We launch into 2017 with many questions regarding how the new administration will impact manufacturing. I am not typically a reactionary type, but more of wait and see personality when it comes to business decisions. As such, I trust that meaningful discussions will take place between the U.S. manufacturing community and the administration, and that intelligent decisions will be made. I take faith in quotes such as this from Bill Ford.
"Look, he's (President Trump), a businessman. We're not going to make dumb decisions. We can't. He wouldn't expect us to, frankly."
As Trump meets with Ford, GM, and Fiat Chrysler CEOs this morning, I feel confident that good dialog will occur and that strong relationships will be forged that will benefit manufacturing in this country. There may be disagreements on how to get there, but I believe differing viewpoints often result in new, and sometimes better, ideas.
I am one who appreciates intelligently presented perspectives, as I certainly don't know all the answers. As such, I am sharing this recent article by Crain's Detroit Business Dustin Walsh.
I look forward to hearing positive outcomes from today's meeting.
Perception is reality goes the saying. And for years that has been the pitfall of getting people interested in careers in manufacturing. A recent survey by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) found that parents continue to have misconceptions about the manufacturing landscape, including the idea that it is not an exciting, challenging or engaging profession, nor is it seen as well-paying.
The truth is that manufacturing offers career opportunities for every education level from skilled trades that require a high school diploma to engineers, designers and programmers with bachelor’s and master’s degrees and researchers and scientist with PhDs says the report. And, factory floors are far from the dirty, dark environment that so many people seem to think. Not only are they bright, clean and organized, but many may even look more like clean rooms or laboratories.
I confess. Twenty-some years ago I had absolutely no interest in manufacturing and only accepted a job in this field due to some challenging circumstances. I had the same misconceptions that the SME study revealed. But, after having the opportunity to walk numerous plant floors and see the ingenuity involved in “making things”, I became an enthusiastic convert. I get to learn something new every day and, not only that, I actually have fun.
Engage at an early age
So, how do you get kids pumped up about pursuing a career in manufacturing? First, it would be helpful if we could get adults to simply have a better appreciation of the fact that just about every item they use each day would not exist without manufacturing. It’s not just about automobiles and airplanes. From our “must-have” electronics to packaged foods, clothing and makeup… all of these have to be “made”. So, we’ve got to start with the adults and get them to use positive messaging about this field when their kids are young. This requires government, academia and industry efforts to get parents on-board.
I’m happy to see the recent Michigan workforce campaigns (my home state) recently launched to create awareness and engage key audiences with manufacturing starting at the kindergarten level. These campaigns smartly involve some celebrity-types including Dirty Jobs’ Mike Rowe, one of my favorites. I’m hoping that programs such as these will be heavily promoted through the school systems to educate both parents and their children to the diverse opportunities that exist in this field.
Provide hands-on opportunities
Nothing engages as much as real-world experience
Two of our clients have seen the positive results that occur by providing hands-on training experiences starting at the high school level. Automatic Feed Company (Napoleon, Ohio) partnered with the Napoleon school system and Northwest State Community College (NSCC) three years ago to establish the Northwest Ohio Learning Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NOLC). Located on Automatic Feed’s headquarters, the NOLC allows high school students to receive instruction from NSCC faculty on-site and, in turn, be able to walk across the hallway to the manufacturing floor to see and put what they learn into practice. Students earn both high school and college credit, which can be applied toward a degree.
Given a good taste of what a career in manufacturing might look and feel like, the majority of the students in this program have chosen to pursue a field in engineering as they head off to college. They’ve seen that today’s engineer is a far cry from the old stereotype of a man in a white short-sleeve shirt with a pocket protector. Today’s computer engineering tools are designed in a way that seem almost second-nature to today’s computer gaming generation.
Coldwater Machine Company (CMC) runs a four-year Registered Apprenticeship Training Program requiring 8,000 hours of on-the-job training in a full-time role with the company as well as fulfillment of a technical degree at Rhodes State College, where tuition is paid-in-full by CMC. Apprentices also receive full benefit packages while working with their mentors to learn skilled trades through different manufacturing functions. Coldwater uses this program to build and grow talent into its organization, many who go on to become leaders of the business. This program currently accounts for 10% of their workforce over a 5-year period.
The importance of creating a sustainable model for engaging, training and employing new workers in manufacturing is critical to our country. Why? For every $1 spent in manufacturing, another $1.37 is added to the economy – the highest multiplier of any economic sector, says the National Association of Manufacturers.
So, if you’re a parent who thinks your child should be a surgeon because they are good with their hands, I ask you to consider other technical and skilled trades alternatives. If you have a child good at problem-solving, I cannot think of a better field. Counselors, I ask that you arrange tours of manufacturing facilities to let kids see the advanced tools and technologies at play. If we change the perception of manufacturing to the realities of how it really looks, how creative it really is, and the careers that can be made, hopefully we can excite our future generations to give manufacturing a chance.
As we enter the new year, those in the automotive industry find themselves in the midst of ‘best new vehicle’ awards. Whether the award carries a geographic designation – Asian Car of the Year, North American Car and Truck/Utility (NACTOY) Awards, World Car of the Year – or from a publication – Car and Driver, Motor Trend – it’s a great achievement for the recognized vehicles, their brand and their development teams. For 2016, there are 49 vehicle launches, making it no easy task for jurors. What I find interesting is the vast diversity across the field of finalist and winning vehicles.
Let’s just take a quick look at the NACTOY finalists – the Mazda MX-5, the Chevrolet Malibu and the Honda Civic in the car category and the Volvo XC 90, Honda Pilot and Nissan Titan XD pickup in the truck/utility category. So, basically two traditional type sedans against the sportier Mazda and two SUVs against a down-sized pickup. To me, this already feels like comparing apples and oranges in terms of commonality.
A pitch could be made for an Asian connection (four out of six finalists), but digging a little deeper illustrates how globalization of the industry has blossomed. For the Nissan Titan, all of the research and development was conducted in the United States, which certainly influenced the design, which was also done in the U.S.
So, what made these finalists of the year? Design? Performance? Safety? Price? Infotainment? Are there commonalities among the vehicles to be found across these various areas? Do they all have outstanding powertrains? Well, the Malibu, Honda Civic, Nissan and Volvo engines had all been finalists in Ward’s Best 10 Engines, but none made the final cut.
Was it the new gadgets and features? The Volvo has a nine-inch (yes, nine-inch) Sensus entertainment system. But, all of the vehicles are well-equipped with infotainment features. And, safety offerings continue to grow across vehicles. The Honda Civic Touring model comes with both forward collision and road departure warnings; the Malibu offers safety packages that provide lane assist, pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, etc.
Certainly, achieving better mileage is a mandate that has to be given attention. This is accomplished either through improved powertrain performance, which was already commented upon, or weight reduction. Interestingly, among the car finalists – both the Malibu and Civic came in not only lighter, but also longer (the Civic is also wider), illustrating the intersection of innovative design and new material use.
Certainly, the use of aluminum across these vehicles has helped to shave pounds. But, the Miata also shed some weight by using Aeron-like chairs for its seats, helping to improve the driver experience as compared to the previous stiff-backed composite seats. So, maybe it’s the aesthetics of the design? Well, certainly the Miata looks more fun to drive than its competitors and the Nissan more utilitarian, so again it’s hard to compare.
As it's formally stated, the NACTOY awards consider comfort, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction PLUS innovation and value for the dollar. This year, the 2016 Honda Civic and the Volvo XC 90 were the winners.
The bottom line is that every person has their own personal set of optimal mobility experience requirements. This is the challenge for automakers - offering the variety desired and checking all the boxes for the must-have features each driver wants. Today’s consumer says they increasingly want more from a vehicle – more safety features, more infotainment options, more powertrain choices, great performance, beautiful design – as long as this all comes with what they deem a reasonable price tag. Oh, and by the way, could you do that quickly please?
It’s an amazing industry that can produce 49 new models given the complexity of today’s vehicles. Just wait until 2017 when 76 launches are anticipated. Variety is the spice of life and there is bound to be something for just about every consumer, no matter how demanding.
As people begin the 'oohing and aahing" process in regard to the new vehicles being launched at the 2016 North American International Auto Show, I want to make sure we remember the unsung heroes of manufacturing behind these cool cars.
Being involved in manufacturing reminds me a bit of my early advertising agency days. We had an incredibly original creative director who was also a very effective sales person. He would come up with promotional ideas that no one had ever thought of before. The clients would love the pitch, commit the dollars and then the 'magic' had to begin; meaning the agency then had to make the dream a reality. That's when the blood, sweat and tears (often literally) would begin as we had to find a way to create the wonderful item that had never been produced before, and hopefully do so profitably. The customer never saw the insanity taking place in our art department and conference room (which became an assembly station). They just saw the 'awesome' end product.
Coming up with ways to execute on new, innovative and awe-inspiring designs is what manufacturers do everyday. As people walk the auto show and drool over the sleek lines of a new vehicle, I am doubtful that a single one will wonder about the stamping and forming operations that produced those elegant and detailed body sides. I am positive that no one will reflect on the difficulties that the manufacturer faced in finding ways to adequately flatten and feed the lightweight, yet high strength advanced steel coil strips to the press. Certainly, no one is going to wonder about the design and machining of the stamping die that enabled the creation of the body panel contours or the myriad other manufacturing tools and processes required to create the vehicle.
To produce the powertrain, climate control, instrument panel, frame, steering wheel, tires, wheels, brakes, suspension, exterior trim, body & interior, and fuel and emission systems necessary to build a complete vehicle requires about 2200 components and assemblies. Behind each of these components is a manufacturing process that requires tooling and equipment. No matter how long I've been around this industry, I am still amazed at how everything comes together in a way that belies all of the activity required to bring a flawless vehicle to the showroom.
As I learned at my early agency job, creative ideas and new designs are great, but finding an effective way to produce them is where the real ingenuity comes in. Vehicle design will always be the sexy part of the industry. But as you walk the auto show floor and admire the vehicles, grant some time to appreciate all the work you never see required to produce that car.
I recently took the Amtrak train to Chicago and back home to Detroit from the recent FABTECH Show. Although about a 6-hour trip for me, the train is extremely attractive for numerous reasons: 1) the station is less than a mile from my house; 2) I don't have to worry about the number of bags I carry or passing through security checks; and 3) I can spread out across the seats and work on my laptop in total comfort.
On the ride out, which began at 6:00 am on a Saturday morning, I found myself working furiously for about four hours. Part of that work was researching autonomous driving for an upcoming project, which got me to thinking. Basically, the train was providing me an autonomous driving experience. Granted, I couldn't re-direct where I was traveling, but I could accomplish numerous other tasks while the navigation and driving was in someone else's hands.
Much of what I read about autonomous driving is focused on safety, but much also seems to hint that we will have a more relaxed driving experience. Ha! Not if you tend to be a workaholic type like me. I will feel that I have to leverage that time to accomplish more, more more! Gone will be the time when I drive for two hours to a client, clearing my head by hitting the open road and simply enjoying the driving experience. Yes, of course, I have to concentrate and pay attention to the road, but there is something creative that is unleashed when I'm not staring at my computer screen.
I'm afraid that this advance in technology will be one more way that I can be even more efficient! Now I can keep my face glued to my computer screen and continue to be totally connected while my vehicle gently takes me to my destination. I am not ready! I need the excuse of having to drive and pay attention to the road so that I don't talk, text, tweet, type or whatever. I enjoy this break from the frenzy of everyday life.
Now I'm sure that as I age there will be a day that I will be grateful that my world can continue to remain larger than my home. Even as my faculties may fade, my self-driving vehicle can safely transport me to commune with other people and other activities. But, for now I am just not ready for that, which makes me sound like a Luddite. I know that I will need to learn to adapt, to relax in the cradle of this new-world technology. I best start working on that now.
For most people, November brings thoughts of the impending holidays starting with Thanksgiving, our day of feasting and thankfulness. For me, November starts with my thoughts focused on FABTECH, the annual trade show and conference where new technologies in metal forming, fabricating, welding and finishing are launched.
It’s a busy time for our marketing communications team as we support our customers with booth planning and management, traffic building ideas, video and print collateral, sales tools, press relations, you name it. This year has been especially exciting as we are supporting the launch of numerous new technologies.
Closely listening to the customer and understanding market trends is key to our clients' innovation process. It is really cool to watch as they develop new solutions and refine others to overcome particular manufacturing challenges. Much of their recent development has been focused on the handling of various lightweight materials, whether aluminum or the advanced higher-strength steels -- both have required new ways of cutting, forming, joining on the shop floor.
To address this issue and expand upon its new high-strength straightener launched last year, COE Press Equipment is introducing its new SpaceMaster® Series 4 compact coil line, which can process these new lighter, high-yield, high-strength materials at up to 70 SPM in under 23 ft. of space! This is less than half the footprint of a typical press feed line, yet provides the flexibility to process a wide range of coil material and thickness.
Another customer, LaserCoil Technologies, is introducing its new Multiple-Head Laser Cutting system, which can produce blanks from any type of coil stock (AHSS, CRS, Aluminum, pre-coated materials, etc) at speeds never before achievable, while improving quality and eliminating the need for press dies and maintenance costs. The flexibility and short changeover time of this technology is a game changer for the stamping industry.
Then, to handle the difficulties presented by the welding of aluminum, Coldwater Machine will be showcasing its innovative friction welding solutions for joining ferrous, non-ferrous and dissimilar materials. Coldwater’s SPOTMeld™ system can join multiple layers of aluminum sheet metal, which can help the automakers as they seek efficient manufacturing solutions for increasing use of lightweight materials.
I am inspired and grateful that I have the opportunity to work with such innovative companies comprised of really smart as well as really nice people. How many people get to say that they learn something every day while having fun along the way? My holiday season starts by giving thanks for that. And, given that there’s no overeating involved like at Thanksgiving – it’s also addresses MY lightweighting issue!
Likely most of you don’t know that Uniroyal began life as U.S. Rubber, which in 1916 was the company that put rubber-soled Keds on our feet. During World War II, U.S. Rubber factories were focused on the production of war goods, producing military truck and airplane tires as well as canvas-top, rubber-soled boots for soldiers and marines serving in tropical environments. I love the idea that whether on foot, flying or driving, it was all about where the rubber meets the road.
Obviously tires play an important, yet under-appreciated, role in our driving lives. If there wasn’t a performance difference in tire design, there wouldn’t be so many tire manufacturers each offering dozens of styles. And, how do these tire engineers know the nuances that go into tread depth and pattern? Luckily, today we have the benefits of computers using analysis software that allows engineers to simulate the performance of tread design, as well as other design features. And, even the various rubber compounds used in the tires can be simulated to see how well a particular rubber may react under different conditions, such as cold weather versus hot weather.
So, with tread design making such an impact on performance, perhaps I should pay more attention to my rubber-soled workout/walking shoes. It would be awesome if I could find a style that infuses me with the same sense of invincibility as my snow tires. Just don't tell my kids.