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Celebrating the People of Manufacturing

Alan Rooks
By Alan Rooks Editor in Chief, Manufacturing Engineering

We tend to think of the manufacturing industry as an abstract concept, describing it in terms of trends, growth rates and output. Two of our features in this issue, including the cover story, do exactly that. And that’s a good thing! But, at its core, manufacturing is a large collection of people, all using the tools, ideas and other resources at their disposal to do their jobs each day. Of course, this is not exactly news to anyone in the industry, but many people make extraordinary contributions to manufacturing and those contributions can help to improve our society.

For example, Raye Montague, who passed away in October, made extraordinary achievements in engineering and manufacturing while breaking through formidable barriers. After facing racism and sexism in her youth, and being denied entry to a college engineering program because she was black, Montague became an engineer and the first female program manager of ships in the U.S. Navy, according to an obituary in the New York Times.

Her signal achievement was developing the first computer program used to design ships, and then using it to design a Navy ship in less than 19 hours (a process that previously took a month). For this achievement, she received the Navy’s Meritorious Civilian Service Award in 1972, and the Navy began using her system to design all of its ships and submarines.

Also, consider the story of Greg Burns, a mechanical engineer and owner of four companies he started, including Burns Machinery Inc. (Minden, NV), a successful job shop. Rather than retire from manufacturing, Burns has found himself working with a community halfway around the world, in Kenya. After his family took in a college exchange student from there, Burns and a group of people from his church helped that student complete a master’s program at Boston University. Greg and his church group visited the student’s village in Kenya, which led to the creation of Bridge Ministries, which helps fund the village schools and develop clean water supplies for the village.

Helping the Disabled

Then there is Joseph Mollendorf, a professor at the University at Buffalo’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering who, in 1990, was a part of a group awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop projects to help the disabled. Since then, he has been mentoring young people to create new devices to assist the disabled; along the way, his students have manufactured nearly 600 devices to help people with disabilities live better lives.

The last two stories come from an inspiring online series published by SME called “Humans of Manufacturing.” I encourage you to check out this series ( and sign up for the newsletter that delivers new stories to your inbox. It will make you proud of the industry that is, in many cases, your life’s work.

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