By Michael D. White, author and freelance writer
Manufacturing – the making of articles on a large scale using machinery – has come a long, long way since the first Neolithic workers transformed flint, jade, antlers, wood and bone into implements and tools useful in both war and peace.
One can only imagine if even one of those artisans ever looked up into the night sky and imagine how far his craft would come and how far it would go.
On February 18, 2021, after covering 293 million miles in seven months, the robot rover Perseverance landed on the surface of Mars.
According to NASA, the rover features 11 metal parts that were fabricated by advanced manufacturing – more specifically, additive manufacturing, or, more commonly 3D printing.
Rather than being forged, molded, or cut from a larger block of material, additive manufacturing uses lasers to melt powder in successive layers to exactly replicate the part being cloned.
The 3D printing process allows engineers to make unique designs and traits, allowing parts to be produced that are lighter, stronger, and even more responsive to heat or cold.
The first rover to carry 3D printed parts to Mars’s surface was Curiosity, which has been on the Red Planet since 2012. Curiosity has a 3D printed ceramic part inside of its Sample Analysis at Mars instrument.
Perseverance’s 3D printed components were produced by the Carpenter Technology Corp. Additive of Philadelphia and have three to four times less mass than if they were produced with conventional technology.
NASA officials said that 3D printing processes made the instrument possible as the high-precision pointing required “couldn’t be made with conventional fabrication,” adding that taking additional 3D printed components to Mars was a “huge milestone” that opens the door for more additive manufacturing in the aerospace industry.
Looking to the future, automated 3D printing is projected to become one of the most important revenue segments for AM within the next decade, according to Markets for Automated 3D Printing 2016 – 2027, a recent industry report compiled by SmarTech Publishing.
As industrial 3D printers go from stand-alone systems, used mostly for prototyping and research, to digital mass production lines, a number of opportunities are expected to emerge.
And, yet, additive manufacturing is just one subset of advanced manufacturing.
In a general sense, advanced manufacturing is generally characterized as the use of innovative – or cutting edge – technology to improve the processes utilized in manufacturing products in a broad range of sectors from agriculture and medicine to aerospace and artificial intelligence.
But, as advanced manufacturing encompasses so many of the developments in the manufacturing field during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, no single definition can encapsulate its total scope.
The golden thread, though, is the utilization of innovative, cutting edge technologies in processes across a broad range of advanced manufacturing such as additive manufacturing, advanced robotics, automation, custom and high-precision manufacturing, and control and monitoring systems.
There is, however, a bump in the road to that utilization.
A government report published by the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that, by 2025, 3.5 million new jobs will open in manufacturing, while some two million of the 2.7 million jobs created by ‘baby boomer’ retirements will go unfilled.
According to the U.S. government study, Strategy for American Leadership in Advanced Manufacturing, “The manufacturing sector is facing wide gaps between emerging jobs and workers with the needed skills. Traditional educational and technical skills are no longer sufficient. New technological literacies and cognitive capacities such as data competence and systems thinking will be needed for the work of tomorrow.”
The struggle to fill jobs in advanced manufacturing continues thanks to vast skills shortages prompted by the rise of new tech and the incoming retirement of much of the industry’s employee base. A study by SCORE showed that 90 percent of manufacturing companies cannot fill all available jobs. Even as new plants and training facilities open, the gap continues to trouble employers in the sector.
“Manufacturing jobs,” it stated, “continue to represent a path to the middle class for Americans, but now these jobs often require employees to have a manufacturing focused STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, making STEM skills pivotal for the future manufacturing workforce.”
Appropriate education and training “is required from elementary through high school, and through technical training programs, re-training, apprenticeships, postsecondary education, and access to valid, industry-recognized, competency-based credentials,” the study concluded.
The advanced manufacturing workforce needs to effectively design, customize, and implement advanced manufacturing methods to increase productivity and develop new products.
The answer, says industry forecasters, lies in a collaborative instruction and training effort with trade associations, economic development agencies, trade unions, schools and private companies partnering to mentor and train the nation’s youth about opportunities in advanced manufacturing.
Leading the charge is the Federation of Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME), an employer-led, two-year program that guarantees a job to those who finish an associate degree from a school with an approved curriculum and potentially no college debt.
Originally developed by Toyota, FAME’s ‘earn as you learn’ program has been in operation for over 10 years and with more than 400 partner companies in 16 states.
In September, Daytona State College officially launched Florida’s first FAME chapter, a collaborative effort between the school and local manufacturers designed to match students in the Associate of Science Engineering Technology program with job opportunities in the community.
Nine students who made up the inaugural group were paired with sponsoring employers in July at the Advanced Technology College, which kicked off three days of training and orientation. Students worked with their respective companies full time until classes began in late August, after which they attended college two days a week and worked three at their sponsoring company, with at least 24 hours per week on the job.
Companies currently working with Daytona State through the FAME program include ABB, Boston Whaler, Dougherty Manufacturing, Dynamic Engineering Innovations, Everglades Boats, Germfree, Hudson Technologies, Pentair, and SCCY Firearms.
According to a Brookings Institution study that tracked 389 students who successfully completed a FAME program between 2010 and 2016, graduates earn about $59,164 one year after completing the program and, after five years, were earning about $98,000 per year.
Not to be outdone, schools across the country—colleges, universities, community colleges, high schools, and even elementary schools—are racing ahead with plans to create curricula that offer exposure to advanced manufacturing though training or enhancing already existing programs to meet the skyrocketing ongoing and projected future need for highly-skilled workers adept in the latest technologies.
Alabama: Calhoun Community College in Decatur, Alabama, offers one of the most highly-regarded advanced manufacturing education programs in the nation.
The school offers an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Advanced Manufacturing, and was ranked first in the nation in awarding earned degrees in advanced manufacturing in 2019 by research firm, Idaho-based Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI).
According to EMSI, the College awarded more than 200 degrees over a one-year period, the most of any community college, technical college and university in the country.
Students in the advanced manufacturing program there tackle a rigorous curriculum that couples theory instruction and demonstration with the hands-on application use of current software including such advanced programs as Revit, SolidEdge, Insight, Materialise, and AutoCad.
The school says, the goal is giving students the skills needed to “enhance their abilities by learning the soft skills necessary to help them obtain a position in the design technologies career market.”
Kansas: In August, 2021, Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus was rebranded as the Kansas State University Salina Aerospace and Technology Campus.
Since joining the Kansas State University system in 1991, the campus has housed the university’s aviation and engineering technology programs. These are niche programs, separate from any programs offered on the other K-State campuses.
The historical lineage of the campus – a two-year technical institution that merged with a public university – “uniquely positions it to serve all career-entry points into the aerospace and advanced manufacturing industries,” said Kansas State President, Richard Myers.
Kentucky: The $24 million, 78,000-square-foot Advanced Manufacturing Center on the campus of Bluegrass Community & Technical College in Georgetown, Kentucky, continues to flourish.
Built in 2017, the facility was originally built to support Toyota Motor’s manufacturing operations in the state, but, for the last several years, has enhanced its scope to train scores of students for jobs not only in the automotive field, but to provide highly-trained workers for the state’s burgeoning advanced manufacturing sector.
Classes at the Center include industrial maintenance, electronics, robotics, mechanical drives, fluid power, advanced machining, control systems, and precision welding.
In September 2021, the state legislature passed an economic development package that earmarks $25 million for the Kentucky Community and Technical College System to build an on-site training center in Glendale, to mirror the operations at the Georgetown facility.
Nevada: The City of Henderson has served as a magnet for advanced manufacturing for the past ten years with an emphasis on creating collaborative education and training programs with local colleges.
In 2019, the city inked an agreement with global machine manufacturer Hass Automation to build a 2.5-million-square-foot facility that will employ a skilled workforce in their community. In partnership with the College of Southern Nevada (CSN), the city is developing a $12 million, 25,000-square-foot training facility to provide ready-to-work employees equipped with the latest in advanced manufacturing skills not only for Haas, but other firms relocating or expanding in the Henderson area.
Helping fuel the work is a $2 million state grant that is helping the College develop its own manufacturing skills training program in cooperation with Haas.
Texas: A major initiative was signed last summer between the Port of Brownsville and the Texas A&M University System to create the RGV Advanced Manufacturing/Training Innovation Now (TRAIN) program.
The new certification program is expected to train as many as 10,000 young men and women to fill advanced manufacturing positions at the port and elsewhere in the Rio Grande Valley region over the next two years, with an eye toward becoming a multi-year program. Training toward certification will be offered in English and Spanish, both online and in person.
The Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) and Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX), will oversee the program with help from other educational partners including Texas State Technical College.
Some $10 million in funding has been allocated for the new Initiative with an existing 5,000 square-foot structure in Brownsville slated for development into a training center.
Massachusetts: The Greater Lawrence Technical School in Andover has been awarded a $220,000 Skills Capital Grant that will expand the school’s advanced manufacturing shop and upgrade equipment in the metal fabrication and adjoining technologies lab.
The Grant, the school said, “will better prepare its graduates for the workforce, while the new equipment will help expand the school’s Career Technical Institute by increasing the number of students enrolled in afternoon and evening programs.”
Iowa: Over the past two years, international heavy equipment maker John Deere has operated a Career Center in Waterloo to offer local high school students apprenticeship opportunities to learn advanced manufacturing.
The students involved balance their regular high school curriculum—a mandatory component of the apprenticeship—with courses at the Center, which, when completed, amounts to a minimum of 2,000 hours between classroom and work.
Their efforts earn them credit at nearby Hawkeye Community College credit and experience in computer numerical control machining plus other skills needed in a modern factory.
At Deere’s facilities in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin, more than 30 high school students began the demanding work-based learning portion of their apprenticeships in June.
Since starting in 2019, officials said Deere has successfully prepared 27 students for careers in advanced manufacturing with 13 hired as full-time employees with the company upon graduation.
North Carolina: Construction for the Advanced Manufacturing & Corporate Training Center on the campus of Halifax Community College is almost complete.
The 25,000-square-foot center will focus on training programs for advanced manufacturing processes, industrial systems technology, welding, and automotive systems technology along with training spaces where businesses and industries can upgrade skills for current and new employees. Completion is scheduled for 2021.
Rhode Island: Last year, the William M. Davies Career and Technical High School in Lincoln opened the doors at its $3.65 million, state-of-the-art Center for Advanced Manufacturing.
The facility is an addition to the school’s existing campus and was made possible with funding from the Rhode Island Capital Plan Fund.
“It’s investments such as these that are the reason why Davies continues to lead the pack in preparing students for high-wage, high-demand careers in advanced manufacturing, thereby strengthening the Rhode Island economy,” said Davies’ Director Adam Flynn-Tabloff.
The school serves students from North Providence, Pawtucket, Lincoln, Smithfield, Providence and Central Falls.
The 8,000-square-foot Center includes high-tech machinery and equipment for students in four of the school’s programs: electrical and renewable energy, bio-manufacturing technology, machine technology and pre-engineering technology.
Michigan: Last year, the Skillman Foundation presented a $200,000 grant to connect students at Detroit’s University Prep Science & Math High School with daily experiences at a new learning lab at an advanced testing and manufacturing facility operated by the American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute (ALMII).
The program at the facility, known as the LIFT, also provides programs for middle school students across the city to expose them to advanced manufacturing career pathways from the lab at its Corktown facility in Detroit.
The program “will help Detroit area youth strengthen their academic and employability skills and increase their basic knowledge in science, technology, engineering and math, along with their technical skills,” said the ALMII.
While the fruit of the growing number of educational programs focusing on advanced manufacturing promises to ripen over the coming years, the opportunities for the graduates of those programs will also grow exponentially as companies across the country are embracing newer, cutting edge technologies to remain competitive.
A few illustrations:
Apple: Several years ago, California-headquartered Apple created its Advanced Manufacturing Fund (AMF), seeded with $5 billion, to “foster and support the innovative production and high-skill jobs that will help fuel a new era of technology-driven manufacturing in the U.S.”
Most recently, the Fund pumped $10 million into helping COPAN Diagnostics increase its production output to meet demand as the company had already manufactured more than 15 million COVID-19 sample collection kits that have been shipped to medical facilities across the country.
Project teams at Apple, COPAN, and more than a dozen other U.S. companies created innovative processes and developed new machinery for COPAN’s Southern California facilities, increasing test-kit production by close to 4,000 percent since April.
In order to meet the ongoing demand for testing resources, COPAN accelerated its production and shipping timeline and built an entire team to ramp this project, hiring nearly 250 new employees who worked alongside Apple engineers, product designers, operations professionals, and others. Together, the teams opened a brand-new facility and set up a state-of-the-art medical supply chain in a matter of weeks to meet the country’s testing needs and help communities shape their responses.
Apple has also awarded $45 million from its Advanced Manufacturing Fund to Corning, Inc., which “will expand Corning’s manufacturing capacity in the U.S. and drive research and development into innovative new technologies that support durability and long-lasting product life, building on both Apple and Corning’s deep commitment to protecting the environment.”
Corning has already received $450 million from Apple’s $5 billion AMF over the last four years.
Ecolab: A developer and manufacturer of water treatment, purification, and infection prevention systems, Ecolab has opened the new, state-of-the-art Ecolab Healthcare Advanced Design and Manufacturing Center in Eagan, Minnesota.
The company says its 22,000-square-foot innovation center enables it to partner with its medical device industry customers on infection prevention solutions for cutting-edge surgical equipment while also developing new solutions for hospitals and surgery centers.
According to a news release, the facility contains custom-designed sterile barriers and equipment drapes to help hospitals and surgery centers boost infection prevention measures, improve patient outcomes and manage operational costs and efficiencies.
“The surgical equipment industry is projected to grow rapidly over the next five years driven by the demand for more consistent and precise procedures that improve the quality of life and shorten recovery times for patients,” said Ecolab Healthcare & Life Sciences President, Beth Simermeyer.
Pregis: A manufacturer of protective packaging, the Illinois-headquartered company has said it will invest more than $14 million to open an advanced manufacturing facility in McDonough, Georgia.
The new operation will immediately create 80 jobs in the region and ramp up to 150 opportunities as the operation scales over the next few years, the company said.
Most recently, the Illinois-headquartered company said that it will invest $32 million in blown film extrusion technology at its Grand Rapids, Michigan manufacturing site. The latest investment will add an additional 55,000 square feet of space to the company’s existing facility.
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, the University of Kentucky, and the U.S. Army: The trio are collaborating on a five-year, $50 million advanced manufacturing project aimed at developing the next generation of military equipment.
The project will focus on improving materials and advanced manufacturing methods “that could significantly advance capabilities of the Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory, including developing the next generation of vehicles, increasing the distance of its long-range arsenal, and exploring designs for vertical lift vehicles of the future.”
The project will reportedly focus on three specific areas: “hybrid manufacturing methods that combine additive techniques and machining; measurements using advanced metrology approaches; and new materials processing techniques for metals, polymers, ceramics, and composites,” according to a joint press release.
The University of West Virginia and the University of South Carolina: University of West Virginia Associate Professor of Engineering, Thorsten Wuest and his team are collaborating with counterparts at the University of South Carolina to develop advanced manufacturing technologies and help educate and upskill the workforce in West Virginia, South Carolina and the United States at large.
Wuest helped craft the $3.8 million Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) grant from the National Science Foundation. WVU will use $1.4 million of the grant to collaborate with the University of South Carolina to strengthen the manufacturing infrastructure in their respective states.
This will range from operational technologies and process optimization to training a skilled workforce supporting “smart” advanced manufacturing-enabled factories of the future.
Smart manufacturing, said Wuest, “enables us to not only keep the manufacturing industry competitive in a high-wage country, but also to improve quality, efficiency and sustainability. We have only begun to scratch the surface of what this fourth industrial revolution has to offer, and we need to work together—manufacturing companies, academia, and policy makers—to support this transition.”
About the Author: Michael D. White is a published author with four non-fiction books and well more than 1,700 by-lined articles on international transportation and trade to his credit.
During his 35 year career as a journalist, White has served in positions from contributor and reporter to managing editor for a number of publications including Global Trade Magazine, the Los Angeles Daily Commercial News, Pacific Shipper, the Los Angeles Business Journal, International Business Magazine, the Long Beach Press-Telegram, Los Angeles Daily News, Pacific Traffic Magazine, and World Trade Magazine.
He has also served as editor of the CalTrade Report and Pacific Coast Trade websites, North America Public and Media Relations Manager for Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, and as a consultant to Pace University’s World Trade Institute and the Austrian Trade Commission.
A veteran of the United States Coast Guard, White has traveled in both Japan and China, and earned a degree in journalism from California State University and a Certificate in International Business from the Japanese Ministry of Trade & Industry’s International Institute for Studies & Training in Tokyo.