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Innovations are Changing the Nature of Manufacturing

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WARREN, Ohio, August 18, 2013 — While growth in the U.S. manufacturing sector last month hit its highest level in two years, according to the ISM Index, some experts in the field warn that the definition of a "manufacturing job" is changing.

ISM index is derived from a survey of more than 300 manufacturers done by the Institute of Supply Management. It monitors employment, production inventories, new orders and supplier deliveries.

July's national index hit 55.4, up from 50.9 in June and 49 in May, ISM reported.

While manufacturing may be resurging, the number of workers it takes to build products may not. That's due largely to factors such as higher-tech manufacturing and innovations like additive manufacturing, a process in which products are built by adding thin layers of material, rather than traditional molding and machining.

The editor-in-chief of Business Facilities magazine, a publication for corporate site selectors, this month ranked the Youngstown, Ohio, area sixth in economic growth potential among U.S. metro areas with less than 450,000 employment.

''Youngstown is now home to the new National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII). NAMII was established in Youngstown to research how cutting-edge 3-D printing technology can be moved from the research phase to day-to-day use.

''3D printing allows businesses to download designs from the Internet and transform the printouts, layer by layer, into three-dimensional physical objects," Editor Jack Rogers said. "The applications for this new technology are endless, and it will revolutionize manufacturing.

''It is fitting that the Youngstown region, which played an important role in the development of U.S. manufacturing in the last century, now is leading us to new heights in the 21st,'' Rogers said.

The Youngstown-Warren region was chosen not necessarily because of new manufacturing brought about by the growing oil and gas industry, but more because of its focus on new innovations.

"We believe Youngstown will be the linchpin for a revival that will help lift Ohio back into the top tier of manufacturing leaders," Rogers said.

The national spotlight turned again to northeast Ohio manufacturing last month when Rebecca Bagley, president and CEO of northeast Ohio technology-based economic development group Nortech, joined other high-profile speakers taking part in a panel discussion of the resurgence of U.S. manufacturing at the Washington, D.C., based think tank Brookings Institute.

"Everything we do in northeast Ohio is based on the manufacturing economy," Bagley said.

Bagley, too, discussed the importance of Youngstown's role in additive manufacturing.

"We have been working on a tech belt collaborative, and this was sort of our big win in additive manufacturing. It affords a great opportunity to focus in on northeast Ohio, but also nationally on how to build on that supply chain, and also how to break down some of those barriers for northeast Ohio and for the nation to have some consideration in that tech belt region," she said.

Brookings panelist James Manyika, director of Silicon Valley-based McKinsey & Co., where he has worked with many of the world's leading software systems, agreed.

"I think we have to change our mindset about what constitutes a manufacturing job. If we are thinking of assembly line jobs, that is a limited view. We need to look at supply chain, too," Manyika said.

Gene Sperling, director of the national Economic Council and assistant to the president for economic policy, who also spoke at the Brookings event, pointed out that manufacturing has fewer jobs as a percentage of GDP than it had decades ago. Just as the types of jobs are changing, so too must the patterns of thinking about manufacturing, he said.

Bagley knows that much of northeast Ohio's middle class unemployment numbers stem from the fact that the middle class for decades has relied on traditional manufacturing. She also realizes the "tremendous opportunities for manufacturing, particularly in emerging industries like advanced energy, flexible electronics and water technologies."

"Let's not give up on manufacturing just yet," Bagley said in a subsequent blog. "Let's focus on advanced manufacturing in emerging industries; and let's make sure our regions serve as innovative ecosystems in which manufacturing can blossom again."

Source: tribune-chronicle.com, © 2013. All rights reserved.

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