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SME Speaks: We Need a Strong Manufacturing Workforce

Envision living without cars, computers, or air conditioning. Daily life would be very different without these and many other American inventions, from the common zipper to cutting-edge lasers.

Fortunately, Americans have a rich history of invention and an unwavering dedication to innovation. These qualities have given us an edge in engineering and manufacturing, and make us a true powerhouse in the global marketplace.   

In fact, American manufacturers are responsible for two-thirds of the research and development investment in the US. Nearly 80% of all patents come from the manufacturing sector, according to the Alliance for American Manufacturing.

Today's consumers expect smaller, smarter, sleeker, and more customized products, from cell phones to MP3 players to laptop computers. And they want them faster than ever before.

Unfortunately, a serious shortage of skilled American workers is challenging the country's traditionally robust manufacturing sector. The majority of US manufacturers face an employee deficit that threatens to stunt development of new technologies and slow improvements of existing products. The result could be weaker economic growth in America and around the world.

Several factors contribute to this shortage. Nearly 30% of people with science and engineering degrees in the labor force are age 50 or older. These skilled Baby Boomers will continue to retire in the next 10–15 years.

Meanwhile, the pool of science and engineering talent is shrinking. The number of jobs in science and engineering fields exceeds the number of American students graduating with engineering degrees. At the same time, the number of non-US engineers and scientists available to fill US jobs is smaller due to tightening immigration rules since 9/11. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the total number of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) jobs to increase by 47% between 2000 and 2010; however, the number of engineering degrees awarded in the US is down 20% from the peak year of 1985, according to the National Council for Advanced Manufacturing.

Then there's global competition. The fast pace of technological advances around the world and rising requirements for manufacturers mean industry professionals must be smarter and possess a wider range of skills.

The solution to this problem seems simple: educate and train the next generation of engineers to fill these jobs.

However, leaders in the industry say misperceptions among young people are keeping them from entering these fields. Say the word "manufacturing" to a young person, and he or she tends to imagine Henry Ford's factory floor, with workers standing at a mass assembly line, toiling at repetitive and tedious tasks.

The real story is that people involved in manufacturing are immersed in innovation and high technology. They also reap financial returns: manufacturing workers make 20% more than the average American, according to the National Association of Manufacturers.

Engineering professionals also can choose from an array of industries, including communications, computers, construction, energy, environmental, machine-building, medicine, transportation, and agriculture.

To continue to flourish, America's manufacturers need the best and brightest young people. Yet many young people are under the false impression that these high-tech jobs eventually will be outsourced overseas, meaning they potentially could be laid-off if they chose an engineering-related field. In reality, the jobs most often outsourced are repetitive, assembly-related positions.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that, by the year 2010, America will face a skilled-worker shortage of eight million, increasing to approximately 14 million by 2020. How can the US replenish the pipeline, maintain our manufacturing vigor, and protect our economy? The answer is early education. We must reach students in lower grades to spark their interest and sharpen their skills in basic math and science. Those skills then become the building blocks for more-advanced courses in high school and beyond.

One way to engage young students is with specialized career development programs like those supported by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) Education Foundation. Through youth programs, scholarships, and grants, the Foundation's goal is to advance manufacturing education and engineering-related fields as career choices.

The Foundation launched Gateway Academy (formerly STEPS Academy) in partnership with Project Lead the Way®, and with the generous support from a multitude of corporate sponsors. These summer programs give students a glimpse into various manufacturing and technology careers by providing fun and challenging hands-on projects that highlight math, science, and a variety of engineering disciplines.

Introduced in 2006 with five programs in two states, Gateway Academies expanded to 55 academies in 15 states in 2007. Building on the success of the first two years, the academies will continue to grow in 2008, with middle and high school students in 24 states attending more than 170 programs. The SME Education Foundation's goal is to add 50 academies per year through 2010.

The future holds many challenges for our young people. We need innovative solutions to clean up the environment, decrease our dependence on fossil fuels, rebuild our aging infrastructure, and continue to come up with medical advances for our aging population. The next generation of inventors will rely on their math and science education—as well as cutting-edge technology—to create the new marvels of modern life.

Innovations That Could Change the Way You Manufacture

Direct Digital Manufacturing

By Carl Dekker
Met-L-Flo, Inc.
Sugar Grove, IL


In the April 2008 issue of Manufacturing Engineering, we brought you the first segment of this series on direct digital manufacturing (DDM)—one of the five "innovations" that was chosen by SME's Manufacturing Enterprise Council (MEC) for its member-driven program Innovations That Could Change the Way You Manufacture.

DDM is the process of going directly from an electronic digital representation of a part to the final product via additive manufacturing. In part 1 of the DDM article, two of the four applications areas were outlined: Area 1, noncritical simple, and Area 2, noncritical complex. Below are summaries of the remaining two application areas.Fingerprint scanner covers made with fused deposition modeling (FDM).

Area 3, structural noncritical parts, is probably where some of the best applications in a traditional manufacturing environment can be found. These are load bearing and functional, and can often be used to meet product life cycle and environmental concerns. Mydea Technologies used fused deposition modeling (FDM) to create 50 sets of fingerprint-scanning devices (used for access control) covers in three to four days for an Orlando, FL, based theme park. The US Army had a prototype camera mount for gunsights on tanks made, and found that the prototype itself met all the functional requirements. The Army used the same process to produce additional gunsights. In a similar case, Burton snowboards used selective laser sintering to develop functional prototype snowboard bindings. These bindings stand up to the extreme testing of some of the world's best snowboarders. With this testing, the technology can also be used to build custom snowboard bindings. Advances in 3-D scanning technologies have also supported the viability of DDM. At Loughborough University, 3-D scanning was used to obtain a digital file of a football (soccer) player's foot. This file was then used to design and build, using laser sintering, a customized boot (shoe) to meet the needs of elite and professional athletes.

Three-dimensional scanning was also critical in applying DDM to the manufacture of hearing aids. Siemens led this industry-wide change, and found that these truly customized hearing aid covers greatly increased fit and reduced the amount of returns. A dramatic demonstration of the economic impact of the technology can be found in the production of luggage-rack caps for buses at Loughborough University. With just 10 parts needed initially, the tooling cost would have been more than $70,000 and part cost more than $6000. Laser sintering was used to produce the part at a cost of approximately $200 per part. For automaker MG, DDM has become the accepted manufacturing process for at least one part. Using laser sintering, 600 drain tubes can be produced in 48 hr. Similarly, Molex has used stereolithography to produce 1000 electrical connectors per day. With no tooling required, Molex was able to ship a total of 16,000 parts in two weeks. Another example that points to some of the new product capabilities of DDM is the direct writing of antennae using the maskless mesoscale deposition (M3D) process. These antennae are no larger than a human hair. The same technology has also been used to manufacture silicon wafers for solar panel arrays that have allowed a dramatic increase in the amount of energy being captured. M3D allows deposition of narrower, high-integrity collector lines that have higher conductivity and a lower shadowing effect, which increases photovoltaic cell efficiency.   

Area 4, high complexity critical parts, is made up of load-bearing and safety-critical parts that have structural and performance requirements. Rover- MG used laser sintering to produce 1800 suspension components when faced with a six-week delay. The components were produced in 48 hr. with a savings of more than $90,000. The same group took advantage of the technology's design capabilities to produce a hand brake made of metal-stamped parts that were then assembled. Using DDM, they were able to make several parts into one, which allowed them to better meet recycling requirements in the United Kingdom. In one of the most critical areas, Therics is using DDM to custom-produce drug formulas, and electron beam melting has been used to manufacture medical implants.

As more applications are found and discussed, even more are yet to come. So what do you do if you think you have an application for DDM? With so many processes available, you will likely need some help choosing the best path. SME's Rapid Technologies & Additive Manufacturing Community,, is a great place to gather information. The RTAM's annual RAPID Conference & Exposition brings together about 2000 people from across the world using the technologies every day. You can also start by working with a service bureau. Think of these as DDM job shops. Most service bureaus have several machines, processes, and materials inhouse. These "job shops" also have experience working with a wide range of customers and applications, and the best will collaborate with you to make sure your requirements are met. A service bureau will know how to address data input, process, and material constraints. The biggest challenge may be the paradigm shift. DDM opens design possibilities that you may never have thought possible.


Integrated 3-D Simulation and Modeling/Desktop Supercomputers

By Richard E. Morley, FSME
R. Morley, Inc.
Milford, NH


With the advent of supercomputers, e.g., the modern desktop computer costing about $3000, we can visualize and look at things in the past and present. To some extent, a computer is much more than an abacus. It can be a telescope. A computer can look at faraway galaxies with modeling and simulation, artificially colored using raw data to make an image that is understandable by the human brain. It can be a microscope and go all the way down to an atomic particle, which we theoretically cannot see, but our simulation lets us look at. We can do time travel. Time travel is the act of forecasting the weather, production, projects, looking at historical documents, and focusing on social change.

With the advent of the computer and the technology associated with it, it is now becoming very common to talk to people throughout the world. In addition to conversing through the computer, we are also able to see the person we are "talking to" in real time. This technology substantially reduces air travel and increases global communications.

To understand the future of simulation, modeling, and the tools necessary to perform those functions, i.e., the supercomputer, we need to understand several basic things: who, what, when, why, how, and where.

Who is going to do this? I suspect that the people who are going to evolve in these future technologies are the young engineers and managers, small companies, and startups. They have the ability to drive the PT boat and don't think about not being the Queen Mary. In fact, there's a trend to outsource contract management, finance, inventory, and the rest.

What are we going to do in the future? There are many things we have to do. One is to understand that innovation by itself doesn't do much good. Engineering, which is the conversion of innovation into society and useful product, is the key element. That gives us a return: a return on our investment and a return on net assets. The factory of the future, which we will simulate, has to look like the computer game SimCity. Instead of SimCity, you'll have Sim Factory. The approach of simulation, using big-time computers, modeling, and the young, energetic entries into this market will be making things you cannot see or even imagine today.

When will all this happen? Sooner than you think. Several years ago I wrote a story for Wired magazine about the future of the automobile. In the article, I predicted that almost all cars would have a navigation aid or something similar in a very short period of time. When I wrote the article, I didn't actually think that the navigation systems would be added within three years (I thought maybe five to 10 years). As it turned out, many felt I was being too aggressive in my predictions. The real story is that almost all predictions are too conservative.

Why do we do this? Why not keep up the same old thing? Well, the answer to that is because we can. We do things not because they're right but because they're the only things we know how to do. The difficulty is that we are, at the moment, not production limited. In the days of wooden ships and iron men, we were production limited. We could not make enough cars, radios, or computers to satisfy the demand. We are now, however, consumption-limited. This means that our problems are marketing, not production. We have to be innovative in design and marketing to sell more units, or we have to create a new market.

How will this all happen? It will happen because we'll have software generated and designed by manufacturing engineers and executed by them as well. How it will happen will require supercomputers and the technology of computer games. Computer games are now larger than Hollywood's output, and the designers of those games know how to simulate in such a realistic fashion that it is difficult sometimes to distinguish between modern movies made with people and those made with simulation.

I suspect that the applications will be over the iPhone and Photosynth. The iPhone contains all the necessary requirements to be a control panel for almost any machine in the future and the past. Photosynth is the way to dive down in great detail in any system. At the moment they're looking at architecture, but I view the technology as having the ability to look at an entire pharmaceutical plant and dive down to look at a single pill in its design in one sweeping function. This requires unheard of memory and computing power, but is now being demonstrated with the iPhone and Photosynth.

Computer adaptive systems, or autonomous agents, which generate and respond to certain behaviors, will, to some extent, mean the end of an IT department as we know it. The IT department, which puts constraints, very high standards, and inelastic demands on the processing department, will vaporize. The ability to have flexibility in a plant will return the plant to the way it is. However, we have to be able to simulate and look at the affect we have before we implement.

To reduce travel time, we have to be able to use the computer in simulation instead. I am rather heavily involved in a global scientific project—from Asia, Europe, and North America. For me and my fellow participants to have technical meetings and conversations, we have to be able to look at simulated processes and communicate with each other by using the Web so that we can share ideas, processes, and predictions of processes throughout the entire global enterprise. We have to understand the user up and down the supply chain. Everything is just a link in the chain. We have to deal with the end user, the supplier, and the stakeholders, otherwise no capital exists. Computer simulation and the computer itself allows us to do this.

Time to market is a key element. The programmable controller made a reduction in time to market. In the design cycle, CAD/CAM reduced time to market. Just in time reduced the time to market for areas of prediction. Simulation and modeling allows us to have warehouse predictive inventory so that we can substantially reduce the equipment in the warehouse and improve our time of delivery. Examples of this type of on-the-spot manufacturing are custom motorcycles, fast food, Starbucks, and supplying repair parts with zero inventory.

Modeling and simulation of the supply chain benefits its future performance. The supply chain inside the building for the individual machine tool, the enterprise, the marketplace, and the country are all very important. Now, we think of a supply chain as a river of value, not a single element on the river. For example, we can't just think of Boulder Dam, we have to think about water all the way up and down, all its uses and all its requirements, and predict what sources of water there will be in the future.

Change is ongoing and will happen no matter what. Experiments, SimCity, and simulations allow one to step outside the box without any significant losses and play games, if you will, with the future of your manufacturing process.

The difficulty is culture. Soon after World War II, the cargo cult appeared in some of the Pacific Islands. During the war, the US would go in, build a runway, planes would land, crates would come in, supplies would come, and the people who lived on the island had an economic growth that was unparalleled in their particular local civilization. Suddenly the planes stopped coming. To attract the planes back, they would erect buildings, light fires, and build runways, because they thought cause and effect worked at that level.

How much of our engineering and manufacturing decisions are based on this cargo cult thinking? We can now look at the decisions and processes we're making, use simulation to ascertain what affect this engineering/development of technology will have on our processes. There's a word of warning here: any simulation or modeling is not accurate. Like the weather forecast, it has a lot of error, but it's better than no forecast at all.

I have the feeling when I look at our manufacturing terrain that it's littered with shrapnel from the industrial revolution from the 1900s to the 1960s. The blossoming that occurred because of the industrial revolution blew up, as it should have, and scattered the effects all over our culture and all over our thinking. An explosion is currently under way that's centered on modeling, computers, supercomputers, and simulations. We must live in that environment and not in the 1920's environment. I'm sorry to say this is not your father's factory.


SME's Winnipeg Chapter Re-Forming

Approximately 50 people recently attended a chapter meeting at the University of Manitoba (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada) to launch the re-formation of the SME Winnipeg Chapter. Speakers at this meeting included:

  • William J. Geary, 2006 SME president, and president, Boeing Canada Operations Ltd. and general manager, Boeing Canada Technology—Winnipeg Division. Geary led a group discussion on "What does success mean to you?" The main focus of the discussion was to decide what success means to an individual, an industry, a community, an employer, etc.
  • Tim Mitchell, industrial technology advisor with the National Research Council of Canada. Mitchell introduced Geary and talked from a local perspective, as a lifelong resident of Winnipeg, and about his previous involvement as Winnipeg chapter chair.
  • S. Balakrishnan, PhD, professor at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, in the Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering. Balakrishnan is the faculty advisor for the University of Manitoba's SME Student Chapter, which took part in the kickoff event.
  • Boris Trachenko, PhD, Winnipeg chapter chair, talked about the start of the new chapter and looking for new and engaged members. Trachenko is a process engineer at Standard Aero in Winnipeg. It's due to Trachenko's perseverance and vision that the Winnipeg Chapter has been rekindled. He conducted a survey the existing SME membership and professional engineers in Manitoba in the fall of 2007 to assess the interest and commitment in the local community for a SME Chapter in Winnipeg. With an overwhelmingly positive response, Trachenko gathered a leadership team that coordinated this kickoff event with Geary and ongoing chapter leadership.
  • Bruce MacKender, SME industry and member relations manager, spoke about his experience with chapters and how he has tried to support Trachenko in his efforts to launch the new, improved Winnipeg Chapter. In addition, Victoria Townsend, SME industry and member relations manager, spoke to the group about leveraging SME's Technical Communities to support local chapters, as well as other SME platforms, such as webinars and the Lean Registry.

The re-forming of the Winnipeg Chapter is a great example of grassroots development, and a vibrant and alive SME growing its chapters. To learn more about the Winnipeg Chapter, contact Chapter Chair Boris Trachenko at (204) 788-2090 or via e-mail at


This article was first published in the May 2008 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. 

Published Date : 5/1/2008

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