Digital manufacturing is built on just five “cornerstones”—and the work done in those areas in the next decade and beyond will largely determine the success or failure of key aspects of manufacturing’s technological future, according to the Manufacturing Leadership Council, the NAM’s digital transformation arm.
The MLC says that developments in electronics, computer systems, communications technologies, software and cyber infrastructure will have a direct impact on advancements made in human-machine interaction, automation and robotics, and autonomous operation. We break these down below:
Electronics: Intel predicts that by 2030 it will be able to incorporate 1 trillion transistors on a single semiconductor chip.
- Manufacturers will need that kind of power to enable computer systems and software to process much larger data volumes as they connect more plant equipment and people within their business ecosystems.
Computer systems: Manufacturers should expect a changing computer landscape as biological, physical and digital systems converge to offer more options.
- Quantum computing and nanocomputing offer potentially greater computational ability, which will allow manufacturers to process more data faster.
- Meanwhile, traditional computers will become lighter, thinner and more flexible. Different user interfaces, such as voice recognition, will progress.
Communications technologies: The years ahead will see manufacturers adopt 5G-based networks, which offer higher bandwidth and lower latency than prior technology.
- Communications technology suppliers are already working on 6G networks, expected to become commercially available in 2030.
Software: Next-generation software applications, in addition to web and mobile capabilities, will support voice, wearables, touch and AR/VR to a greater extent than ever before.
- These applications will be driven increasingly by artificial intelligence.
Cyber infrastructure: The cyber infrastructure that has been in development for the past two decades has allowed for separation between data and physical computing sources (i.e., cloud computing.)
- Looking ahead, an infrastructure that brings together data from all sources with business and technology tools will facilitate innovation, R&D, operating models and business growth.
Manufacturing in 2030 Project: Ride the Power Curve is just one of the megatrends identified by the Manufacturing in 2030 Project, a future-focused initiative of the MLC. For details on more megatrends, industry trends and key themes for Manufacturing in 2030, download the MLC’s new white paper “The Next Phase of Digital Evolution.”
Another large labor union has voted to reject the rail deal brokered in part by the Biden administration, moving the industry closer to a strike, according to CNBC.
Split decision: Two of the largest railroad labor unions in the United States went separate ways during their contract ratification votes, which were announced on Monday. The Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – Transportation Division voted against the proposed agreement by a slim margin, while the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen voted to ratify it.
What it means: This latest action raises the likelihood of a rail work stoppage in early December. In total, 8 of 12 unions have now ratified the tentative agreement concluded in September while the rank-and-file membership of 4 unions have rejected it.
- Should one union choose to go on strike, the broad impact would cripple the national freight rail network.
The impact: The railroad industry and major shipping groups have found that a strike would likely cost around $2 billion per day, also according to CNBC. It would affect every major rail operator.
- “The American Chemistry Council, which represents companies including 3M, Dow, Dupont, BP, Exxon Mobil and Eli Lilly, said a rail strike would impact approximately $2.8 billion in chemicals cargo a week, and lead to a GDP decline and renewed inflation.”
- “Other industries, from agriculture to retail, have warned of the economic risks of a strike.”
Next steps: Negotiations will continue through a cooling-off period that runs until early December. If a deal is not reached by 12:01 a.m. EST on Dec. 5, a strike could occur. The NAM and others have urged Congress to take action under the Railway Labor Act and pass legislation that would avert a strike if railroads and rail unions cannot reach such a deal.
What we’re saying: “Manufacturers are disheartened by today’s news on the further unraveling of rail negotiations,” said NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons. “It’s clear that Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, must be prepared to work together immediately to avert a rail strike and prevent further damage to our supply chain.”
What should manufacturers know about cybersecurity threats? NAM COO Todd Boppell recently appeared on Mandiant’s “Defender’s Advantage Podcast” to explain how cyber criminals are targeting manufacturers today and what companies can do to protect themselves. Here’s some of his advice.
The threat today: While cyberthreats are nothing new, in recent years there has been a sea change, Boppell said.
- “I think what’s really changed in the past five years, especially—it probably started in the past 10, but it’s massively accelerated—is that cybercrime as a business model is on the rise,” he said.
- “A lot of the bad guys, whether their motivations are political or purely economic, have realized that ransomware and other forms of pure disruption are sometimes just as helpful or just as lucrative as stealing any sort of intellectual property.”
Manufacturing as a target: Manufacturers get victimized by ransomware attacks “because manufacturing is one of the least tolerant industries of any sort of downtime,” Boppell continued.
- “Over the past five years, manufacturing was always in the top three [sectors targeted by cyber criminals], typically with medical and financial services … but really over the past 18 to 24 months, all the data I have seen says that manufacturing has jumped to number one and has stayed there.”
What small businesses need to know: Small businesses may believe that they are beneath notice for cyber criminals, but that’s not the case, said Boppell.
- Once they come to terms with that depressing reality, small companies should take a look at their staff and operations, he said. “Do they have the talent on staff to understand what they should do, what their risks are, which systems they currently have that need to be addressed? Do they understand all the acronyms at play? Do they understand the different threat vectors?”
- And last, once the company generally knows what it’s doing and perhaps has some IT support, it should consider its budget, and how it can “get the most bang for its buck.”
What large businesses need to know: “Larger companies want to be helpful, and they want to help secure their supply chain partners, because it is absolutely in their best interests. … However, they are unbelievably busy just protecting their own boundaries and just worrying about all the attacks they’re facing,” Boppell said.
- “And of course, it’s always a little bit frustrating for smaller companies to have a larger company try to tell them what to do … so you have to really manage those relationships and figure out the right way to go in and help.”
The most important thing: “The number-one thing I’m trying to get through, and the number-one myth I want to dispel, is that a lot of small manufacturers believe that … they have no IP to protect,” said Boppell. “Maybe they make screws and fasteners, or maybe they make mattresses or whatever. … They feel like cyber is not a big deal for them.”
- “What we’ve seen with ransomware is that’s absolutely not true. Their ransomware risk is just as high as anyone else’s because they can’t tolerate downtime. And if they haven’t taken the steps to secure their networks and their equipment, then they’re going to be even more prone to falling victim to ransomware.”
Listen to the whole thing: You can find the entire interview with Boppell here.
Protect yourself: Interested in safeguarding your company? NAM Cyber Cover was designed specifically to give manufacturers and their supply chains enhanced risk mitigation and protection. Find out more here, and check out this webinar on the state of cybersecurity for manufacturers.
When it comes to diversity and inclusion, Smithfield Foods puts its commitments into action.
The world’s largest pork processor has committed to measurable increases—of 35% and 30%, respectively—in the hiring and promotion of women and individuals in underrepresented groups. And it’s pledged to do it all by 2030.
Bridging a gap: In September 2020, the Virginia-headquartered manufacturer launched its Operations Leadership Program, created to develop a strong pipeline of diverse talent to fill future management roles.
- “We lead with data. And our data shows there’s a gap in diverse representation between production and management,” said Smithfield Foods Manager of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Jessica Jones. “The OLP provided us an opportunity to track data on team members, their promotion opportunities, how they’re elevating within the company with a commitment to monitor year-over-year data three years after program completion for each cohort.”
- In just over two years, the program, which garners participants through applications, has seen 132 graduates and nearly 50 promotions.
Providing encouragement: Ironically, many of the same employees the OLP was designed to help were initially reluctant to apply, Jones said.
- “We did focus groups and what we realized is, those who weren’t applying were women and people of color,” she said. “They shared, ‘I don’t think it’s for me,’ and when we heard that, we realized it meant, ‘I never saw myself going higher than my current opportunity.’”
- Smithfield’s leadership began to strategically target their communications to specifically focus on these employees and encourage them to consider the program. “That’s when we started to see the uptick in more women and people of color applying,” Jones said.
Other D&I initiatives: To reach its lofty 2030 diversity and inclusion goals, Smithfield has deployed other programs, too, including the following:
- Smithfield’s Farmer Diversity Program, which aims to increase the number of Black and minority hog farmers in the company’s supply chain;
- A Future Leaders Program that gives scholarships and career opportunities to rising high school seniors through summer internships to increase diversity in leadership;
- An expansion of the Smithfield Foods Scholarship Program for eligible dependents of Smithfield employees so that it includes historically Black colleges and universities; and,
- A supply-chain initiative in which the company has committed to increasing its production-facility spend with minority-owned businesses by 14% by 2025.
The company has also signed NAM’s Pledge for Action, in which manufacturers commit to 50,000 specific actions to increase diversity and inclusion.
The last word: “I have seen this company change and evolve in such a wonderful way,” Jones said. “We now have opportunities to elevate and expose our employee base to Smithfield’s leadership—making sure they have a touch point, a way to connect. Our leadership wants to know how they are doing, prevalent challenges and support needed. The change has been so encouraging.”
When asked how she got into cybersecurity, Nicole Darden Ford replies “cybersecurity kind of finds you.” The new chief information security officer at Rockwell Automation began her career in the military, where she first got into cybersecurity, then created a cybersecurity program for the U.S. Department of Agriculture before taking several leadership roles in the private sector.
Today, her advice for companies is surprisingly similar: cyberattacks will find you. As she puts it, “It’s not if, it’s when. And it’s not one time, it’s several.”
So how should manufacturers prepare for these threats? We spoke to Darden Ford recently about her recommendations, as well as Rockwell’s efforts to safeguard its own supply chain and provide services to other companies.
The current situation: “Manufacturers account for 65% of industrial ransomware last year. We’ve seen an unprecedented number of attacks, and we’ve seen attackers focus on OT,” Darden Ford says. She predicts the attacks on OT will only escalate.
- Meanwhile, many manufacturers have a clear strategy for IT, but they have not given as much thought to protecting their operational technology. Yet, as machines get more connected, their operations may become more vulnerable—especially as companies try to integrate legacy systems that weren’t “meant to be connected or patched.”
- In addition, “because we are so connected, there are third-party risks,” Darden Ford says. Small manufacturers may be more inviting targets for hackers than they realize, since their systems could provide a back door into the networks of their larger clients.
- On the plus side, manufacturers are getting smarter in building their defenses, she says. And that’s where Rockwell comes in.
Rockwell’s role: Rockwell aspires to become a “trusted advisor” to companies seeking cyber defenses, says Darden Ford. It already manufactured OT, so moving into cybersecurity for such equipment was a natural next step.
- Its partnerships with other firms, including Dragos, CrowdStrike, Cisco and others, allows Rockwell to offer bespoke cyber monitoring and other services to its clients.
- These services include penetration testing, threat detection and response and an OT “SOC”—i.e., a security operations center, which monitors threats to clients’ operations remotely.
How it works: “We have an OT cybersecurity roadmap—it starts with an assessment in your specific OT space, then walks through potential risks,” Darden Ford says. (See the end of this article for her detailed description of this roadmap.)
- The process includes building an “asset inventory, as you can’t protect what you don’t know.”
- “Then we talk about ways you can reduce your attack surface,” Darden Ford continues. “This is about segmentation. We help organizations divide their network into different domains. If you have ransomware or malware that propagates very quickly, then you have the opportunity to quarantine it.”
- In addition, the roadmap helps companies decide which tools and resources to use. For OT, you need to use very passive systems that don’t interfere with “getting the product out the door,” Darden Ford says.
After this process is complete, Rockwell’s SOC helps clients stay safe and hone their responses to real attacks.
- The SOC keeps eyes on a company’s operations remotely, notifies it of breaches within the plant network and helps it decide which threats to tackle. As Darden Ford says, the SOC stands in for the teams that companies would otherwise have to hire themselves.
On-site resources: Manufacturers can tap their existing staff to work on cyber defenses, including with offsite monitors. Darden Ford recommends drafting “the plant engineering team, along with the IT team,” who would have the knowledge and resources required.
A community effort: Large manufacturers should help educate small manufacturers on cyber issues, says Darden Ford.
- “We have a lot of suppliers, so to mitigate third-party risk, we provide more awareness about OT and advice about upping their cyber hygiene. We work closely with suppliers and do a lot of knowledge sharing,” she says.
Collaboration at the top: In addition, it’s also beneficial for CISOs and manufacturing leaders to consult their peers in what Darden Ford calls “mastermind sessions.”
- These conversations have provided her with “a lot of insights and data,” she says. She gets indispensable input on “strategies, frameworks, journeys and roadmaps,” as companies try to find their way through this cyber landscape together.
The bottom line: When asked what she says to companies that doubt the need for cyber protections, Darden Ford has a simple answer: “You wouldn’t drive your car without insurance—that’s what this is.”
- “What used to be optional is becoming mandatory,” she adds. “For small or midsize companies, you are still going to have to report” back to your large customers, many of whom require stringent protections of their suppliers. Those requirements will only get “more and more rigorous over time,” she warns.
- In other words, however you choose to do it, “you need a plan.”
Darden Ford supplied us with her account of Rockwell’s cyber roadmap for its own suppliers, below. “The playbook aligns with the NIST framework, showing you step-by-step how to audit your current security state, identify gaps and take a proactive approach to mitigate risk,” she says. Here is her account of the key steps.
Step #1: Discover
- Know where you stand. Conduct a security and risk assessment—log all issues and review progress against findings.
- You can’t protect what you can’t see. You must gain a full understanding of what network assets you have on your plant floor and their current state. Start by conducting extensive network discovery and asset inventory.
Step #2: Remediate
- Work with stakeholders to prioritize assets and organizational risk levels. Take the necessary steps to eliminate, upgrade or replace unneeded, unused or unsupported OT applications and infrastructure. This will look different for every organization based on what you discover in Step #1.
Step #3: Isolate
- Establish a perimeter by physically and logically segmenting your networks. Put up a firewall and establish internal and external cybersecurity policies to protect your OT assets. Set up an on-premises industrial data center to encapsulate critical applications inside the protected OT network.
- Secure endpoints with security software on plant floor assets.
- Enable third-party remote access. Third parties need access, but you must control the access and maintain visibility into what they’re doing in your network by enabling OT access controls.
Step #4: Monitor and Respond
- Now that you have a solid foundation in place, the next step is to implement OT network monitoring to provide real-time OT cybersecurity, including malicious event/asset risk alerting, network diagnostics, AI learning and KPI dashboarding. The data only works for you if you are continuously viewing and reacting to it.
- Establish an OT SOC for 24/7 real-time alert monitoring, acknowledgement and triage. Cyberattacks aren’t limited to 9–5.
- Create an integrated IT/OT cyber event response team. Define event response and isolation protocols. IT/OT must have equal involvement and buy-in for these protocols to be successful. Execute tabletop exercises to simulate attacks and outcomes.
As innovation in manufacturing continues at breakneck speed, research and development is more important than ever—but it requires outstanding managers to make it all happen.
So how do these managers get the education and insights they need? The Innovation Research Interchange, a network of cross-industry innovators that the NAM combined with earlier this year, has an answer: an executive management course called Shaping Innovation Leaders.
The gist: Co-hosted by the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, the course provides a forum for strategic thinking, education and networking for technology leaders from around the world.
- In 2023, it will take place on May 13–19 on the Northwestern campus in Evanston, Illinois.
The details: The goal of this seven-day program is to develop midlevel managers into leaders for their companies, by covering topics including:
- Evaluating financial results;
- Segmentation, targeting and positioning;
- Growing and defending your brand;
- Legal and strategic investments;
- Building a better network; and
- Negotiating skills and strategic alliances;
Who’s involved: To get a sense of this event’s caliber, look no further than the attendees from the 2022 course.
- They hailed from a wide range of companies, including manufacturers such as Mars, Procter & Gamble, John Deere, Hershey, NatureWorks, Air Liquide, Kimberly-Clark Corporation, Sherwin-Williams and many, many more.
The reviews are in: Participants in the 2022 course were enthusiastic about what they learned and experienced.
- “[I’m] really super impressed with the program, soup to nuts,” said John Deere Manager for Global Strategic Communications & Culture Jacqueline Kiple. “One of my favorite aspects of the program was really getting a chance to think about our business a little bit differently … to take a step back and think about the higher-level impacts that affect decision-making in our respective organizations.”
- “What I really enjoyed about this course was first and foremost the esteemed professors. … [The course] gives you a really big view of all the information you need to really understand business and understand the decisions that are getting made,” said Sherwin-Williams Associate R&D Director Tony Rook. “It gives you that top-level view of how you add value to [your] organization.”
Get involved: Registration is now open for the 2023 course. You can find additional information and register here.
Manufacturers are staying on top of the tech game.
That was among the chief findings of a new polling conducted by the Manufacturing Leadership Council, the NAM’s digital transformation division. The annual Transformative Technologies in Manufacturing research survey aims to reveal data on current realities and expectations for manufacturing in the near future and in the years to come.
Rate of adoption: The most surprising data point was that 89% of respondents said they expect their company’s rate of adoption of disruptive technologies to increase over the next two years. That figure is up from 51% just one year ago.
Why disruptive technology? Reducing costs and improving operational efficiency were the most-cited reasons for investing in digital tech, with 83% of respondents identifying these as important motivations.
- Improving operational visibility and responsiveness came in second, at 61%.
- Other reasons include increasing digitization (40%), creating a competitive advantage (36%) and improving quality (30%).
Top near-future trends: Digital-twin modeling and simulation software, augmented and virtual reality, high-performance computing and further investments in supply chain management software will lead the next wave of investments during the coming year or two.
Not of interest: The survey found that quantum computing and blockchain technology are currently of the least interest to manufacturers.
The role of AI and ML: Artificial intelligence and machine learning usage continues to grow among manufacturers.
- Nearly 50% of respondents indicated that their companies have implemented AI, either on a single-project basis (40%) or in all factories (9%).
- About 75% said they are applying AI and ML to reduce costs and improve productivity and processes.
- Approximately 60% indicated they had used AI and ML for preventative/predictive maintenance or quality improvement.
Misunderstood metaverse: A new topic covered by this year’s survey, the manufacturing metaverse, was perhaps the least understood by respondents.
- About 38% said they were still trying to understand the technology and concept, 20% said they have no plans to adopt a manufacturing metaverse approach and 15% said they didn’t know how to respond to the question.
The last word: “Manufacturers are finding more use cases and business benefits for increasing their use of digital technology, and the pace of adoption is accelerating,” said MLC Co-Founder and Vice President and Executive Director David R. Brousell.
- “The research confirms that manufacturing is headed for an agile, connected and collaborative future driven by technology and fueled by innovation.”
Even amid so much economic uncertainty, Cemen Tech is on track for a year of unprecedented growth. Leaders of the company, the world’s largest manufacturer of volumetric technology, attribute a good deal of its success to its loyal workforce.
Allegiance creator: Just what contributes to that worker loyalty? The answer may well be Cemen Tech’s unusual generosity.
- “We considered a number of new and different ways to continue to attract and retain good people,” Cemen Tech President and CEO Connor Deering said. “In September 2021, we made the decision to cover 100% of employee health insurance costs, the net effect of which is essentially our folks taking home more of the money they earn. That has really helped with retention.”
- The Indianola, Iowa–based company also raised wages across the board and began offering employees season tickets for local sports teams.
A new approach: Full health insurance coverage made a difference when it came to attracting and keeping workers, but the volumetric concrete mixer manufacturer was still hitting another roadblock when it came to employment: finding people with the right qualifications. So, it set out to solve the problem in house.
- As part of a planned facility expansion, the company is setting aside space for the new “Cemen Tech University,” an innovative answer to the question of how to develop employees with highly desired, specialized skills. Classes are tentatively set to start in January 2023.
- The company is also working with area high schools and technical schools to forge partnerships in which students work for Cemen Tech part time, while still pursuing their diplomas or degrees.
- “This way, we train applicants for immediate success on the job, helping to ensure a strong fit between the employee and the company from the start,” Deering said. “It also gives us an opportunity to teach new hires about our organizational culture. … I believe [our education efforts] will help support an educated team member who’s connected to our culture, resulting in a happier, better and more long-term employee.”
More incentives: Last March, Cemen Tech found a way to boost shift-worker attendance with a points-based rewards system.
- “We implemented an attendance bonus—if an employee stays within a certain number of points [for coming to work], they can earn an additional $90 a week,” said Cemen Tech Director of Human Resources Emily Lyons. “We have seen that help in terms of attracting and retaining employees and further incentivizing employees to achieve consistent attendance.”
- The company has also increased the referral bonus given to existing employees who bring in new hires, Lyons said.
Advice: Manufacturers looking to see similar growth to Cemen Tech, which is set to expand 65% this year, should consider implementing some of the firm’s ideas (if financially feasible). But companies should be prepared to incur some financial cost along the way.
- “Our growth has helped offset the profitability loss [from the increased benefits], but the reality is that our business is people,” Deering said. “If we don’t have people—good people—we’re not going anywhere. So, the fact that we’re little less profitable at the moment is OK, as long as we can continue to grow.”
Last year, The Manufacturing Institute—the workforce development and education partner of the NAM—came to a realization: There were manufacturing conferences and there were workforce conferences, but neither addressed manufacturing-workforce challenges from a broad, national perspective. The MI wanted to change that.
And it did, just this month—with the inaugural, now-annual, MI Workforce Summit.
What it is: The summit, held this month in Cincinnati, Ohio, is a first-of-its-kind, multiday event that brought manufacturers, educators, community partners, association leaders and more together to network, attend workshops and hear talks from manufacturing and workforce leaders. All of them had the same goal: to build the manufacturing workforce of today and tomorrow to ensure the industry’s competitiveness.
- Made possible by sponsors including the Arconic Foundation, WestRock, FactoryFix, the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council and EY, and supported by the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, the summit drew more than 300 participants.
- Half the attendees were manufacturing employers and half were from the MI’s leading partners.
- “Forging partnerships isn’t a theme, it’s an action item,” said Arconic Foundation President and Treasurer Ryan Kish. “Come up with concrete actions for your organization on how you’re going to go into the community and forge partnerships to tackle the manufacturing workforce challenge.”
What happened: The summit, with its theme of forging partnerships, resulted in the creation of more than 920 new connections among workforce stakeholders. It focused on three “areas of importance”: attracting, training and retaining quality employees and how partnerships enable success across all three. Specific events at the summit included:
- A plenary fire-side session on how partnerships helped Toyota and the entire manufacturing sector grow in northern Alabama;
- Breakout sessions focused on a range of key issues, including how parents and teachers help manufacturers attract talent, how the workforce can prepare for automation and how economic developers are now assisting in workforce development;
- Newly released research from the MI on adaptive skills and future skills needs;
- A plenary on the impact of culture on employee retention;
- Interactive Q&As on recruiting, training and retaining employees; and
- A session on how corporate and foundation grants can improve the manufacturing workforce ecosystem.
“Hidden” talent: A frequently untapped pool of potential workers—individuals with previous involvement in the criminal justice system—was another topic of discussion at the summit.
- One in four adults in the U.S. has a criminal record, according to the National Employment Law Project. Many companies have had success in hiring people with criminal records, which has led more manufacturers to begin recruiting “second chance” hires.
- A leader in these hiring practices is JBM Packaging, whose director of human capital and culture, Valerie Plis, spoke at the summit.
Hiring veterans: Military veterans are another group of promising potential hires, as speakers advised the attendees.
- More than 200,000 men and women transition out of the U.S. military and into civilian life every year, according to the Labor Department.
- The MI’s Heroes MAKE America program seeks to attract many of them to the manufacturing industry, by building connections between the military and veteran communities and companies seeking top talent.
Growing talent: The summit dove into another successful workforce solution model: the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME), created by Toyota in 2010 and transitioned to the MI in 2019.
- FAME, which recently wrapped up its own annual national conference, combines strong technical training and professional skills development with hands-on manufacturing work experience to create global best-in-class entry-level technicians. In just three years, it has spread across the U.S. and now has more than 400 manufacturer partners.
- From 2021 to 2022, the program saw an 18% increase in the number of participants, according to MI President Carolyn Lee.
The last word: In her remarks, Lee encapsulated the central idea behind the new summit: “When we pioneer solutions together, we’re stronger than when we work alone.”
Courtney Silver runs a precision machining company that has been in business for 75 years, so she knows how fast the manufacturing industry evolves. The Ketchie, Inc., president, who serves as the vice chair of the NAM’s Small and Medium Manufacturers Group, has a clear message for policymakers and manufacturers alike.
- To stay competitive, “manufacturers must have policies that incentivize us to save for emergencies, like pandemics, and to use profits productively to invest in machines, technologies and people,” she says.
- “Small manufacturers know what to do, to invest our profits and grow”—and policymakers should let them get on with it.
We caught up with Silver earlier this fall and chatted about her plans for Ketchie, the policies that would support manufacturers’ competitiveness and more.
The history: Seventy-five years ago, her late husband’s grandfather came home from World War II to work in a local textile mill, Silver tells us.
- The former Air Force captain quickly observed that local manufacturers needed a “job shop” to provide precision machined solutions. In 1947, he founded the company.
- Since then, and through many upgrades in technology, the business has grown considerably. It now supports several industries, including “textile, rail, heavy machinery, agriculture and industrial equipment,” says Silver.
In the family: Silver joined the business in 2008, then took over as president after her husband passed away in 2014. Through all her years there, she says, “investing in the lives of the people I work with and providing them with opportunities to develop and grow their God-given talents has been what matters the most” to her.
- That dedication spills outward into the community. Silver and the company are deeply invested in their work with the North Carolina Manufacturing Institute, numerous local schools, the local Boys & Girls Club and the Cooperative Christian Ministries.
What do small manufacturers need? To help small manufacturers stay competitive and keep contributing to their communities, “we need a tax structure that works for us,” says Silver.
- The 2017 tax reform law benefited Ketchie by allowing large manufacturers to expand, meaning they had more orders for Ketchie. The company was able to hire more workers as well as provide raises and bonuses.
- However, small manufacturers need further support from policymakers, according to Silver. “Smaller manufacturers have access to less capital,” she explains, so they must often use their profits for crucial short-term investments, like new equipment.
- But they also need help from policymakers for longer-term efforts, such as saving for emergencies (including pandemics) and using their profits to aggressively attract and retain a high-quality workforce.
The absence of a tax structure that supports all these endeavors together “hinders innovation and growth and limits our ability to compete,” Silver points out.
A promising future: When asked how new technologies are helping small manufacturers innovate, Silver responds enthusiastically: “That’s why I love the industry so much—the machining technology is transformational for small businesses in our industry.”
- Ketchie has kept up with the latest innovations throughout its history. Back in the 1980s, that meant purchasing its first CNC (computer numerical control) machines for more efficient, precise machining.
- Today, it’s automation. The company’s first machine-tending collaborative robot will debut on the factory floor in November, taking over machinists’ “least favorite” part of the job—changing parts while the machines run. The robot will free up workers for more challenging and skilled work around the shop, as well as dramatically increase productivity by running unattended after shift hours, Silver says.
- Technology has “opened up” manufacturing, as she puts it. Automation, 3D printing, additive machining and more have “sped up the lifecycle from the idea to the finished part.”
People first: Technology may be evolving rapidly, but the need for a high-quality workforce remains the same. When asked about her plans for Ketchie’s future, Silver says that “the number-one challenge, again and again, is workforce.”
- Silver aspires to strengthen Ketchie’s community outreach by teaching semester-long classes in the shop for high school students, which will include mentorships and a character development curriculum along with job shadowing on the shop floor.
- Ketchie also plans to continue its leadership role in its community as an active member of the school program board, and by continuing to open its doors to tours, interns and apprentices.
- “Making these long-term investments in our youth, in our industry and in our team is foundational to who we are, and we are thankful for all of the opportunities to help shape our future workforce in manufacturing,” says Silver.
The next generation: For the president of a family company, this question must be inevitable: Will Silver’s children run the business, too?
- “Time will tell for sure. They both show strong leadership qualities and are interested in what we are accomplishing at Ketchie. My son has a lot of fun with a 3D printer at home, and my daughter already has excellent problem-solving skills. It’s going to be interesting to see!”
At the NAM: About her work at the NAM, Silver says, “I want to see a genuine opportunity for small and medium manufacturers to grow, thrive and successfully compete.”
- “Each SMM member should feel truly valued and know they have a place at the NAM. Their story, and what they do every day, matters to manufacturing in America.”