Business Operations

At a time when breaking news and shifting policy environments move faster than ever, our members benefit from innovative programs that keep them at the forefront of the manufacturing industry and support their bottom line.

Business Operations

How a Manufacturer Brought 3D Printing into the Foundry

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When you think of 3D-printing, you probably don’t think of metal casting. But in fact, 3D-printing has been a huge help to foundries—thanks in large part to one Ohio-based company, Humtown Products. In 2014, the family-owned business decided to try using 3D printers to create castings for engine blocks in cars, trucks, construction equipment and aerospace technology. Since then, Humtown has led an industry-wide transformation of metal casting and will be recognized at the 2020 Manufacturing Leadership Awards in October for commercializing 3D printing in the sector.

How it works: Ordinarily, metal casting involves creating a tool or pattern from materials like plastic or wood, then packing sand tightly around the pattern to form a mold. Then workers pour metal into the mold, creating the finished component. But with 3D printing technology, Humtown can skip the tooling stage entirely, printing the sand mold through software commands instead.

How they did it:  Back in 2014, there were only a few sand-casting 3D printers in north America. They were mostly used for prototyping and cost two million dollars each. Because the technology hadn’t been widely used, Humtown struggled to find a bank that would finance a loan. The company ended up working with America Makes—a program launched by President Obama—and partnering with local schools like Youngstown State University and the University of Northern Iowa, which was primarily using the technology for prototyping at the time.

Brandon Lamoncha, who is now Director of Additive Manufacturing at Humtown Products, spent three years traveling to and from Iowa to study the technology, while also traveling to foundries around the country to spread the word about 3D-printing. He made the case that a new wave of technology was coming—and that, if American foundries didn’t embrace it, they would be left behind the curve and possibly out of business.

“When we got into this game,” Lamoncha says, “you could count on one hand the number of 3D sand printers in North America. Now there’s 40 or 50.”

The benefits: The technology has been effective for a number of reasons.

  • It’s faster: Using traditional methods, it might take 18-20 weeks to develop the tooling to make a cylinder head for a customer’s car. Now, Humtown can receive the data they need on a Friday, run their printers over the weekend and start pouring metals on Tuesday or Wednesday.
  • It’s more efficient: A lot of machining involves subtractive technology; for example, you might take a hunk of aluminum, carve out what you need and discard what you don’t. With 3-D printing technology, Humtown is using additive manufacturing instead: they’re starting with nothing, and building only the things they need.
  • It’s powerful: The technology allows the metal casting industry to make parts that were once too complicated to make using conventional processes. For example, complex volutes for pumps were made in sections in the past—but 3D printing allows the parts to be made all together.
  • It’s creative: 3D printing allows Humtown to produce novel designs that weren’t possible to make with tooling. Now, the company can take full advantage of the creativity of their engineers.

The result: Six years ago, 3D printing was used in less than 2 percent of sales at Humtown. Today that number has risen to 40 or 50 percent.

The last word: “In hundreds of years, nothing has been this big of a paradigm shift,” said Lamoncha. “Humtown has been around since 1959. Casting has been around since the Egyptians, and not a lot has changed in the metal casting industry. This kind of change? This is amazing.”

Business Operations

NAM Health Care Helps Small Manufacturers

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When Litko Aerosystems’ health-care provider increased its rates by double digits — again — CEO Ken Litko knew he needed another option. That’s when he signed his business up with NAM Health Care, an association health plan created by the NAM, Mercer and UnitedHealthcare®. The plan allows manufacturers with fewer than 100 employees to band together in order to purchase affordable coverage that is usually available only to larger manufacturing companies.

The good stuff: NAM Health Care gives small and medium-sized businesses a bunch of great reasons to join, including:

  • Comprehensive benefits: NAM Health Care offers a range of benefits, including health insurance, vision coverage, dental benefits and life insurance policies.
  • Lower costs: NAM Health Care plans may help manufacturers save on their annual health insurance costs and help employees save on premiums.
  • Access to health tools: NAM Health Care provides access to UnitedHealthcare’s largest preferred-provider organization networks. It also offers access to Mercer’s Multiple Employer Solutions suite, which is a one-stop shop designed to make the benefits buying process easy for NAM members and their employees.
  • A tailored experience: NAM Health Care is designed specifically for small to medium-sized manufacturers. Instead of forcing employers and workers to hunt around for the kind of coverage that works for them, NAM Health Care prioritizes manufacturers’ needs and interests.

How it works: NAM Health Care is operated by the plan’s Governing Committee, which is made up of mostly small and medium-sized manufacturers. The committee manages the NAM’s medical, dental, vision and life plans with the support of Mercer and UnitedHealthcare.

Why it matters: At a time when manufacturers are seeking millions more skilled workers, a strong health benefits program may help attract and retain talented people. According to a study by marketing agency Fractl, which was featured in the Harvard Business Review, 88% of respondents would give health coverage “some consideration” or “heavy consideration” when job hunting (the highest ranking in the study). With NAM Health Care, manufacturers can offer excellent benefits to current and prospective employees.

The last word: According to Litko, “We were looking for a reduction in overall cost, and we were looking for a reduction in employee costs. . . . Looking at what we have currently, I’m definitely glad we changed when we changed.”

Check out the plans here.

Business Operations

Manufacturers Take Advantage of Federal Liquidity Programs

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The NAM released the results of its most recent Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey today. Manufacturers reported a boost in optimism—up from 33.9% in Q2, which was the lowest reading since the first quarter of 2009. The survey also found that a significant number of manufacturers used the federal liquidity programs that the NAM advanced early in this pandemic. The data shows:

  • 72 percent of manufacturers that faced negative cash flow impacts due to COVID-19 used the Paycheck Protection Program, Main Street Lending Program or other liquidity program.
  • Nearly 92 percent of manufacturers that used federal liquidity programs said those funds were helpful in keeping their business afloat, retaining workforce or meeting other necessary expenses.
  • 66 percent of manufacturers are positive about their company’s outlook, a great improvement from the Q2 results. Still, the outlook remains below the historical average of 74.4%, and 62% of manufacturers expect their firm’s revenues will not get back to pre-COVID-19 levels until 2021 or later.

Additional context from NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons: “Congress and the administration have acted on more than five dozen of the policy provisions that the NAM made in our ‘American Renewal Action Plan’ and other recommendations. Without the bipartisan relief legislation signed into law earlier this year, this rise in optimism would not have been possible. But for our industry to truly recover and to keep our economy growing, further bipartisan congressional action is needed.”

You can find the full survey here.

Business Operations

Manufacturing Sees an Increase in Job Openings

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) for July, which shows the persistent gap between open manufacturing positions and available skilled workers—even amid a pandemic. According to the survey, the manufacturing industry saw 408,000 manufacturing job openings in July—an increase of more than 60,000 jobs since the prior month and the best result since February, before widespread COVID-19 restrictions came into effect.

A few more numbers:

  • Nonfarm business job openings rose from 6,001,000 in June to 6,618,000 in July, which was also the strongest pace since February (7,004,000).
  • Net hiring remained weak, with manufacturers taking on 321,000 workers in July, down sharply from 432,000 in June.
  • Nonfarm business layoffs decreased from 1,995,000 in June to 1,721,000 in July, which represents the slowest pace since March 2019 (1,698,000). Meanwhile, layoffs in the manufacturing sector declined from 184,000 to 157,000.

What the numbers mean: According to NAM Chief Economist Chad Moutray, “This suggests that firms are once again increasing their interest in adding new workers, even as the sector attempts to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic and the overall labor market has changed dramatically.”

Related: Applications for state unemployment benefits failed to decline as expected in July, Bloomberg reports.


Say “Ahhh”: A Manufacturer Makes It Safe for Dentists to Reopen

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What do you do when a pandemic shuts down your customers? That was the problem faced by A-dec, a manufacturer of dental equipment and supplies based in Oregon, when dentists nationwide closed their doors back in March. 

In A-dec’s case, they developed products to help their core customers come back safely.  

The problem: Dentists and hygienists are at particular risk of contracting COVID-19 while treating patients, because their jobs require proximity to their patients’ open mouths.   

  • Dentists also use loupes with lights and magnifiers to see inside patients’ mouths—but wearing medical masks and traditional face shields makes it difficult to wear lighted loupes as well.  
  • Meanwhile, traditional face shields are open at the bottom—and because dentists work on patients who recline right below them, those shields provide limited protection. 

The solution: A-dec’s engineers got to work designing and producing a unique face shield for dentists that fits around the collarbone and opens upwards, providing a barrier between dentists and patient. The shield also leaves additional space around dentists’ eyes so they can use lighted loupes 

Image courtesy of Remote Area Medical

The process: The same pandemic that made this work necessary also made it difficult. A-dec had to overcome a series of complications:

  • Research and development: COVID-19 made the company’s customer focus groups impossible to do in person, so it designed and conducted remote focus group sessions. 
  • Sourcing of materials. Shortages and supply chain disruptions also caused problems, with some commodities becoming unavailable at the last minute. That meant A-dec faced delays and had to find alternate sources of materials at times 
  • Product construction. Like many other manufacturersA-dec had to figure out how to keep remote workers and on-site, socially distancing workers in sync with each other—all while creating a new product in record time.

By working around these setbacks and streamlining its processes, A-dec was able to go from the initial idea to the beginning of production in just two months—an extraordinary achievement.

The last word: According to A-dec Vice President of Manufacturing Wesley Snyder, the company benefited from its familiarity with medical regulations—but that doesn’t mean non-medical manufacturers can’t make a difference. “Everything is made by somebody, and the manufacturing industry is uniquely positioned to make tangible contributions to society in a crisis like this,” he said. So find those new points of need, and align them with your capabilities. 

Business Operations

A Moose That Keeps You Safe: A Visit to a Sign Manufacturer

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moose inside a factory would usually be a major hazard—except when it’s on a COVID-19 safety sign made by LEM Products, Inc. The custom sign and label manufacturer created a range of ingenious signs for their own facilities to keep their employees safe and healthy. 

It was aLEM’s Montgomeryville, Pennsylvania, facility that NAM staff photographer David Bohrer snapped this moose in action, along with many other safety measures. Here’s some of what he saw.  

Throughout the facility, signs remind employees to maintain social distance, sanitize surfaces and wash their hands frequentlyThese decals show the appropriate distance: six feet of space.  

And aside from the moose, there are more eye-catching reminders of what six feet looks like 

In work areas, signs at a six-foot distance ask: Can you ask your question from here? 

Employees also wear masks while moving around the facility. 

In the break room, dividers create distance between workers eating lunchAnd another animal friend is here to help! 

Near high-touch points such as light switches, there’s a reminder to wash your hands.  

Disinfecting products, such as Clorox wipes, are available throughout the facility to sanitize surfaces, too 

With these precautions in placeLEM’s employees can safely produce custom safety identifications, labels and tags for its customers. 

CEO Maureen O’Connor emphasized that as a leading supplier of safety related signage, LEM Products takes it as a duty to lead by example in all aspects of safety and hygiene. “Our response to COVID-19 was emblematic of how we always approach safety issues,” O’Connor said. “We urge all who read this to do everything in your power to protect your employees and your company in combating COVID-19.” 

Business Operations

Consumer Prices Rose in July

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The prices of consumer goods increased this past month, The Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. According to the Labor Department, the consumer price index increased in July by 0.6%—the second month in a row of upward momentum.

Still, economists think that the increase is primarily a return to form, after the COVID-19 pandemic initially drove prices to artificially low levels. A rise in gas prices fueled about a quarter of the increase, along with the cost of clothes and used vehicles. On the other hand, grocery costs went down as millions of Americans ventured more confidently outside of their homes.

Economists also don’t see a risk of either sharp inflation or sustained deflation. Instead, they’re banking on some fairly gentle inflation that doesn’t cause any real alarm.

And speaking of alarm . . . The U.K. is feeling less than chuffed as its economy recorded the worst recession of any of its fellow world powers, according to U.S. News and World Report. The British economy fell behind countries like Germany, France and the United States, contracting by more than 20%, its largest drop on record.

Business Operations

Worldwide COVID-19 Cases Reach 20 Million

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Worldwide cases of COVID-19 have reached 20 million, according to the World Health Organization, with nearly 750,000 deaths. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference that there were still “green shoots of hope,” citing successful control measures in South Asia, New Zealand and more recently Europe.

Here are some other data points as we move through yet another month of the pandemic:

The U.S.: New COVID-19 cases in America totaled less than 50,000 for the second day in a row yesterday. Meanwhile, the country has 5.1 million confirmed cases overall. Some good numbers, courtesy of Johns Hopkins University:

  • The seven-day average of new cases was well below the two-week average, at 54,409 compared to 57,433. That’s a sign that new cases are declining across the nation.
  • The one-week average was below the two-week average in a clear majority of states (37).
  • Deaths, meanwhile, are pretty similar for the one-week and two-week averages (1,051 and 1,049, respectively). Unfortunately, a handful of states are showing a rising death rate.

Children: COVID-19 cases among American kids are rising markedly, according to a new study.

  • The number of cases in the last two weeks of July make up a full quarter of all children’s cases since March.
  • While kids make up only 8.8% of cases nationwide now, they were only 2% back in April.

A caveat: researchers aren’t sure whether this rise is a product of increased infections or improved testing capacity. And fortunately, children make up only a small proportion of hospitalizations. But this data is at least concerning, as many of the nation’s children prepare to head back to school.

Business Operations

Vaccine Trials Face Diversity Issues

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As American companies race to create an effective COVID-19 vaccine, they’re facing skepticism from minority communities, according to The Wall Street Journal (subscription).

The problem: This reluctance makes it especially difficult to create diverse clinical trials that gauge whether the vaccines work safely. Public health officials say that vaccines need to be shown to work safely and effectively across all ages, races and backgrounds, and especially among the high-risk. Black and Brown Americans have been impacted disproportionately by the virus—and without their participation, an effective vaccine may face longer odds.

The solution: Companies and researchers are working with churches, minority physicians, radio programs and other media sources for communities—not to mention recruiting in places with high minority populations.

The bigger picture: Clinical trials in general suffer from a shortage of minority participants. Only 9% of participants in clinical trials for new drugs last year were Black, while whites made up around three quarters of participants, according to the FDA.

Business Operations

A Roundup of COVID-19 Vaccine News

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With vaccines being developed as fast as possible, we can barely keep up or keep you up to date. Here are some major stories this week:

  • New experimental vaccine studies from the pharmaceutical company Novavax are promising, reports The New York Times (subscription). One study saw the vaccine produce a high level of antibodies against the virus with no harmful side effects, while the other found that the vaccine strongly protected monkeys from COVID-19 infections.
  • Moderna is setting prices for its vaccine candidate, reports Reuters.
  • Johnson & Johnson announced a deal with the United States to create 100 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine—with a price tag of $1 billion, reports CNBC. Its late-stage human trials are slated to begin in September.
  • AstraZeneca will make its potential COVID-19 vaccine in mainland China, reports Reuters.

Meanwhile, distribution challenges loom large, according to The Washington Post (subscription). We’re heading toward “what is expected to be the largest single vaccination campaign ever undertaken,” but health experts and state officials have gotten little information from the Trump administration about how that will unfold—and the information they have gotten is often confusing.

As if that weren’t enough: COVID-19 vaccines aren’t the only shots we’re expecting. We’ll also be fighting the seasonal flu—and as CNBC reports, companies are making record numbers of that vaccine, too.

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