The strength, and future promise, of manufacturing throughout the Southeast region shone brightly with myriad presentations on additive manufacturing, smart technologies, and student participation at SME’s SOUTH-TEC 2017 held this week at the TD Convention Center in Greenville, SC.
SOUTH-TEC, which alternates between the Greenville location and downtown Charlotte, NC, featured a wealth of present and future manufacturing, between additive and 3D digital manufacturing to bread-and-butter metrology, machining and factory-floor data-collection technologies. The three-day exhibition held Oct. 24-26 kicked off with a keynote from Patricia Buckley, managing director, Economics Deloitte Services LP (Washington, DC).
“The manufacturing intensity in the southern states is relatively strong,” Buckley said. As with the rest of US manufacturing, however, concerns remain regarding the ongoing issue of retiring Baby Boomers set to leave the workforce in droves over the coming years. “People are working longer, and the workforce is aging,” she said, noting that a quarter of the workforce is going to be over the age of 55.
Manufacturing is getting more diverse, she added, with a higher percentage of workers being women and minorities. “The US labor force is becoming more educated,” said Buckley. “More people have bachelor’s degrees, or higher, and talent is the number one driver of manufacturing competitiveness. But women are terribly underrepresented in manufacturing.”
Working toward developing manufacturing professionals, a panel presentation sponsored by Kelly Outsourcing & Consulting, SME’s Student Relations Committee, SC Future Makers, Skills USA and PRIME, featured a discussion of the needs of the educational and manufacturing communities to help guide youngsters toward a bright future in the field. Afterward the students attending, representing the outstanding STEM students across North and South Carolina, were honored during the “Champions of Tomorrow—Rising Stars Day” presentations in the SOUTH-TEC Theater.
Moderated by James Richter of the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance, the workforce panel offered insights from panelists Tim Lawrence, CEO of SkillsUSA; Margaret Dunford, director of design, Sage Automotive; Molly Spearman, Superintendent of Education, South Carolina; and April Allen, Director of State Government, Continental.
“Manufacturing is a place for anyone who wants to work with their hands as well as their minds,” said SkillsUSA’s Lawrence, noting the global opportunities for students and adding he’d just returned from a manufacturing scouting trip to Dubai.
“The skills gap is real, and that’s an opportunity for you,” Lawrence told the Rising Stars students in the audience. There are many reasons for this, he added, noting that the demographics (aging workers) are changing rapidly; the skills gap and emerging technologies have contributed to some 600,000 available in jobs in manufacturing today not being filled; and many jobseekers today lack the “soft skills” required by manufacturers. “It’s an absolutely golden opportunity for you.”
Students may not realize just how many of those skills will apply to manufacturing careers. A good case was presented by Sage Automotive Director of Design Margaret Dunford, who studied textiles looking towards a designing career and
then later found how much those skills were in demand by manufacturing. “As a designer, we are the first in the doors to our customers,” she noted. “For us, we have a real struggle finding students. In textiles, they all went somewhere else, to New York and other places.” Dunford said she considered manufacturing only after inquiries from her father, and she urged students to keep an open mind.
Continental’s April Allen said manufacturers are looking for people “who are tinkerers,” and can do a number of things including thinking outside of the box.
Measuring the skills needed by students is hard, added South Carolina Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, who noted that after the skills shortage began appearing “we did not adjust quickly enough. We need business to help us, and to be in our schools talking manufacturing.”
At the show, which returns to Greenville, SC, on Oct. 22-24, 2019, for SOUTH-TEC 2019, exciting opportunities for students abounded, with presentations on Smart Manufacturing, additive/3D printing, and research in manufacturing’s future using biomimicry. Scott Geller, CEO of software startup PartWorks LLC (Atlanta), outlined challenges in additive manufacturing with his keynote, “The Real-Life 3D Impact on Product Design and Production.”
“It all starts with 3D model-based design [MBD],” Geller said, noting successes like the GE Advanced Turboprop (ATP) Engine, which
like GE’s earlier LEAP engine uses many parts made with 3D printing technology. The array of uses of 3D printing with solid models is wide. Geller cases included parts made for a paralyzed patient’s 3D pen holder, a child’s desk, and a White House humidor. What’s holding 3D printing back from explosive growth? Cost and scale, and in metal there are still issues of porosity, Geller added.
For a most futuristic look at manufacturing’s potential, Tony Schmitz, FSME, professor at the University of North Carolina-at Charlotte (UNC Charlotte; Charlotte, NC), the winner of SME’s NAMRC-45 Blue Sky Competition, gave SOUTH-TEC attendees a glimpse into his research on finding future manufacturing applications within some of the biological processes found in nature.
Schmitz, professor mechanical engineering and engineering science and UNC Charlotte’s associate chair for graduation programs, outlined his work in a talk entitled, “Biomimetic Manufacturing,” showing how biological systems can give us cues for future manufacturing innovations. His work, winner of the inaugural NAMRI/SME Dornfeld Manufacturing Vision Award named after the late University of California at Berkley Professor David Dornfeld, presents a fascinating look at what future manufacturing minds can come up with if they “consider the outrageous” with an open mind.
“We need to take new challenges and approaches,” Schmitz said of the SME Blue Sky Competition and taking a bold vision. “There’s a big risk/reward.” His biomimetic manufacturing outlined how looking closely at trees, bean sprouts, termites, beaver teeth, and even the Zika virus, can give manufacturing futurists a clue as to how they might develop completely new approaches to solving the challenges facing manufacturers.
In examining beaver teeth, for instance, Schmitz said the animal’s self-sharpening incisors would eventually grow too large for its mouth if the beaver stopped its constant chewing. Among Schmitz’s questions were: “Can we take advantage of the geometry? Could a cutting tool designed to evolve to accommodate, rather than minimize wear? Instead of new coating material technology, could new designs ‘grow’ at an appropriate rate? … There are a lot of research possibilities in an intersection between manufacturing and biology.”