Innovation, education key themes at 2011 Summit

The overriding theme of the 2011 Manufacturing/Automation Summit was to help manufacturing professionals operate more efficiently and collaboratively.

By Bob Vavra, Content Manager April 11, 2011

The overriding theme of the 2011 Manufacturing/Automation Summit was to help manufacturing professionals operate more efficiently and collaboratively. That was also the theme of keynote addresses by a U.S. Congressman and the head of America’s leading manufacturing trade organization.

The 2011 Summit drew more than 100 manufacturing leaders to Chicago for three days of information on maintenance, automation and innovation. The 2010 Plant Engineering Top Plant Award was presented to Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing of Columbus, IN at a breakfast on Tuesday, March 22. The 2010 Engineer’s Choice Awards were presented at a cocktail event Sunday, March 20, and the 2010 Plant Engineering Product of the Year awards were presented at the Monday, March 21 dinner that featured U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo (R-16th, IL) and Doug Woods, president of the Association for Manufacturing Technology.

Both Manzullo and Woods urged attendees to get involved in the business and politics of manufacturing at a grass-roots level, and both insisted that manufacturing needs a higher profile in Washington and around the country in order for it to grow.

Manzullo said innovation was a critical component in manufacturing’s history, and needed to be again. “We’re going to envision again an America that appreciates manufacturing – that knows only Americans, with the ingenuity we learned from the Europeans, have the ability to turn this thing around, to regain our market share, and to restore America as the number one manufacturing economy in the world.”

To accomplish that, Manzullo said, will take a national policy that changes some pre-existing mindsets among elected officials and among others with a chance to influence the next generation of manufacturing workers.

“Not all members of Congress understand manufacturing,” Manzullo said. “Probably only about 40 to 50 members of Congress have districts with a dense population of manufacturing.

The problem we have with members of Congress not understanding manufacturing is that about 70 years ago, we had a national policy that said we think our kids can do better than working in a shop. Educators even today steer our kids toward so-called high value jobs, not understanding that if you don’t make things with your hands, somebody else will make them for you.

“Quarterly estimates demanded by Wall Street fuels a false economy, which means you’re looking at short-term end of it, and manufacturing has never been short-term,” Manzullo said. “That’s why Wall Street doesn’t understand it. Manufacturing has always been based on the production of things, not the production of the bottom line. As a result, we’ve placed ourselves in a very difficult position.”

One way to emerge from that position, Manzullo said, is to give local members of Congress a first-hand view of manufacturing in their district. “Manufacturers think their members of Congress don’t understand manufacturing. That statement is true,” Manzullo said. “The way to turn around that thinking in Washington is to invest time with members of Congress."

“How many manufacturers have had a member of Congress to their plant?” he asked the audience. “Don’t assume that because your member of Congress is of a different party or a different persuasion that he or she may not have a penchant for manufacturing. Take the time to contact the district director and say, ‘I have a manufacturing facility we’d like to show the Congressman. I have 100 constituents. We want to invite congressman to see what we’re doing.’ Appeal to our constituents. Those are our voters.”

Manzullo had two other tips. “Don’t have a PowerPoint that exceeds 2 ½ minutes. I hate PowerPoints. And most Congressmen like donuts with white glazing,” he said to laughter. But on a serious note, he added. “Show them what you’re doing. Assume he’s new to manufacturing. You’re establishing a relationship. When I go to visit a facility, it locks in. I can see people at work. I can relate to what’s going on in manufacturing. When an issue comes up, that member of Congress has seen your facility. He’s seen the workers, he knows how hard you work. He says, ‘I can relate to this legislation’."

In his keynote address, AMT president Doug Woods touted the recovery and manufacturing’s critical role in it. “It’s a great time to be in manufacturing,” he said. “Manufacturing is leading the recovery. Typically, it’s consumers. This time it’s coming out of what we do and what we make. That speaks well for what’s in front of us.”  

But like Manzullo, Woods said that there are critical issues that still face the manufacturing sector. “We don’t want to keep doing what we’ve been doing. We’ve got issues in manufacturing we’ve got to address. Innovation should be what is driving our economy. What we do every day and our equipment is what matters – not chasing the low-cost dollar around the world. We need an innovation-based economy.”

And while individual manufacturers compete effectively, Woods sees a need for a more coordinate national manufacturing effort. “You’re not competing not as a country, but we’re competing as a company – America, Inc.,” he said. “A little more collaboration can help us compete. What we need is one key person in charge of manufacturing.”

Woods made the point effectively that even though manufacturing is the largest single driver of the U.S. economy, it doesn’t have the cabinet-level status of other sectors. “There’s this one really big building in Washington and it goes for blocks. It’s the Department of Agriculture. I said, ‘I’ll make you a deal. We get to take over that building. As soon as manufacturing drops to less than 5% of GDP, we need to leave the building. We’re at about 11% or 12% now. If we ever get below 5%, we have to leave. In the meantime, we get to take over that building.’ They weren’t going for that. I know it was a hard sell.”

Woods also pushed for an inter-agency coordination of manufacturing information that could cut through the various Cabinet-level departments to coordinate data, streamline policies and make it easier for U.S. manufacturers to export goods to a growing global market. He also favored an expanded use of Manufacturing Extension Partnerships to make it easier for community colleges and universities to work with manufacturing centers to deliver skilled workers and new technology to manufacturers.

Woods said innovation will be the underlying driver of that continued surge in manufacturing. “Everyone is working toward advancing productivity. One of fastest growing segments is automation – not just for labor, but also for data.” For example, Woods noted that AMT has created its MT Connect platform as an open-source standard for control systems and data capture and delivery.

Even as manufacturing recovers from the recession, Woods said, it is changing rapidly in size, form and function. “Coming up down the road is mass customization,” he said. “We used to make a million of the same thing. Now we’ll make a million, but every one is going to be different. We’ll make it at the pace of a million and the cost on a million, but every one is going to be different.”

And Woods echoed Manzullo’s call to take the message to policy makers in Congress. “Educate the people in Washington. What you do is what they care about. What you do is where the jobs come from,” he said. “We are an innovative country. We know how to work together. We really need ideas."