America’s Futuristic Factories

Advanced manufacturing promises new jobs and a chance for the U.S. to regain its competitive edge.

GlobalFoundries' Integrated Technology Development Center (ITDC) on Jan. 30, 2012, in Malta, NY.

A training and testing facility at GlobalFoundries' Fab 8 campus.

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In the summer of 2009, Abu Dhabi-owned GlobalFoundries broke ground in upstate New York’s picturesque Saratoga County to erect one of the world’s largest advanced semiconductor production facilities. Today, the company’s 222-acre, futuristic Fab 8 campus in Malta, N.Y., employs some 2,200 operators, technicians, scientists, engineers and others, most of whom work in a 300,000-square-foot “cleanroom” making computer chips – the brains running smartphones, satellites and other products. When fully completed in 2015, GlobalFoundries’ $8.5 billion investment will include a minicity of office buildings, larger cleanrooms, and utility and technology development facilities housing state-of-the-art production equipment.

Companies like GlobalFoundries are one of the reasons that “manufacturing has been growing on average almost twice the rate of the overall economy” since the recession ended, says Thomas Duesterberg, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Manufacturing and Society in the 21st Century program.

And leading the way is advanced manufacturing, a sector that has “a deep tie to innovation,” notes Patrick Gallagher, director of the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology. It involves both innovating manufacturing processes and developing entirely new products using new advanced technologies. Examples: biotech firms producing new wonder drugs; companies using nanomaterials to develop high-efficiency solar cells, batteries or next generation electronics; and manufacturers using industrial robotics and automation to build better and more reliable products.

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In recent years, all kinds of manufacturers – ranging from automakers to diaper companies – have embraced new technologies to help make higher-quality everyday products at a lower cost. The resulting productivity gains are helping fuel a U.S. manufacturing resurgence that has led foreign-owned companies like GlobalFoundries to invest in America.

The firm’s Fab 8 campus is expected to employ several hundred more people by 2015 and has already added an estimated 10,000 new indirect jobs to the local economy, not counting the 15,000 construction workers needed to build the semiconductor foundry. The Aspen Institute estimates that by 2025 the growing U.S. manufacturing sector will create nearly 3.8 million new jobs overall, and 2.7 million of these will come from advanced manufacturers in nearly all sectors, including defense, mining, hi-tech, chemical and aerospace.

ExOne, an additive manufacturing company based in North Huntingdon, Pa., is just one of these. ExOne designs and builds 3-D printers for sale and also produces compressor pump castings, rotors and other complex parts for automotive, aerospace, off-road construction and other manufacturers using its own in-house printers.

In 2007, explains David Burns, ExOne’s president and chief operating officer, the company was struggling as a manufacturing technology incubator, and shifted into 3-D printing – a process by which a special printer creates a three-dimensional digital model that is then layered with a special powdered material and a binding product to create various solid products, like compressor pump castings. Because 3-D printing can make higher-quality parts cheaper and faster than traditional methods, business has taken off. ExOne went public last year and is currently listed on the NASDAQ.

And 3-D printers are just one example of how advanced manufacturing has spurred improvements across all facets of the production process. Other innovations include the development of “smart machines that can talk to one another and ensure products are delivered on time and on schedule, not only in the same plant but in locations around the world,” says Brian Raymond,  a technology policy expert at the National Association of Manufacturers. But the continued growth of this sector will require cooperation by many stakeholders in the states and regions who hope to attract these businesses. To land GlobalFoundries, New York state officials had to put together a generous package of tax breaks and organize local government, business and education partners to meet the manufacturer’s needs. Virtually all advanced manufacturers require locales to develop or improve infrastructure – including roads, power, water, gas and sewer – as well as to provide a trained workforce.

This new breed of manufacturing companies require different skill sets than their traditional predecessors. They need more designers and specialists in process management, computer science and materials development and fewer floor workers and old-time craftsmen. To fill these needs, firms around the country are priming the pipeline by forging close relationships with local school districts, community colleges and universities.

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According to GlobalFoundries’ Russo, educational institutions like Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and SUNY’s College of Nanoscale Science played a role in the company’s decision to locate in upstate New York. “We require a great talent pool,” he says. “Knowing they were willing and able to work with us to develop programs to meet workforce needs as we grow and partner on R&D was a consideration.”

Today, high school diplomas will generally not be sufficient to get in the door at GlobalFoundries. Even entry-level technician positions require a two-year postsecondary degree. The company is looking for workers strong in math and science, with hands-on experience and more. “This is probably the most advanced industry in the world,” Russo notes. In addition to technical abilities, the company seeks workers with so-called soft skills – those who communicate well, think critically and creatively and are problem solvers. “Having soft skills is very, very important,” he adds.

The company, reflecting an approach used by other advanced manufacturers, currently taps into a high-functioning coalition of state and local officials, 20 local chambers of commerce, 13 county K-12 school systems, New York’s statewide community college system and area universities working in tandem to help meet its needs, including developing workers with the specialized skills to handle tasks like statistical process control, hydraulics and pneumatics.

Feeding into this strategy, the local Ballston Spa Central School District three years ago started the Clean Technologies & Sustainable Industries Early College High School, or Tec-Smart, which allows 11th and 12th graders from area school districts to earn up to 25 credits toward an associate degree upon high school graduation.

Besides technical skills, such as computer programming or electricity fundamentals, “students are assessed on critical-thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity skills,” says district superintendent Joseph Dragone, who works closely with human resources reps at GlobalFoundries.

Recent graduate Ben Godgart, 18, says “Tec-Smart helped me get into the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering” at the University of Albany-SUNY. Godgart, who considers GlobalFoundries a potential future employer, chose to major in nanotechnology, which involves the ability to see, manipulate and control individual atoms and molecules on the microscopic level in order to make stronger, lighter and more precise products.

“We see that collaboration [with New York’s K-12 schools, community colleges and universities] as a competitive advantage,” says Russo. It’s not just upstate New York forging this kind of public-private partnership; others have been established all over the country, including in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., Boston and throughout Arizona.

In some respects, the recession helped accelerate changes that have led to the U.S. regaining its competitiveness as “manufacturers have learned to become lean,” says Chad Moutray, chief economist at NAM. Traditional companies like Whirlpool Corp., a leading home appliance maker, are bringing innovation to their processes, helping them create smarter products, while increasing productivity.

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In 2012, for example, the company built a state-of the-art cooking products plant – one of the nation’s greenest facilities – to replace its 123-year-old Cleveland, Tenn., facility that was built originally to make wood stoves. With the new plant comes a new way of doing things. The plant has implemented new processes – from boosting quality control and reformulating finishes on its cookware and ranges to make them more durable – and has significantly reduced energy use and waste by using low-flow plumbing and outfitting the plant to reflect rather than absorb light.

Advanced manufacturing is also speeding innovation as designers, engineers and innovators are no longer separated from factory floor personnel. “Learning takes place as engineers and technicians on the factory floor come back with their problems to the design engineers and struggle with them to find better resolutions,” noted a recent MIT Task Force on Innovation and Production report on the innovation economy. The production-innovation connection also proves a crucial difference-maker as companies seek to make the next blockbuster drug or fighter jet – or to develop more efficient large-scale methods to manufacture products ranging from razor blades to diapers.

The pocketbook benefits of advanced manufacturing are clear too. The sector is responsible for the lion’s share of private-sector research and development, most of the nation’s patents, and the bulk of U.S. exports, notes Gallagher.

The sector also tends to pay decent wages. The typical U.S. manufacturing worker in 2011 earned $77,060 annually, including pay and benefits, compared to the $60,168 made by the average worker in all industries. In New York, GlobalFoundries has helped boost the typical manufacturing salary in the region from $56,089 in 2006 to $67,783 in 2012. “Our guys are making great money,” says Burns. At ExOne, shop floor workers make up to $60,000, while designers, engineers and others fetch more.  

Keenly aware of the benefits advanced manufacturing offers to the overall economy, the Obama administration last fall launched the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Steering Committee “2.0,” to promote U.S. leadership in the sector. Since his first term, the president has pushed for the nation to invest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, advanced skills training and job preparation, while also seeding a fund to forge partnerships between community colleges and businesses, whose goal is to train 2 million workers for the advanced manufacturing sector and other high-growth industries.

Obama has also proposed (and started to implement) a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation – a series of 45 regional hubs, dubbed Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation, whose mission is to accelerate development and adoption of cutting-edge advanced manufacturing technologies to produce new, globally competitive products.

The first regional hub, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, now known as America Makes, was launched in August 2012 to strengthen the competitiveness of advanced manufacturers, to initiate new ventures and to boost the economies of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. 

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America Makes is comprised of 90 partners – from industry, academia, the government, nongovernmental agencies, and workforce and economic development resources – that work collaboratively to innovate and accelerate additive manufacturing and 3-D printing to deliver manufacturing solutions. These can range from transferring university-developed technology to the marketplace to helping smaller enterprises tap into funding from larger partners. Members include Boeing, Lockheed Martin, ExOne, Tobyhanna Army Depot, NASA and the University of Pittsburgh. Last month, America Makes awarded $9 million in funding on 15 projects – with $10 million in additional matched funds “for applied research and development projects,” according to America Makes director Ed Morris.

A second initiative led by the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh will “develop additive manufacturing methods to convert magnesium and iron-based alloys into biomedical devices, such as bone plates, tracheal stents and scaffolds,” says Morris.

ExOne is one of those partners. “As a collaboration center, it’s a great idea,” notes Burns. “We have development efforts going on that are a direct result of America Makes.”

Just this week, President Obama announced two new public-private Department of Defense-led manufacturing innovation institutes in Detroit, which will focus on  lightweight and modern metals manufacturing, and one in Chicago dedicated to digital manufacturing and design technologies. And last month, a Department of Energy-led Next Generation Power Electronics Manufacturing Innovation Institute was announced “to jumpstart the next generation of smaller, faster, cheaper and more efficient power electronics for personal devices, electric vehicles, renewable power interconnection, industrial-scale motors and a smarter, more flexible grid,” according to an Energy.gov factsheet.

By rejuvenating America’s manufacturing sector, spurring innovation through multipartner collaboratives, and helping the nation address some of its most pressing challenges, advanced manufacturing offers a bright spot for the future.