Tech’s Bright Ideas
01 Aug, 2012
By Rachel Duran
A revolution is underway in the technology industry, which has significant potential, including never having to wait for parts in the manufacturing process because parts will never go out of stock.
With the emergence of 3D printers, manufacturers will be able to create components on demand. Individuals will be able to conduct personalized manufacturing. As is the case with young technologies, users are testing and playing with this printing technology, not yet realizing the full innovation and creativity of these printers. The technology takes a digital file and uses an additive process to lay down layers of the material to create a product. At this time, plastics are the main material in use.
These 3D printers are projected to have a fundamental impact on the way manufacturers look at production. For example, automakers will no longer have to wait for parts because they can produce them on demand. “The ability to create customized products based on a set of specs means that you have no shipping costs,” says Matthew Kazmierczak, senior vice president, TechAmerica, the nation’s largest technology advocacy organization. “What once required a tool and die shop to create specialized parts, you can now create with a printer.” The layered process removes the use of machining methods, such as cutting and drilling.
Kazmierczak says to think about applications in remote locations, such as with troops in war zones. Instead of shipping parts along dangerous supply chains, the parts can be created onsite.
It will take decades to realize the full promise of the technology, as the printing will move from the mostly plastic creations of today to multiple materials that will create more sophisticated products. In the meantime, the industry will need to deal with the challenges to intellectual property when “printing” physical parts that are under patent. And will the parts be as strong as those they are replacing? “There will be rules that will creep in,” Kazmierczak says.
The technology industry is doing better than most industries, although certain sectors did experience the effects of the economic downturn. The strong points include software services, which did not decline as much as others, and which have recovered sooner. There was a small boost in the manufacturing sector; and engineering and tech services continue to grow.
“One of the most interesting facts is that there was a complete turnaround in Michigan as the auto industry ramped up,” Kazmierczak says. “Feeder industries and technology industries that feed into them benefitted from that growth.”
Challenges remain in the communications sector, which continues to shed jobs. Other challenges center on training and education, which are a constant issue for the tech industry. “We are always trying to find significant quantities of people with the right backgrounds in science and technology,” Kazmierczak says. He notes science and technology backgrounds need to start in the K-12 system. “More occupations are requiring technical skills. This includes in the manufacturing field as more manufacturing jobs are not production line jobs. The jobs monitoring equipment and fixing equipment are increasingly technical in nature. It bodes well for workers and U.S. factories because they become more efficient, where workers conduct fewer routine tasks.”
And the challenge for the country is to make sure the skills are in place. In northern Kentucky, advanced manufacturing industry partners believe in growing manufacturing from the ground up. The region’s manufacturers, educators and economic developers are interconnected to ensure the region’s tech manufacturing sector remains competitive.
In addition to providing STEM-related instruction at high schools, there are also area technology centers where juniors and seniors in high school study technology careers. In 2010, an advanced manufacturing training center opened at the Northern Kentucky Industrial Park, located in Florence. There are 300 manufacturers in this park, says Dr. Angie Taylor, vice president, workforce solutions and innovations, Gateway Community and Technical College.
Taylor says the effort was driven by the region’s manufacturing base and the college to ensure the region’s workers are well prepared to succeed in working with advanced technologies. The advanced manufacturing training center includes an integrated manufacturing center, which follows the Siemens model of mechatronics. “We have about eight new services for manufacturers, which range from training juniors and seniors in high school in mechatronics, where the students receive dual high school and college credit; to apprenticeship training,” Taylor says.
Area employers pay the full tuition costs for those involved in the apprenticeship programs. When students complete the program they are licensed journeymen and have earned associate’s degrees. “We believe the apprenticeship program will double in the fall to 60 students,” Taylor says. “We offer six manufacturing majors and we are seeing an increase in enrollment.”
Also in northern Kentucky, grant funding supports training in the Partners for A Competitive Workforce effort, which is a part of the United Way. “They pay for students to take the certified production technician curriculum issued by the National Association of Manufacturers,” Taylor notes.
Additional training programs found in northern Kentucky include the newly created center for veterans, conducted at Gateway Community and Technical College, which offers free tuition for veterans enrolled in the nine-week program. There are also eight-week boot camps for welders, where employers send their new hires directly to the college for training.
The types of skills training provided in the region are a direct result of input from manufacturers. A manufacturing consortium meets four times a year to study curriculums and outline what customized training they would like to see. “Our goal is to work as a community to increase economic development and our manufacturers are a huge part of that,” Taylor says.
In the Quad Cities region of Iowa and Illinois, a unique bi-state business climate goes a long way in supporting this industrial powerhouse. When one community or state isn’t able to quite meet the needs of a company, say with facilities or land, other regional communities are able to fill the bill. The advanced manufacturing sector is very vibrant, where from 2002 to 2010, there was a 30 percent increase in the region’s manufacturing employment.
The Quad Cities is composed of Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, and Rock Island, East Moline and Moline, Ill., and spans both sides of the Mississippi River. Recent manufacturing expansion announcements include John Deere’s $47 million expansion of its cylinder plant in Moline. “The equipment upgrade is a good sign for not only the Quad Cities but for U.S. manufacturing that they are seeing an increase in global demand for their products,” says Bill Martin, president, Quad Cities First.
Earlier this year, Alcoa announced it would expand its Davenport Works facility to support its expansion in the auto sector to produce lightweight body panels and other parts through the use of aluminum in order to reduce the weight of cars and trucks. The company will invest $300 million, and when the expansion is complete, the Davenport workforce will consist of 2,300 employees.
In other activity, manufacturing activities in support of the defense industry are becoming increasingly important. The Army’s Rock Island Arsenal is home to several commands, such as the headquarters for the First Army and the Army Sustainment Command.
The Joint Manufacturing Technology Center is also located at the arsenal, which is the only multipurpose integrated manufacturer in the Department of Defense. The center has formed many partnerships with private industry. Martin points out there are 70 commercial and government tenants located on the island.
The technology center features the Quad Cities Manufacturing Laboratory, which is an R&D and training facility that specializes in the research and prototyping of titanium, lightweight composites and other advanced materials. Martin says there are a number of regional community colleges and universities that partner in the research activities.
The Quad Cities region is home to 500 companies that have defense contracts, which are worth $1.7 billion. To further support defense primes in their requirement to work with small business subcontractors, economic developers hosted a small business symposium where local companies could meet with defense companies such as BAE, Northrup Grumman and Lockheed Martin.
Moving south to Stone County, Miss., located 30 minutes south of Hattiesburg, a tremendous opportunity exists for advanced manufacturing companies at a former General Dynamics operation. The company decided not to re-task its seven building operation that constructed the reactive tiles for the Bradley fighting vehicles.
Because the company was working with explosives, its facilities are scattered throughout a 465-acre site. The site, which is owned by the school district, offers below market values on the buildings, says Jay Paul Gumm, executive director, Stone County Economic Development Partnership. “We are developing the McHenry East Industrial Park in that acreage to complement the seven buildings.”
Gumm says the site is zoned as 16th section land so long-term leases with the possibility of transfer down the road are possible. “It is difficult to conduct a full transfer of 16th section land because it always has to benefit the schools,” he says. “We are working with the school system, and they have given us the right to market this land. Long-term leases will be simple to execute.”
Gumm says Stone County, population 17,000, has been actively planning for development in this part of the county, expanding utility services, and constructing a new waste water treatment plant and a new water tower.
Gumm says in addition to sites and infrastructure, advanced manufacturing companies will benefit from workforce training efforts at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, which was recently named one of the top 10 community colleges in the country. What’s more, the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg is home to a polymer institute to support R&D and workforce needs. Moreover, the workforce in Stone County is drawn regionally from Gulfport, Hattiesburg and Biloxi, and parts of Louisiana and Alabama. “Human capital and financial capital don’t respect arbitrary political lines,” Gumm adds.
An expanding tech industry manufacturer will find communities are geared up and physically ready to support their site location needs, particularly in regard to workforce. When manufacturers and their partners commit to workforce training initiatives, skilled workers will be ready from day one to be productive and efficient team members.
Don’t forget the promise of 3D printers. As they continue to evolve, allowing users to create products with multiple materials, manufacturing on demand will become a great opportunity.
For complete details on the organizations featured in this article, visit:
Gateway Community and Technical College (Covington, Ky.)
Quad Cities First
Stone County (Miss.) Economic Development Partnership