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5 for Friday: From Workforce Development to Automation, Consortiums and Associations Drive the Innovation Train

May 12, 2023
Machine Design takes a look at the past week, and a look ahead to the issues facing the design and manufacturing sector.

The solutions to manufacturing’s crucial issues—and the advancement of the innovations needed to address these issues—are not going to come from legislation or taxpayer grants. The public-private consortiums which has emerged in the last decade mix the right amount of public funds with profit-driven efficiency. They often are under the radar, but we’ve got three examples of such efforts today.

1. Skills Development Gets a $6.2 Million Boost

Workforce shortages remain the largest issue facing manufacturing. The issue is as much about being able to train the right people as attracting the right people, especially in a time of historically low unemployment.

The Curriculum and Pathways Integrating Technology and Learning (CAPITAL) skill development program—which is in the running for the best acronym of the year—will get $6.2 million in federal funding, and the Chicago-based MxD consortium will provide the certified training courses for this effort.  In a press release, MxD CEO Berardino Baratta said the transition to a digital manufacturing environment requires a new approach to training.

“Manufacturers cannot effectively digitize without identifying the workforce of the future,” Baratta said. “Eighty percent of U.S. manufacturers ranked attracting and retaining a quality workforce as one of their greatest challenges. CAPITAL will both properly prepare the future workforce and bring current workers up to speed. The future of U.S. manufacturing hinges on our collective ability to close, or at least narrow, the impending skills gap.”

The CAPITAL courses will cover such digital transformation issues as cybersecurity and AI. For manufacturers, this kind of training is not just important to stay abreast of emerging trends, but as a necessity to stay competitive in today’s manufacturing environment.

“Only companies that invest in their workforce will survive long-term in the new ‘normal’ of manufacturing with its disrupted supply chains, constant cyber threats, and the need for exponentially improved productivity to overcome the demographic workforce shortages created by an aging workforce and falling birthrates around the world,” said Mary Isbister, owner of GenMet Corp and chair of MxD’s board of directors. “Programs like MxD Learn’s CAPITAL are essential to ensuring U.S. manufacturers not only survive but thrive.”

Courses developed as part of CAPITAL will be available on the MxD Learn Virtual Training Center (VTC).

2. Smarter Energy Management Projects

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), in partnership with the Clean Energy Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute (CESMII), have funded seven projects designed to improve energy usage and reduce waste. All of the projects are targeting manufacturing in the paper, food and steel industries—all energy-intensive operations.

The seven projects that will receive $1 million in funding all involve some sort of university research or manufacturing test-bed and are targeted in both reducing energy costs and improving efficiency. One example is at Auburn, which will implement a sensor measurement for entrained air content in brownstock washing for the paper industry.

The project, which will be implemented at companies such Rayonier, International Paper and Georgia Pacific, already has resulted in a 5% cut in waste usage and energy and a 72% reduction in defoamer usage at Rayonier, according to a joint DoE/CESMII press release.

“The project also demonstrates re-use of CESMII supported (smart manufacturing) SM technologies for energy intensive industries,” CESMII officials said in a press release. I discussed CESMII’s role in these projects, and its vision for the future of public-private consortiums with Conrad Leiva, VP of CESMII’s Ecosystem and Workforce Development at CESMII, during the recent Engineering Academy event on Design For Manufacturing and Assembly. That session is still available on-demand.

3. The Future of Automation is on Display

The emergence of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3) as the preeminent automation association in the U.S. has been essential to the growth and advancement of innovation and partnerships in this area.

Jeff Bernstein, the president of A3, will receive the Joseph F. Engelberger Robotics Award, which is presented to individuals for excellence in technology development, application, education and leadership in the robotics industry at the Automate Conference in Detroit May 22-25.

Bernstein, who has been a frequent contributor to Machine Design, discussed the award, his association with the industry when automation was in its infancy, and his vision for the future of automation and A3 with our Endeavor Business Media colleagues at Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing.

4. Beyond the Buzzwords

We’ve heard in great detail about concepts such as AI and cloud computing, and awareness of these technologies are essential. Moving them into an actual manufacturing environment—and getting them to produce tangible results—moves these ideas beyond the buzz to produce a smarter, safer and more efficient manufacturing operation.

In a new Machine Design Industry Insights, I discuss these ideas with Bosch Rexroth Product Manager Dan Barrera. He notes in the discussion the ways suppliers are moving beyond the hype to develop actual case studies for manufacturers that demonstrate ways to address operational bottlenecks and inefficiencies.

5. IDEA Awards Entry Deadline is June 2

Today is the final day for the early-bird discount for the 2023 IDEA Awards, but don’t despair if you miss the first deadline. Entries for the IDEA Awards don’t officially close until June 2. This is an opportunity for suppliers to showcase their innovative solutions to our global audience and to allow readers to evaluate and vote on those products.

If you have a new product that has performed well in your operation, let your supplier know to get those entries in now.

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