After serving in the Navy, my brother-in-law went to work in a factory, turning parts into vacuum cleaners. While I was growing up, he mostly worked the midnight shift. He said he liked the hours because the factory wasn’t air conditioned and at least it was a bit cooler overnight than during the heat of the day. He often seemed tired. His complaints of aches and pains eventually evolved into multiple surgeries for carpal tunnel and fused vertebrae. He seemed to constantly worry about being laid off, or the company shutting down and moving its operations to Mexico. Instead, the plant where he worked was shut down by the Chinese company that eventually bought it.
As my high school graduation drew near, I never considered following my brother-in-law or my other family members into a blue-collar field. I joked that my brother-in-law was the reason I went to college, but that was, at least in part, true. I was interested in technology, and to a teenager at the time technology meant desktop computers, not screw machines, welders and presses.
That may be changing, and the change can’t come soon enough. Manufacturing in the U.S. is showing positive signs of growth, but it faces many challenges, not the least of which is an image problem.
Don’t Underestimate the Cool Factor
For an article in this month’s focus on prototyping, I interviewed representatives from Roland DGA Corp. and Tormach, LLC, makers of milling machines and accessories. I wanted to see if they felt left out of the mainstream media circus that has surrounded 3D printing for the past few years. Their responses surprised me. Both agreed that the spotlight on additive manufacturing was also increasing interest in subtractive prototyping and manufacturing technologies. In short, 3D printing had made people realize that making things — manufacturing — is cool.
The leap from the hip Maker movement, which is fueled by online collaboration, affordable open source technologies and 3D printing, to the factory floor isn’t that vast. You can see it in initiatives like Manufacturing Day (mfgday.com), which
“addresses common misperceptions about manufacturing by giving manufacturers an opportunity to open their doors and show, in a coordinated effort, what manufacturing is — and what it isn’t,” according to the site.
One organization participating in this year’s event on Oct. 4 is the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII, namii.org). Like other participants in Manufacturing Day, NAMII is hosting an open house. It is inviting the public into its Youngstown, OH, headquarters where they’ll see additive manufacturing systems from Stratasys, 3D Systems, ExOne, and Renishaw quietly working away, making physical representations of the 3D models that visitors will see on computer screens.
No doubt visitors will hear about NAMII’s second call for additive manufacturing applied research and development projects from NAMII members and their partners. NAMII will provide $9 million in funding for multiple awards to advance research in additive manufacturing design, materials, processes and equipment, certification, and knowledge development. They’ll learn about the National Additive Manufacturing Roadmap, which guides the organization’s investment strategy by identifying areas for growth.
Most importantly, visitors will see that manufacturing in the U.S. is growing, has a high-tech future and can be, in a word, “cool.”
Design Engineering Support
As professionals on the front lines of the manufacturing process, design engineers shouldn’t shy away from promoting Manufacturing Day and other initiatives intended to improve the image of manufacturing. Just like the recent interest in 3D printing has also boosted interest in subtractive rapid prototyping, renewed interest in manufacturing is good for the entire production chain, and for the country as a whole. Manufacturing is responsible for 90% of U.S. patents, 70% of our private sector research and development, and 50% of the country’s exports, according to Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council.
I encourage you to talk to your company about getting involved in the promotion of manufacturing, organize a tour of your shop and offices, or simply take someone from the next generation along on a plant tour during Manufacturing Day. We can all help dispel the myths about manufacturing’s present and ensure that it has a bright future. The rising tide of manufacturing can lift all ships.
Jamie Gooch is the managing editor of Desktop Engineering. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.