Business Operations

Business Operations

This Is What Port Congestion Looks Like

Get the Latest News

Get involved

Ports in the United States have been facing serious congestion issues for almost a year, even as manufacturers work tirelessly to ensure essential products can get where they need to go. NAM Director of Photography David Bohrer recently paid a visit to the Port of Long Beach, where an influx of exports coming to the United States is causing traffic jams along the California coast.

Long Beach is one of the country’s busiest ports at the best of times, since it receives much of the trade traffic from Asia. Today, it’s mobbed by ships waiting for their turn to unload. Under normal circumstances no more than one or two ships would be temporarily anchored while awaiting a spot at the port terminals. But as of late October, that number peaked at more than 70 ships holding offshore. Just look at these lines:

Meanwhile, the port is full of shipping containers waiting to be hauled away and emptied. However, there aren’t enough workers, specialized truck chassis, or available truck drivers to handle the volume of containers:

Here is one container in transit. But once it’s unloaded, the empty container has to be stored as well—and current parking and warehousing space isn’t sufficient for the many empty containers at the port.

Recently, the Biden Administration announced an initial plan to help strengthen supply chains and reduce these blockages. Actions include extending hours of operations at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and addressing workforce shortages and negotiated shipping agreements.

  • Additionally, on November 9, the White House announced details of a new Action Plan to quickly distribute newly available port funds in an effort to clear backlogs. This plan creates new flexibility in how some ports can use federal dollars to meet on-the-ground needs and sets bold new deadlines for releasing funds—including the authorization of nearly $240 million in grant funding before the end of the year.

The NAM says: “Manufacturers in America have been tirelessly working to maintain operations and provide essential products and jobs to their communities throughout the pandemic. These port backups and supply chain delays aren’t some distant, downstream issue—NAM members are facing historically high shipping costs and unheard-of delivery delays on an hourly and daily basis. We will continue to engage with policymakers to identify short-term solutions and establish long-term measures that allow for economic growth and a functional, inclusive and efficient supply chain,” said NAM Director of Infrastructure Policy Ben Siegrist.

Business Operations

How Eastman Strives for a Circular Plastics Economy

Get the Latest News

Get involved

Eastman may be a specialty materials company, but its focus these days is expansive: the well-being of the planet and the sustainability of manufacturing practices.

“We have three main pillars,” Eastman Executive Vice President and Chief Technology & Sustainability Officer Steve Crawford told us. “How do you improve the climate? How do you care for society? And how do you eliminate waste?”

Eastman means to do all three.

Circular economy: Among Eastman’s goals for the foreseeable future is making major strides toward the creation of a circular plastics economy, a model of production and usage that emphasizes the reuse and refurbishment of plastic products over new creation.

  • Eastman encourages traditional, also known as mechanical, recycling when it can be used. However, “300 million metric tons of plastic get produced in the world every year, with less than 20% collected for mechanical recycling. In the U.S., less than 10% actually gets recycled,” said Crawford, who has been with Eastman for 35 years. “Most of it ends up in landfills, incinerated or worse.”

Under construction: Eastman, which plans to make its operations carbon-neutral by 2050, is constructing what will be one of the world’s largest plastic to plastic molecular recycling facilities in Kingsport, Tennessee. It is slated for completion by the end of 2022.

  • Eastman estimates that by 2025, the facility will be diverting 250 million pounds of plastic waste every year. By 2030, the company plans to make that figure 500 million.

Why it’s important: “Mechanical recycling—where you go out and take items like single-use bottles, chop, wash and re-meld them and put them back into textiles or bottles—can only really address a small portion of the plastics that are out there,” Crawford said. After a few cycles, the polymers in the products degrade and the process is no longer possible.

  • Instead, Eastman uses advanced, also known as molecular or chemical, recycling. “We unzip the plastic back to its basic building blocks, then purify those building blocks to create new materials,” Crawford said. This “creates an infinite loop because that polymer can go through that process time and time again.”

Additional measures: Eastman also makes use of carbon renewal technology, in which hard-to-recycle mixed plastics are brought into the recycling stream, broken down to the molecular level and reformed into textiles and other materials. Fully 40% of the material in Eastman’s Naia Renew cellulosic fiber, in fact, comes from the plastic reclaimed through this process, Crawford said.

  • The company is involved in polyester renewal technology as well. Using colored soda bottles, old carpet and a variety of other mixed plastic waste streams, Eastman creates new materials that can be used to make everything from reusable containers to electronics to eyeglass frames.

First do no harm: Before implementing any new technology, Eastman makes sure of one thing: that it has a lower greenhouse-gas footprint than the process it will replace. Said Crawford: “We fundamentally believe that solving the waste issue should not hurt the climate.”

  • The company also has a long-term goal regarding emissions: it plans to reduce its greenhouse-gas output by one-third by 2030.

The policy angle: To make a real difference where plastic waste is concerned, the U.S. needs “smart” policies in place, Crawford said. Eastman’s recommendations include:

  • Incentives, mandates and infrastructure investment that will increase all recycling;
  • Cooperation between companies, nonprofits and local and state governments that have effective models for aggregating and collecting plastic waste; and
  • Legislation to ensure the definition of recycling includes advanced-recycling techniques.

The last word: “There is no one company that’s going to be able to create the circular economy by themselves,” Crawford said. “It’s going to take partnerships across the value chain and really smart public policy. We can’t solve this issue alone.”

Business Operations

How BASF Uses Enhanced Reality to Help Workers Learn

Get the Latest News

Sign up here

The human side of digital transformation was on full display at a recent virtual plant tour of BASF Chemical Intermediates Geismar, Louisiana, facility. Hosted by the NAM’s Manufacturing Leadership Council, the tour gave participants an inside look at how the company is using Voovio’s enhanced-reality technology to transform employee training.

Who they are: BASF Chemical Intermediates, a division of German multinational chemical manufacturer BASF, makes approximately 600 distinct products sold worldwide to the chemical, plastics, agricultural and consumer goods industries, among others.

What is Voovio? The company has partnered with simulation-software maker Voovio to design a customized training solution for its employees: a virtually accessible digital replica of the BASF plant.

  • Using a computer or other digital device, employees can select plant components such as valves, pumps and control panels to get a detailed view of each. These components respond and perform virtually the same way they would in real life.
  • Using the software, trainees can click on any piece of equipment in any workflow to see how it fits into each process.

Why use it? BASF wanted to make worker training faster, more interactive and more self-directed so employees could learn new skills and review existing ones more quickly and easily.

Scalable training model: The tailorable Voovio software offers different training-module levels based on each worker’s experience level and skills.

  • Training modules include an equipment replica, tasks to be performed and an action checklist for completing a series of tasks.
  • Employees get feedback from the software as they perform each virtual procedure, letting them know whether they’ve performed a task correctly.

Real-world application: Voovio also lets companies take the training into the production facility. Using an approved digital device, employees can perform test runs at any time to ensure they’re prepared to complete a job on the ground.

The verdict: BASF has already begun to reap the benefits of the software. Since implementing Voovio, it has seen a marked increase in both worker competency and productivity.

Sign up for a virtual plant tour: Don’t miss the MLC’s upcoming tour of Johnson & Johnson’s facilities on Wednesday, Dec. 1, from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. EST. You will see how Johnson & Johnson uses mobility tools, advanced robotics and material handling, as well as adaptive process controls to drive improvements. After the tour, stay for the panel discussion on how to scale advanced manufacturing technologies to ensure a sustainable, reliable and adaptable product supply chain. Sign up today!

Business Operations

One Small Manufacturer Battles Thousands of Counterfeits

Get the Latest News

Get involved

If you can buy anything online, how can you make sure that what you’re buying is genuine?

That’s a problem facing consumers and manufacturers alike. According to the NAM’s research, fake and counterfeit products cost the United States $131 billion and 325,000 jobs in 2019 alone—and estimates suggest that global trade in counterfeits exceeds $500 billion per year. The explosive rise of counterfeit goods has heavily impacted manufacturers, requiring them to fight back on a range of fronts.

For Clint Todd—the chief legal officer at Nite Ize, Inc., a manufacturer of mobile, pet and key accessories, as well as hardware, lighting and other products—that challenge is very real and only getting worse.

“In 2019, we took down 75,000 counterfeit listings and websites,” said Todd. “And we’re a small business, so you can guess how large the problem is countrywide.”

Why it’s happening: First, the online nature of e-commerce makes it more difficult to ensure accountability. Many counterfeit products are purchased through third-party sellers that may or may not provide real contact information.

  • In practice, many platforms have not been held liable for counterfeit products sold on their platforms by these third-party sellers, even as they facilitate their sale. That means there’s often little manufacturers can do beyond asking the platforms to remove the listing.
  • Second, a large proportion of the sellers of counterfeit goods are located in China and Hong Kong, making it much more challenging for U.S. companies to bring effective lawsuits, even if they do have accurate seller contact information.

“You have this odd confluence of laws and tech development and the involvement of another country that has driven this exponential increase in counterfeits,” said Todd. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see how the inability to fight the problem has been detrimental to U.S. businesses.”

How manufacturers respond: Manufacturers and others have been forced into a piecemeal strategy that includes using software tracking services to find fraudulent trademarks and images; working with third-party sites to remove listings for knockoff merchandise; bringing lawsuits against counterfeiters where possible; and coordinating with the International Trade Commission. That strategy is challenging for lots of manufacturers but is particularly hard on small and medium-sized companies that may have fewer resources yet can be devastated when their products are ripped off.

What we need:  The NAM’s report, “Countering Counterfeits,” details solutions for the federal government and the private sector, including:

  • Requiring e-commerce platforms to reduce the availability of counterfeits;
  • Modernizing enforcement laws and tactics to keep pace with counterfeiting technology;
  • Streamlining government coordination;
  • Improving private-sector collaboration; and
  • Empowering consumers to avoid counterfeit goods.

As Todd put it, “It’ll take a multi-stakeholder approach. It’s not just the government. It’s not just manufacturers. It’s not just the online platforms. It has to be a coordinated approach with all those stakeholders to get to the heart of the matter.”

What the NAM is doing: The NAM is leading the effort against counterfeiting and has already made significant headway with policymakers. Among its recent highlights:

  • After years of NAM advocacy, the Department of Homeland Security has implemented the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act of 2018, which steps up screenings for international mail shipments—one way in which counterfeits get into the U.S.
  • In late 2020, Congress also implemented several NAM recommendations, including bolstering federal oversight at U.S. ports; cracking down on scammers and other bad actors exploiting the pandemic by producing fake goods or engaging in price gouging; and allowing the FDA to seize and destroy dangerous counterfeit medical devices.
  • Both the Senate and House have seen the introduction of bipartisan bills that incorporate NAM recommendations on addressing the sale of counterfeits through online platforms.

The last word: “People need to understand the scope of the problem and how pervasive it has become,” said Todd. “Everyone needs to know how often counterfeits and knockoffs are affecting U.S. companies and how expensive and difficult it is to combat the problem with the tools we have at our disposal now.”

Business Operations

How Cloud Computing Could Help Chip Manufacturers

Get the Latest News

Sign up here

One small component is creating big delays in global supply chains: the ubiquitous semiconductor or chip. These components are not only essential to our phones, laptops and other electronics, but to the production process in just about every sector of the manufacturing industry. So, what would help us produce more of these desperately needed parts? According to Birlasoft Vice President and Global Business Head of Communications, Media & Technology Nitesh Mirchandani, the answer is cloud computing.

Why the shortage? As COVID-19 unfolded, millions of consumers purchased new laptops, smartphones, game consoles and other devices as they spent more time at home. This shortfall was compounded by the existing high demand for chips brought on by the growth in smart products—everything from thermostats and appliances to robot vacuum cleaners and GPS-enabled dog tags. COVID-19 also caused a wave of semiconductor factory closures that also exacerbated the problem. The result? A shortage that industry experts say could last through 2022.

Why the cloud? Cloud computing is the on-demand delivery of resources like data storage, software, networking and other services via the internet. Users either purchase a set subscription or pay by their level of usage—both cheaper and more flexible options than maintaining an on-site IT team for all needs. Cloud computing has several advantages for semiconductor manufacturers, according to Mirchandani:

  • It speeds up time to market through swifter design and development. Because they can be accessed anywhere, cloud services enable teams to connect and collaborate more easily. Development cycles become quicker as teams connect better internally and with other parts of the business, including partners and suppliers.
  • It enables data-driven business decisions. Thanks to the faster processing and analysis of cloud computing, manufacturers can get instant information on things like factory performance, supply disruptions or customer demand. Likewise, workers can be alerted to a machine that needs maintenance or to potential defects in materials or products.
  • It provides service continuity. Internal IT teams often have limited resources. Cloud infrastructure is managed by specialists who can ensure uninterrupted service, so in-house IT teams don’t need to continuously maintain software through updates and patches.

Why it matters: Semiconductor shortages threaten to drag down the economy just as recovery is getting underway. Businesses rely on chip-enabled technologies for creating products, managing operations and maintaining the flow of goods and services. Consumers rely on them for smarter, safer homes and connections to work or school. Unless chip manufacturers can shore up production to meet demand, the ripple effect will create added distress for many sectors of the economy.

Business Operations

How PTC Onshape Helps Formlabs Print the Future

Get the Latest News

Sign up here

The NAM’s Makers Series is an exclusive interview series featuring creators, innovators and trailblazers in the industry sharing their insights and advice. In this episode, you’ll meet Matt Lipsitz and Adam Lebovitz of Formlabs, who discuss how PTC Onshape helps Formlabs improve their 3D-printer design. Learn how PTC has helped Formlabs “try out new ideas that weren’t possible in the past.”

Business Operations

A Visit to Big Ass Fans

Get the Latest News

Get involved

Yes, Big Ass Fans is their real name. The Kentucky-based manufacturer makes fans, evaporative coolers, and controls for industrial, agricultural, commercial, and residential use, and the eye-catching name isn’t the only thing that makes them distinctive.

NAM Director of Photograph David Bohrer recently went to the BAF facilities in Lexington, Kentucky to take a closer look.

When you arrive at the campus, a herd of yellow donkeys on the lawn serves as a reminder that this is no ordinary company.

For a place called Big Ass Fans, the facility requires some very small and careful work. Here an employee gets up close with a circuit board.

Here, an employee is putting the finishing touches on the drive for a large industrial fan model.

As promised, the company does make some Big Ass Fans. Here, an employee works on the product that gives the business its name.

Hang on, maybe it’s this product?

We spoke too soon.

BAF says: “We take great pride in making products that deliver comfort to people worldwide,” said BAF Public Relations Director Alex Risen. “It means a lot as a manufacturer knowing everything we touch is going to help someone do what they do a little more comfortably.”

Business Operations

Nexteer Displays Advanced Manufacturing in Action

Get the Latest News

Sign up here

Would you like to see the latest advanced technologies exhibited and explained for your benefit, all without leaving your office? The NAM’s Manufacturing Leadership Council’s virtual plant tours provide just such an opportunity, taking you inside cutting-edge processes and complex systems at manufacturing facilities across the country. Most recently, the MLC dropped in on Nexteer Automotive, where tour participants got to see its innovative Digital Trace Manufacturing™ (DTM) System in action.

Who they are: Nexteer specializes in electric and hydraulic power steering systems, steering columns and driveline systems, as well as advanced driver assistance systems and automated driving-enabling technologies. The company serves more than 60 customers around the world, including BMW, Ford, GM, Toyota and Volkswagen.

What is DTM? Nexteer’s DTM System connects and standardizes the company’s entire operations—including thousands of data-production components in 27 manufacturing plants around the world. To showcase the system’s capabilities, Nexteer took tour participants inside its Saginaw, Michigan, site, which includes six manufacturing plants comprising 3.1 million square feet of manufacturing floor space.

Tour highlights: Participants learned about the complexities of running a large-scale automotive component manufacturing plant, as well as how Nexteer uses the DTM System to maximize efficiency.

  • Nexteer team members explained how they design and program machines for data processing, showing how they determine where data will be sent and how they use barcode scanners and other methods to track components’ serial numbers.
  • Participants also got a virtual walk-through of Nexteer’s tracking system, which follows material from receiving and shipping through the production line with single-box precision. They also learned how Nexteer uses its Center of Analysis to correct any issues that arise.

Why it matters: It’s one thing to have a large system collecting data, and it’s another to be able to use that data effectively. The Nexteer virtual plant tour provided participants with practical takeaways, which will help them adopt similar innovations at their own facilities—for the benefit of employees, customers and shareholders alike.

Coming soon: Don’t miss the MLC’s upcoming tour of Johnson & Johnson’s facility on Wednesday, Dec. 1, from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. EST. You will see how Johnson & Johnson uses mobility tools, advanced robotics and material handling and adaptive process controls to improve its operations. After the tour, stay for the panel discussion on how to scale advanced manufacturing technologies to create a sustainable, reliable and adaptable product supply. Sign up here.

Business Operations

Fortune Brands Puts Sustainability Front and Center

Get the Latest News

Get involved

When it comes to making strides in sustainability, Fortune Brands Home & Security knows the power of small, steady steps. The company works to improve sustainability in a wide variety of ways, from water conservation to the recycling of ocean plastics and wood. We talked to two of its leaders recently to get the inside scoop.

Mission Moen: In 2020, the company launched Mission Moen, its commitment to conserving 1 trillion gallons of water by 2030. To meet that goal, Moen has employed cutting-edge innovation, explained Fortune Brands Global Plumbing Group Chief Marketing and Innovation Officer Mark-Hans Richer.

  • Its Flo by Moen, for example, is a “smart water security system” that, through a mobile app, standalone sensors, detectors and other tech, allows consumers to monitor their water usage—and detect leaks they may not even know about.
  • “There is an immense amount of water that’s wasted every year in the United States … due to lack of knowledge,” said Richer. “Flo by Moen allows users to see where water use is any minute of any day.”

 “The key to saving water is in small fixes,” Richer emphasized. For example, “a faucet that has a little bit more managed gallon-per-minute flow can add up over the course of its use … to some pretty substantial savings.”

 Cleaning up the oceans: The second pillar of Mission Moen is the company’s commitment to cleaning up the world’s oceans—specifically, 2,000 tons of plastic that’s currently floating in them.

  • “We’ve found a lot of very useful, interesting things” that can be made with ocean-recycled plastic, Richer said. These include product packaging and components in showerheads.
  • “When you commit yourself to a large goal, then you start to look for ways” to meet that goal, he continued.

Recycled wood and plastic: FBHS’s dedication to conservation extends throughout the company. Recycled wood and plastic are used to create its Fiberon Balance composite decking, Fiberon President Fenton Challgren told us. It’s a complex process:

  • First, there is an “intensive search … for the right plastic, which comes in bales by the truckload,” said Challgren.
  • The company then must “sort the contaminants, contain them, grind them, get them into different extruders … and create a stable pellet” that can be used for the decking, he continued.

What should manufacturers learn from FBHS? Manufacturers seeking to reduce the size of their company’s environmental footprint should think of these efforts as a long-term investment, according to Challgren.

  • “On the water recycling side, have a really robust filtration system,” Challgren urged. “Spend the money, get the technology. It’s a big investment, but if you’re doing any type of high-volume water usage,” it will be less expensive in the long run.

The last word: As Challgren summed it up, “The impact your company could have by going down this path … will be worth it both financially and for the greater good.”

News

How IPAK’s Diversity Sustained It Through COVID-19

Get the Latest News

Get involved

When COVID-19 swept through Camden, New Jersey, it hit the kit and packaging manufacturer IPAK very hard. The majority of IPAK’s nearly 100 employees are women and people from underserved communities, and like many other similarly situated groups, they suffered from particularly high case rates and economic disruption. But it was the company’s long commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion that helped it get through this global disaster—and even allowed it to thrive.

We spoke to IPAK CEO Karen Primak about all the company did to safeguard its employees and serve its customers. Here’s what she told us.

Keeping employees safe: The early days of the pandemic were terrible; the company had four employees in the hospital on respirators “right from the beginning,” says Primak. But IPAK responded swiftly and comprehensively:

  • IPAK created an extensive COVID-19 action plan to prepare, inform and assist employees. This included an “ambassador” program so team members had a point of contact to ask about their virus-related concerns and receive answers and resources in the five different languages that employees speak.
  • The company rearranged schedules to allow workers without childcare to be home when needed. Managers spent an hour or two every morning discussing how they could accommodate everyone.
  • IPAK stayed current with the latest science and data, so that it could react quickly to the fast-changing pandemic. The company instituted an evolving set of daily cleaning protocols, social distancing measures, remote work provisions, masking and face shield requirements, vaccine information sessions and regular COVID-19 testing.

All these measures allowed IPAK to remain open and continue to deliver high-quality solutions to its customers throughout the pandemic. And here’s one last impressive detail: “We didn’t furlough or lay off anyone,” said Primak. “Despite all the craziness and the disproportionate impact on our employees and revenue, we remained committed to employing our workforce during this awful time.”

The “secret weapon”: How did IPAK cultivate the flexibility and dedication necessary to get through a global pandemic?

  • “Diversity, equity and inclusion have been our secret weapon,” Primak said. “If you hire people like you, all you get back is you. IPAK is equipped with a range of voices and perspectives, which helps us innovate and creatively solve problems. Our commitment to put employees first and understand their needs allowed us to come together and stay operational during such a difficult time.”

Success during upheaval: IPAK also went above and beyond for its clients, including nonprofit educational-content provider ACT, maker of the well-known college-entrance exam, whose supply chain was upended by COVID-19.

  • ACT was faced with shipping disruptions, shuttered test centers, constantly changing local conditions and testing center capacity constraints. It needed an agile partner who would be able to move quickly, adjust schedules and innovate in real time.
  • As a result, ACT pivoted early in the pandemic and massively expanded its contract with IPAK to include the handling of secure paper-based processing, which includes creating kits and manufacturing and distributing the ACT test.
  • Amid all this disruption and change, IPAK stepped up. Its staff worked tirelessly with ACT to deliver more than 2 million college-entrance exams during the pandemic.

“We worked nights and weekends and even hand-delivered some test booklets to make sure they arrived on time,” said Primak.

A great partnership: “We were the vendor that was willing to make huge and necessary changes alongside ACT during the pandemic so that many deserving students could take the ACT and benefit from the opportunities afforded by their hard work,” Primak said.

  • “IPAK asked so many questions about our organization and offered a unique process optimization perspective,” said ACT CEO Janet Godwin. “It was clear they had deep knowledge of the education marketplace and cared about our mission—not just their bottom line. IPAK knocked its first assignment out of the park, catalyzing ACT to outsource additional critical programs to IPAK.”

NAM involvement: Primak also credits the NAM’s work with Congress and the administration with helping IPAK survive and succeed. She is grateful for government programs such as the employee retention tax credits, economic injury disaster loans and Paycheck Protection Program loans, which the NAM advocated for, and said that without such help, the company “wouldn’t be here.”

The last word: “Helping people achieve success and ensure equity, access and opportunity for all” is ACT’s mission, said Primak. It’s that type of commitment to equity and inclusion that also motivates IPAK’s whole team, in good times and in pandemics.

The NAM and The Manufacturing Institute are committed to increasing diversity and inclusion in the manufacturing industry. Visit the NAM Pledge for Action page to make your own commitment today.

View More