Experts Say Manufacturing Facing New Opportunities and Challenges

By Mike Boyer

From left: Dan Janka, Mazak Corporation; Greg Knox, Knox Machinery; Josh Mook, GE Additive; Pete Zelinski, Modern Machine Shop and Additive Manufacturing; and Eric Harmon; Ohio Business and Cincy magazines

Talk about U.S. manufacturing’s demise or decline is just fake news.

“The United States makes stuff. We don’t give ourselves credit for that and there’s this false perception that we’re in the sunset of manufacturing. Not at all. It’s core to what we do,” says Pete Zelinski, editor-in-chief of Gardner Business Media’s Modern Machine Shop and Additive Manufacturing.

He and other industry panelists at the inaugural Ohio Manufacturing Summit presented by Ohio Business and Cincy magazines, attended by nearly 200 executives in May, offered an upbeat assessment of the industry’s opportunities and challenges.

Underscoring manufacturing’s impact, moderator Eric Harmon, publisher of Ohio Business and Cincy magazines, cited industry data that every dollar spent in manufacturing multiplies to $1.81 in the local economy where it occurs, higher than any other industry.

Ohio is at the center of it all when it comes to U.S. manufacturing, says panelist Greg Knox, president of Knox Machinery in Franklin and Tri-State Tooling & Manufacturing Association board member.

“We are within 600 miles of all the manufacturing that happens in the United States. Strategically manufacturers here have everything they need to succeed.”

Panelist Dan Janka, president of machine tool builder Mazak Corp., points out manufacturing represents $2.5 trillion to the U.S. economy and employs more than 12.7 million people.

“I’ve been in manufacturing for 33 years and I can honestly say there’s never been a better time in the industry than right now,” he says.

With that opportunity comes challenges, chiefly finding new skilled workers to replace aging baby boomers.

“We as an industry and society have created a 30-year vacuum in terms of the  next generation to come along to replace retiring baby boomers. It’s created tremendous challenges for workforce development,” Janka says.

“I can’t tell you how difficult it’s been to get young kids interested. Parents and school counselors don’t talk about or promote manufacturing,” he says.

But in response to a question, Janka rejected the idea that the skilled worker challenge will limit manufacturing’s future growth. In addition to skilled workers, business has to invest in new technology and manufacturing processes to be globally competitive, he says.

Technology, in the end, may hold the key to the skills crisis, panelists suggested, from new, inexpensive and effective robotics to game-changing innovations such as additive manufacturing, the process of building objects from the ground up one layer at a time rather than the traditional process of cutting material away to craft an item.

The 2018 Ohio Manufacturing Summit panel

“Additive, in our opinion, is the next industrial revolution. We’re seeing it displacing many traditional types of manufacturing,’’ says Josh Mook, the final panelist and an engineering leader in additive manufacturing at GE Aviation in Evendale.

GE has invested billions of dollars in the new technology, he says.

“It’s a big commitment but we believe it will revolutionize the way things are made and designed,” he says. It’s also changing GE’s worker profile.

“Eighty percent of our workforce in additive manufacturing are Gen X or millennials and the majority of my really innovative engineers and technicians have less than five years of job experience.”

Zelinski suggested that the growing interest in hands-on education, such as the “maker movement” and increasing availability of 3-D printing technology present a new avenue to introduce manufacturing to the next generation.

“3-D printers are manufacturing technology. It’s inherently safe and inexpensive and provides a way into skilled and advanced manufacturing that wasn’t available before,” he says.

His message to students interested in manufacturing: “The reality is you’re part of something very dynamic that’s going to call for talent and real brain power.”


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