Eyeing Manufacturing's Future at SOUTH-TEC
By Patrick Waurzyniak
Buffeted by many headwinds including fierce global competition, a growing shortage of skilled workers and ever-widening income gaps, the US manufacturing industry faces some serious challenges in the upcoming years.
Those observations, and suggestions on how to solve them, headlined the keynote address given by SME President Dennis S. Bray at the SOUTH-TEC manufacturing show held last week in Greenville, SC, where the expo returned for the first time since 2001. This year’s 52,260-sq.ft. event drew more pre-registered exhibitors and attendees than the 2011 show did in Charlotte, NC, where it will return for SOUTH-TEC 2015.
Manufacturing attendees at SOUTH-TEC gave a warm welcome to Bray, who stressed the importance of building manufacturing’s future by attracting the top-notch talent that will drive innovation for the industry. “Our purpose is to attract advanced manufacturing talent for future generations,” Bray said.
Customers today want to be involved in creative approaches to solving problems, noted Bray, president and CEO of Contour Precision Group LLC (Charlotte). “We are trying to find nontraditional manufacturing approaches,” Bray said. “Our business is to make contoured precision surfaces. We’re either adding or subtracting materials. It’s not uncommon for us to sit with our customers, and chat about the solutions—customers want to be involved.
“It’s important to learn from the past and be able to build on what others have done before,” Bray said. “But it’s more important to use your imagination to do the things that haven’t been done before.”
Innovation and education are the keys to offering customers products they want to buy, with exciting new technologies like additive manufacturing. “Additive manufacturing is bringing the designer closer to the process,” Bray said, “giving them freedom they’ve never had.
“When we look at manufacturing, we can’t help but see challenging times,” he added. “Globalization has hit us like nobody thought it would. We’re not going to stop it, so we have no choice but to embrace it. We can view China as a competitor, or as a tremendous customer.”
The combination of global competition and our educational system putting lower priority on manufacturing has made the road tougher for the industry. “We have some headwinds here in the US and other countries. Our educational system has worked against us, but we see that changing,” Bray said. The income gap also creates a lot of problems, he added. “People have to be able to buy the products we make in this country.”
It’s predicted that these headwinds will cut GDP in half the next 10 years, he said, and another study sees the US falling fifth place globally in manufacturing. “Where are the talented people that we need? The lack of skilled workers has an impact on our businesses,” he said.
Programs like SME’s Project Lead the Way are having a positive impact, Bray noted, as the manufacturing industry attempts to find the future innovators from today’s generations that will help replace the droves of Baby Boomers expected to retire in upcoming years.
As part of the solution, a workforce development panel discussion pondered some of the many remedies coming from the combined efforts of industry professionals and educators. Moderated by Gary Green, president, ForsythTech Community College (Winston-Salem, NC), the panel included Dean of Technologies Jeff H. Hunt, Spartanburg Community College (Spartanburg, SC), Susan Pretulak, vice president, Economic Development & Workforce Competitiveness, readySC (Columbia, SC), and Pam Howze, training and development manager for Siemens Energy Inc.’s Charlotte plant.
Two significant issues confronting manufacturing today are the surpluses of low-skilled workers and the shortage of highly skilled people, said Green. One of the major problems facing educators, Green said, is convincing high-school students, parents and teachers that manufacturing is a good choice. “A question to ask is: Do we need a fundamentally different approach?” Green queried.
Some of the tactics taken include on-the-job training at Siemens’ Charlotte site, where Howze noted approximately 25% of the 1600 employees there could retire today if they wished to. “We’re incorporating an e-Learning program throughout the plant,” Howze said, noting that students can earn college credit there as part of the company’s skills initiative.
A new mechatronics program developed at Spartanburg C.C. is helping address training for jobs requiring aptitude in mechanical and electronics disciplines, said Hunt. Apprenticeship programs also are taking off, said Pretulak. Key to such programs working, added Howze, is getting parents on-site to see what manufacturing has to offer. “They must bring their parents,” Howze said. “We find that they are the barrier, because they think that manufacturing is dark, dirty and dingy.”
Another major trend is the large number of students who already have bachelor degrees, or at least some college credits, now returning to technical schools to get the training required to handle today’s jobs. Said Green: “What you find in community college is we’re the new grad schools.”
Published Date : 11/4/2013