Energy Abounds at Houstex
By Patrick Waurzyniak
Stocks surging to record levels. GM and Ford market shares on the rise. And last week, deep in the heart of Texas oil country, the vibrant US manufacturing industry showcased its wares for the oil, gas and energy industry at the Society of Manufacturing Engineers’ (SME) Houstex 2013 show in Houston, TX.
At Houstex, manufacturing professionals got a chance to see the latest new developments in machine tools, tooling and manufacturing software specifically geared for oil and gas production. As evidence of an ongoing resurgence in manufacturing, Houstex event and exhibit space was up some 50% over 2011’s show, and overall attendance was decidedly brisk in drawing more people in the show’s first two days than during the entire three-day Houstex event in 2011. Whether visitors were looking to hob-knob with big-name energy companies, or see the latest cutting tools available for machining oil and gas equipment like the Fluid End Solutions shown at the Seco Tools Inc. (Troy, MI) booth, there was something for everybody.
Kicking off Houstex, special guest speaker Brett B. Lambert, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manufacturing and Industrial Base Policy, stressed that the US manufacturers can compete effectively by offering high-skilled, high-wage jobs. Lambert said the US government is continuing to invest in manufacturing research and funding key efforts in areas such as the joining of metals and composites, and in lightweight materials. “We spend about $1.5 billion a day at the Department of Defense. That’s a big number, yet we don’t build anything,” Lambert said. “All of our manufacturing is done by our contractors—several tens of thousands of contractors—many of whom are represented here.”
A key part of that investment are the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) created in Youngstown, Ohio, and the proposed National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) announced last year by the Obama Administration. Lambert noted these investments include two major projects, one of which involves the US Department of Energy that will be announced in late March. “We have to ensure that we have the most technically advanced defense technology,” Lambert said. “This has the added benefit of helping the US economy.”
The DoD has targeted several technologies for investment, he noted, including optical, joining techniques and lightweight materials. “We’ve like to do all of them. We have a commitment to do 13 of them,” Lambert added. “At least one of them will be joining and lightweight materials.”
Additive manufacturing technologies hold great potential for speeding production of key components, such as those used on naval ships and for producing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). “Imagine having a ship that doesn’t have to send out for spare parts, because it can manufacture its own,” Lambert said. “That is a game-changer for us. It is changing the way we think about mass production.”
Finding Engineering Talent
Attracting the best manufacturing engineering talent isn’t an easy task, but it can be done with the right strategies and effective supply-chain management tools, noted Joseph W. Lampinen, director, engineering services, Kelly Services (Troy, MI), in his address, “Engineering Workforce: Managing Your Talent Supply Chain.”
There are two schools of thought in workforce management about finding quality manufacturing engineers: either there’s a shortage of ME’s, or the pay isn’t enough. “Really the truth’s somewhere in the middle,” Lampinen said.
Unemployment among engineers is only about 3% overall, he said. “When it comes to attracting engineers, it can be flat-out supply and demand.”
With Baby Boomers retiring at a rate of about 10,000 a day through 2029, many manufacturers are worried sick they won’t be able to find enough qualified engineers to replace them, Lampinen said. Compounding the problem, less than 25% of companies today engage in strategic workforce planning, he said. To combat this scenario, manufacturers need to use advanced technology and systems to find the right talent and skills for the job.
“There’s just a flat-out competition for talent,” he added. “It’s critical to select the best available talent—you want your ‘A’ players.”
Contact Senior Editor Patrick Waurzyniak: firstname.lastname@example.org.