Manufacturing in America 2017: Building a community of collaboration and innovation

By Bill Lydon, Editor,

“Digitalization brings with it challenges and opportunities the likes of which we’ve never seen before, doing things the same old way will not work for manufacturing anymore.” This was the refrain from Siemens’ Raj Batra, and it resonated throughout the annual Manufacturing in America MiA event sponsored by Siemens and Electro-Matic. Taking place on March 22-23, 2017 in Detroit, MI with over 2,500 manufacturing executives, engineers and enthusiasts, attendees learned about the newest technologies, while exchanging ideas with industry leaders, sharing best practices, and advancing the future of manufacturing in the United States and beyond.   The Summit featured over 100 technical learning seminars and 50 exhibits focused on emerging automation, controls, drive technologies and PLM.

“Lean at one time was the path to prosperity.  Lean and continuous improvement are critically important for all manufacturing enterprises but you can’t cut your way into a digital enterprise with the Digital thread that begins with product design, runs through the design build and automates the entire lifecycle,” continued Batra at the Summit, “In many ways, we are about to experience a generation change in our plants, our people, and our mindsets.”


The Revitalization of American Manufacturing

Batra believes that future of manufacturing is blindingly bright, for those who recognize the opportunity. “In the past few decades we saw manufacturing viewed as a black box, it just wasn’t strategic,” explained Batra, “There was a lot of outsourcing going on; it was in vogue to get manufacturing offshore related to low cost labor.”  He went on to share the example of an apparel manufacturer that had recently made the transition to digitalization and is successfully leveraging mass customization to compete.  “It’s a great time to be in manufacturing; industrial companies have the opportunity to reinvent themselves, this is true for large and small companies,“ exuded Batra, “There is great potential growth for high-tech manufacturing jobs in the United States. At Siemens, we are very committed to working with high schools and universities to really prepare students for the environments and technologies that will see in the real world.”  Siemens’ actions in the recent past seem to validate Batra’s optimism. In Michigan alone, Siemens has provided four billion dollars of state-of-the-art industrial software grants to 24 institutions.

Manufacturing in America attendees also had the opportunity to hear Michigan Governor Rick Snyder address the group, as he expressed his passion for manufacturing.  Snyder started his career at Gateway computers in its early days including having the role of plant manager when they were producing about 10,000 PCs a day.  “IT was a wonderful experience; I love that in terms of thinking back to my Gateway days as one of the were most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” he shared, “I really appreciate what you are doing in manufacturing.”


Fostering an Environment of Innovation and Growth

After he became Michigan’s 48th Governor in 2011, Snyder pledged a common sense approach to governing, which focused on working together to find solutions for the state’s toughest problems.  With the self-proclaimed moniker “one tough nerd,” Governor Snyder has since focused on making government more efficient and effective for Michigan’s citizens.  “I was running for governor in 2009 and 2010,” Snyder recalled, “It was an environment where Michigan had just gone through the lost decade, we were a broken state, the only state that lost population, the highest unemployment rate.” He further remembered how a great deal of that was placed on the ‘decline’ of manufacturing. “If you looked across the country a lot of people started saying manufacturing doesn’t work and we need to diversify out of manufacturing, we need to leave manufacturing and find new fields,” Snyder remembered, “I thought that was backwards. The right answer is when you’re at the bottom of a market, in many respects, you should double down.”  Blackjack metaphors aside, Snyder sees a renewed focus on manufacturing as common sense. “Fundamentally if you want a strong economy it’s about producing goods and services you sell outside your borders,” argued Snyder,  “That is true whether you’re talking about the United States selling outside of the country or Michigan selling to Ohio.”

On the whole, Snyder lauded the state of Michigan, because it built products that served the world and hovered at the epicenter of innovation and manufacturing.  Snyder was clear that he sees his role as governor is to create an ecosystem and environment for success. “If you want long-term success, it is about having the most talented people: How do you build that core of people?” Snyder asked, “How do you bring them together, create a convergence, how do you erase those silos and link them all together?” He answered his own question by doubling down on his gubernatorial efforts to strength Michigan’s workforce, “My top priority the day is talent, emphasized Snyder, “People like to talk about societal issues, government issues, education, the economy and jobs. To talk about one of the other and not all of them is a flawed discussion.”


Get STEM While They’re Young

Snyder believes, due in part to the efforts of companies like Siemens, that the state of manufacturing in Michigan is steadily climbing. He cited the Michigan Talent Connectwebsite, a database sharing how many open jobs there are in Michigan, as an example of this rise. .  “When we first started this website we had over 11% unemployment Michigan and they had over 80,000 jobs on the website,” explained Snyder. Currently the site shows a little over 5% unemployment, with over 100,000 jobs currently posted.  Snyder touted Michigan’s role in the rebirth of American manufacturing. “If you look over the last six years in the United States, the number one state in terms of creating more manufacturing jobs is the state of Michigan.”

Both Batra and Snyder emphasized the increasing need for skilled labor. Snyder specifically discussed the need for skilled trades that work with the new high-tech automation and robotics, noting that as a country the United States broke the technical and skilled trades education system a number of years ago.  “This is where we messed up, we said everyone should get a four-year degree,” Snyder postulated, “We stopped telling people there was an equally honorable opportunity to go into the trades, career tech education is the new term.” He related his own high school experience, when about half the students spent a good part of the day in vocational education. “We need to bring that back,” Snyder determined.  Snyder believes that these are professions with many well-paying positions available, and he cited several youth programs that Michigan is supporting, in order to help people learn and develop an interest in STEM including:

FirstRobotics – Michigan leads the nation in number of teams for this high-school level robotics competition..

FirstTech – Again Michigan leads the nation, this time at the middle school level

First Lego -This competition introduces STEM to students at the elementary school level

Snyder concluded with a call to action. He invited all to embrace manufacturing and the new technologies, inviting all attendees to “change the culture and open up our minds.”


Bill’s Thoughts & Observations

Governor Snyder’s insights about our broken trades and technical education, were views that have been shared by myself and many others that have been around industry for a long time. In my travels to other countries, particularly Germany, it is obvious, when visiting manufacturing companies, to see why they have an edge. They have kept the important parts of education to advance efficient and competitive manufacturing and have continued to add technology to the formula. In my opinion, United States educational institutions and companies have abandoned manufacturing, which has complicated the future of the industry. But the key is to move forward, as Governor Snyder exclaimed, “you can’t burn the ashes”.  Governor Snyder, Siemens, and the Manufacturing in America event as a whole certainly provided food for thought, along with valuable experiences to help show the way.


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