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How to Inspire Our Next Generation of Manufacturing Leaders

You can look to the past and the future for inspiration, or you can throw open your factory doors today.

In early July I dropped by Cleveland State University to check out the Advanced Materials for 3D Printing conference presented by the Northeast Ohio Additive Manufacturing Cluster.

Industry experts and materials technologists had come together to talk about advancements in materials used for additive manufacturing, as well as to speak about market opportunities.

“It’s an exciting time for innovation in materials,” the event’s brochure asserted in its welcome. And I agree.

I sat in on a keynote address given by Rod Heiple, director of research and development at the Arconic Technology Center, based in Pittsburgh. Arconic was spun out of aluminum producer Alcoa in 2016.

“The end game for Arconic and for our industries is to industrialize additive manufacturing, to commercialize additive manufacturing, to bring this technology into our plants, into our businesses, solving customer needs,” Heiple said.

That means, in part, developing and launching new aluminum alloys specifically for additive manufacturing. Few exist currently, he said.

The R&D director outlined projects the manufacturer has in the pipeline, as well as challenges to progress. He showed how the company is taking 3D printing “from the lab, to the sky, to space” via a cooperative research agreement with Airbus, for example, and by supplying 3D-printed nickel superalloy vent housings for Lockheed Martin, destined for service on NASA’s Orion spacecraft.

The challenges and opportunity clearly intrigued audience members, which included Cleveland State engineering students who peppered Heiple with questions, and with enthusiasm.

This is clearly the leading edge of the future of manufacturing.

On the flip slide, in the past week I visited a local historical farm and village. Given that I write about manufacturing, I was immediately interested in the red, barn-like structure that announced in big letters on the side, “John A. McAlonan Carriage Manufactory.” It was built in 1851 and moved to its current location in 1969.

I don’t know whether it ever served as a real manufacturing plant, but it now serves as a carriage museum. There are about seven carriages inside, as well as several pieces of old machinery. Requisite signage detailed the manufacturers of these carriages, as well as interesting tidbits, such as the fact that one extremely tall carriage was fashioned that way so passengers could avoid being hit by loose stones and mud kicked up by the horses. Its height provided a secondary purpose as well—extra seating at outdoor events.

The carriage manufactory is one piece of a whole village that showcases old-fashioned, custom manufacturing, despite that not being the historical site’s intended purpose. There’s a blacksmith pounding out various items made from iron as heat pours from his open workshop door. There’s weaving, spinning, pottery making and more. These, perhaps, are the “skilled trades” of pioneer days.

So why do I bring up these two seemingly unrelated experiences? One of them—conversations around 3D printing—illustrate the future of manufacturing. The other—a walk through history—carriage making, blacksmithing, etc.—remembers the past, but shows the impetus for manufacturing innovation.

I don’t view the two events as unrelated. Both experiences fire the imagination of the next generation, simply in different ways. Both show how innovation and manufacturing know-how can change—and has changed—the world. And both bring me to this rallying cry.

Manufacturing Day is Oct. 5. As of July 30, some 532 events had been scheduled, according to mfgday.com, with many more surely to come. That said, 532 is a fraction of the manufacturing facilities across North America, and many of you are looking for workers now, or soon.

This is your opportunity to show potential employees what you’ve got. This is your opportunity to fire the imagination of the next generation of manufacturers. This opportunity is not a conference, or a historical site; it is a real-life demonstration of manufacturing today.

It’s two months until Manufacturing Day. It’s not too late to get involved.

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