
  • All our products meet NSF 3A Standards for the meat and poultry industry and the BISSC Standard for the bakery industry.
  • GSII stackers and all our products are built with food-grade stainless steel.
  • Stacked products can be manually packaged into boxes or moved downstream to other automated operations quickly, safely, and efficiently.

GSII stackers are one of many of our designs for automated food production equipment that support food safety in the global industry. To learn more about our products, contact Forpak at (612) 419-1948 or forpaksupport@multisourcemfg.com. Request more information online today or request a quote to get started with us today.

Finishing and Value-Added Services

At MultiSource Manufacturing LLC, our primary goal is precision. Not only do we work to meet the needs of OEMs and other customers with precision in the components and full assemblies we manufacture, our production schedule and just-in-time delivery practices support precision-based lean manufacturing systems. We provide a broad range of manufacturing services to several industries, including those that require complex, high-functioning parts, such as the medical device and aerospace industries. To meet international certification standards and our own strict quality control requirements, our engineers and technicians follow very specific processes for precision results. When you partner with the MultiSource network for your fabrication needs, you benefit from our design/build services from prototyping to assembly, but you will also get the advantage of comprehensive finishing, plating, and other value-added services.

We utilize multiple value-added services for all the materials we manufacture with. From heat treating to painting, all our finishing services play a critical role in our fabrication precision and fully finished parts.

Types of Metals

MultiSource technicians work with many types of metal, including stainless, surgical, military, and basic grades of steel, sheet metals, titanium, magnesium, aluminum, brass, high nickel alloys, and exotic metals. These materials require a range of finishing techniques that protect parts from corrosion, scratching, and patina, improve durability, create certain cosmetic results, and much more.

Value-Added Services

Our value-added finishing services for metals include platings that allow us to alter parts for electrical or thermal conduction, protection from radiation, solderability, reduction of friction, hardness, corrosion resistance, IR reflectivity, and cosmetic specifications.

With our heat-treating services, we can finish metal parts to improve strength, hardness, ductility, durability, elasticity, and resistance. Our heat-treating services include annealing, tempering, case hardening, normalizing, and quenching.

We also work with non-metal materials for plastic fabrication, including various polymers, Teflon™, and exotics. A large part of plastic fabrication is the finishing work that needs to be performed for the integrity, strength, and cleanliness of a final part. This includes surface finishes like paint and other coatings, some heat treating, sanding, polishing, and more.

Paint and coating finishes are also highly effective for metal parts. Anti-rust paints and protective coatings significantly reduce corrosion and wear resistance. MultiSource technicians employ precise painting practices for even the most intricate, smallest components and for all oversized industrial parts. Our paints and other surface finishes are specialized, highly engineered materials that we apply with automated systems and skilled hand-painting when appropriate.

MultiSource’s value-added services are key stages for the majority of our production processes. To learn more about our additional finishing services and the industries we supply with precision-based components and full assemblies, contact MultiSource Manufacturing LLC today at (952) 456-5500. Request more information, or request a quote online to get started with us.

Production Operations Made Possible with the Right Food Assembly Equipment

Forpak designs innovative solutions for customers in the food and bakery packaging industries. Our state-of-the-art food assembly equipment is easily integrated into existing systems, provides effective operations for multiple types of food production lines, and supports the standards of international food safety. When customers partner with Forpak for their food assembly system, they also benefit from our preventative maintenance program. With the majority of ownership costs coming from long-term operations, our preventative maintenance program will save time and money for every customer as well as a direct line to parts, service knowledge, and overall support. With Forpak’s food assembly equipment, you can start to improve and grow your production practices, increase your schedule, protect your workers, and maintain food safety goals.

Our technology provides tools for production operations including:

Conveying:

Moving products throughout your facility and along production lines is one of the most important parts of an effective system. Using conveyors that can quickly, efficiently, and safely move food products can streamline your production process, support food safety, and increase your output. Forpak equipment incorporates conveyor systems throughout our products and into your existing facilities to perfectly integrate new solutions.

Laning: It’s also important to have the ability to keep food products on lanes and have transition systems between lanes. Laning products keeps your assembly or packaging process organized, clean, and moving quickly. Whether food products are simply being moved from one part of the facility to another or getting packaged, Forpak lanes keep things under control.

Sorting: Sorting systems save you hours on the production line and they remove the potential for human error or contamination. Forpak sorters can automatically organize food products one at a time or in bundles by count or weight. Sorting systems will save cost, time, worker fatigue, and more advantages.

Stacking: Like sorting systems, stackers are also innovative tools that will speed up your production process and make it even more hygienic. With machines that auto-stack food products and prep them for packaging, your food assembly equipment can sort and organize items vertically. This improves packaging design, saves room, and provides an even more precise processing system.

Transferring:

When food items are moved from one part of the production line to another, you need to have accurate transfer systems in place to prevent blockages, overflow, and damage. Our transfer systems are a unique design that quickly and precisely moves food products between conveyors, laners, sorters, and stackers to the final packing process.

Quality control: Without a quality end result, none of the other food packaging operations matter. Forpak’s quality control systems can be integrated into multiple parts of the production line. These systems remove damaged or imperfect food items from the line, improve packaging quality, and overall cleanup the assembly process.

Food Assembly Equipment:

To learn more about our quality food assembly equipment, call us at (612) 419-1948 or email forpaksupport@multisourcemfg.com. You can also request more information online today or request a quote to get started with us today.

Materials Expertise for Contract Manufacturing

As an industry-leading manufacturer for a broad range of industries, including those requiring extreme precision, intricate components, and clean room handling, MultiSource Manufacturing LLC knows how important it is to source only the best materials for your production floor. We work with several types of metals, including exotic alloys and sheet metal as well as multiple plastics and polymers. MultiSource Manufacturing LLC pours its materials expertise into sourcing at each of our locations so we can get exactly what we need for every part and full assembly that we make. For all our contract manufacturing services, you can trust us to use the highest quality industrial materials without compromising excessive costs.

As a network of contract manufacturing facilities, the materials we source to fabricate components and full assemblies for OEMs and other customers include:

Aluminum:

Aluminum is one of the most common materials we use because of its versatility and durability. We use aluminum to build parts for a variety of industries, including aerospace and defense, medical, financial processing, and more.

Steels:

Steel is used in a broad range of fabrication processes. We use a variety of steels, including stainless steel for food-grade components, among many others; surgical steel for medical device production, military grade steel for aerospace and defense manufacturing; and basic steels such as low, mild, and high carbon grades.

Titanium:

As one of the strongest metals available to the manufacturing world, titanium is highly useful for many production applications. It is especially key in fabricating components that are durable, flexible, and can hold up to high-stress scenarios when used in aerospace, defense, and medical industries.

 

Other metals: In addition to sheet metal, steels, and titanium, we source several other high-quality metals for fabricating different parts. This includes aluminum, magnesium, and brass in addition to high-nickel alloys.

 

Exotic metals: Along with exotic alloys of steel, titanium, magnesium, brass, and aluminum, we also source and manufacture with exotics like inconel, hastelloy, molybdenum, platinum, chromium, cobalt, monel, tungsten, and more.

 

Plastics: Plastics are highly effective materials for many industrial applications. MultiSource performs expert plastic welding, bending, forming, and other techniques with different polymer materials. We utilize basic polymers that we source and make in-house, but we also work with Teflon™ and exotic plastics.

Because we have multiple locations that manufacture components and assemblies used worldwide in such a broad range of industries, it’s highly critical that we can count on our materials to meet the same quality we promise all our customers. To ensure that quality, we dedicate time and money to our sourcing departments and partner with trusted suppliers.

Contract Manufacturing:

To learn more about the contract manufacturing services we provide for global original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and other customers, contact MultiSource Manufacturing LLC at (952) 456-5500. Request more information or request a quote to get started with us today.