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Workforce

Growing Up on the Factory Floor: An Interview with a STEP Honoree

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Kayleigh Hogan remembers building piggy banks out of pump parts during “Bring Your Child to Work Day.” Those visits to manufacturing facilities proved to be formative: the daughter of not one, but two STEM professionals in manufacturing, Hogan is now a mechanical asset engineer at Covestro LLC and one of the honorees of the Manufacturing Institute’s 2020 STEP Awards.

“I remember seeing pumps being machined and painted on massive assembly lines,” says Hogan. “At the time, I didn’t realize that this wasn’t quite the stereotypical workplace setting, but I liked that my parents’ work had such tangible results.”

What she does: Today, Hogan manages a $14-million maintenance budget and leads vital capital projects for Covestro’s environmental control, utilities and infrastructure unit. Covestro’s core product lines include raw materials for health-care products such as specialty films for face shields and thermoplastic polyurethane for face masks, which means the company was well placed to respond to COVID-19. Covestro also produces personal protective equipment such as “ear savers” for masks and materials used in drug delivery devices, ventilators and oxygen concentrators.

The award: Hogan is one of the 130 recipients of the 2020 STEP Ahead Awards. These awards honor women who excel in manufacturing careers and act as role models to current and future women workers in the industry. For Hogan, the STEP Ahead Award confirmed that she’s making a difference in her workplace and community. She is honored to be in the company of so many other extraordinary women leading the manufacturing industry.

“It is a truly a humbling experience to see the company I’m in as a STEP honoree,” says Hogan. “The STEP Ahead alumnae community of phenomenal women is amazing, and I’m so excited to meet them in person someday. Receiving this honor also makes me realize how many other remarkable women I know that work in manufacturing who deserve recognition for all that they do.”

Words of advice for other women: “Come join us!” says Hogan. “New ideas are always needed, and fresh new faces are some of the best catalysts for change. Without diverse people and new ideas around the table, there is little hope to meet the ever-changing demands of manufacturing. Never underestimate what your ideas can bring about; your idea may just be the one thing the conversation needed to really get off the ground.”

The 2020 STEP Ahead Awards will be held virtually on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, 6:00–7:00 p.m. EDT. To register to watch, please click here.

Policy and Legal

How Trade Route Shifts Are Affecting Ports

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West Coast ports are being impacted by changing trade patterns, losing imports to the East Coast and Canada, among other competitors, according to The Wall Street Journal (subscription). Some of that shift began in 2017, after infrastructure work made it possible for larger vessels to use the Port of New York and New Jersey. Meanwhile, West Coast ports aiming to move goods east must use networks of trains and trucks that run on crumbling U.S. infrastructure.

The breakdown: Ports on the West Coast took in less than 40% of seaborne imports during the first seven months of the year, with ports on the East Coast racking up a little bit more than half.

  • Asian imports are still leaning to the West Coast, but the makeup is beginning to change. Last year, Los Angeles moved 9.4 million containers compared to 7.5 million containers for New York and New Jersey. Still, the New York/New Jersey East Coast port did become the second-busiest port in the country, bumping Long Beach, California, out of the runner-up spot.
  • Canadian ports are also getting into the game, offering cheaper transportation services that undercut U.S. costs.

Related: West Coast freight networks—including railroads and trucks—are struggling to handle demand after limiting personnel and operations in the face of COVID-19, according to The Wall Street Journal (subscription).

The NAM’s angle: The NAM has urged Congress for years to enact infrastructure reform, laying out its priorities in its “Building to Win” blueprint.

Most recently, during United for Infrastructure (formerly Infrastructure Week), Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) spoke to NAM members at an event co-hosted by Nucor Steel about Congress’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the importance of infrastructure investment. During the event the senator noted, “The most sustainable path forward on surface transportation authorization is a one-year extension of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.”

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.

Policy and Legal

Senate to Vote on COVID Relief Package

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The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a Republican-backed relief bill after a long series of negotiations between Senate Republicans and the Trump administration, according to The Hill.

What it covers: The proposed legislation likely will include the following elements:

  • A federal unemployment benefit
  • Another round of Paycheck Protection Program funding
  • More funding for COVID-19 testing and for schools
  • Liability protections

What it (probably) doesn’t include: The package is expected to come in at around $500 million, which is far short of the $1 trillion bill Republicans supported at the end of July and even further short of the $3 trillion bill the House approved. This version likely won’t include the following elements:

  • More funds for state and local governments
  • Another round of $1,200 stimulus checks, which had been included in the last Republican plan

What’s next: The vote could happen in the Senate as early as Thursday, but this package is unlikely to get the 60 votes it needs to be filibuster-proof. Democrats have said the bill is much too narrow.

A word from the NAM: “Manufacturers continue to help lead the way in the COVID-19 recovery and renewal, and so we appreciate seeing a number of our priorities in this legislation, including liability protections for manufacturers, another round of Paycheck Protection Program funding and resources for additional testing and vaccine research,” said NAM Vice President of Government Relations Jordan Stoick. “In the coming days and weeks, the administration, House and Senate have a real opportunity – and a responsibility – to put partisanship aside in order to find a consensus that helps manufacturers and all Americans.”

Policy and Legal

A Rocky Relationship Between the U.S. and China

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The U.S. is considering cracking down further on Chinese human rights abuses in Xinjiang, while President Trump had tough words about the U.S.–China relationship. Here’s an update on some important recent developments.

Human rights: The Trump administration is considering a ban on some or all products that include cotton from Xinjiang, the region where China has carried out the mass detention of mostly Muslim minorities. The order could have a substantial impact on global apparel makers.

Technology: The administration is also considering sanctioning China’s largest chipmaker, SMIC. The Department of Defense may add it to the “Entity List,” thereby restricting the company’s purchases of equipment made in the U.S. Beijing, as you might imagine, was not happy.

“Decoupling”?: In a Monday press briefing, President Trump discussed the possibility of “decoupling” the U.S. from China. “If we didn’t do business with [China], we wouldn’t lose billions of dollars. . . . It’s called decoupling. So you’ll start thinking about it,” he said.

A data security standoff: As the U.S. continues to crack down on Chinese telecommunications companies, claiming that they pose national security threats, China has developed its own set of “global standards on data security,” reports the WSJ (subscription). It’s trying to prevent the U.S. from convincing other countries to restrict Chinese access to or construction of key networks.

Canceled plans: About 100 official exchange forums between Chinese and U.S. officials have been canceled during the Trump presidency, reports Bloomberg. This means diplomats don’t know what the other side is doing on a long list of policy issues, from pharmaceuticals to tech and more.

Workforce

How to Participate Virtually in MFG Day 2020

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Manufacturing Day, and the month-long celebration of the industry it kicks off, will be very different this year now that we can’t tour factories, technical schools and more in person. But manufacturers can still do their part to show parents, teachers and students what careers in today’s advanced manufacturing really look like—via virtual programming.

In advance of this year’s MFG Day, Oct. 2, The Manufacturing Institute—the workforce and education partner of the National Association of Manufacturers—held a webinar to help manufacturers plan virtual events. Below is a quick recap.

What should manufacturers do? Don’t worry, many MFG Day hosts are still figuring this out. First, you can reach out to local associations and regional groups to see if there is an existing event that you can co-host or participate in. Second, you can consider partnering with other manufacturers in your area or industry to produce a virtual event.

If you choose to host your own virtual MFG Day event, here are a few suggestions that will make it a hit, courtesy of Manufacturing Institute Senior Director of Youth Engagement Julia Asoni and NAM Assistant Vice President of Advocacy Michael O’Brien:

  • Provide a welcome message from senior leadership.
  • Offer an overview of the importance of manufacturing to the economy in your community.
  • Lay out what your company does and give participants a sense of its career offerings.
  • Film a video tour of your facility to show viewers the technology and tools you use every day.
  • Record interviews with employees or a conversation with a panel to allow young people to hear directly from the people who work at your business.
  • Create a survey to track how the event changes your audience’s perceptions of manufacturing—for example, asking participants about their interest in a manufacturing career both before and after your presentation.

Examples from the field: During the webinar, a range of manufacturers and partners presented their plans for MFG Day:

  • Allegion will feature a full virtual experience planned through Microsoft Teams. It will provide a mixture of live and pre-recorded content, and will localize every event to ensure it’s most relevant to local students, said Allegion Reputation Management Leader Whitney Moorman.
  • Boeing collaborated with external partners like high schools, colleges and community organizations to create an effective virtual program, said Boeing Senior Workforce Specialist Justin McCaffree. Its event will include videos of employees explaining their jobs and performing specific tasks, virtual tours of the company’s facilities, and videos from manufacturing interns and students. It will also offer students the opportunity to do virtual informational interviews with Boeing employees.
  • Graco is postponing its regular MFG Day programming to spring 2021 in hopes of providing an in-person experience that will involve hands-on learning—including stations that allow participants to control robots, build keychains with lasers and learn about quality control, said Graco Corporate Communications Team Leader Charlotte Boyd. It may also attempt to do virtual events this year that could include sending kits to students and information to parents.
  • ABB is working with Edge Factor, which develops content for educators, to create a five-day virtual program that showcases science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, according to ABB Vice President for Marketing Communications Tracy Long. This will include on-demand content about each of those five disciplines as well as about “soft skills” like teamwork.
  • NWIRC developed a monthlong program geared toward 6th–12th grade students in northwest Pennsylvania. It includes a digital activity packet and the opportunity to win prizes from NWIRC for worksheets and articles, said NWIRC Marketing Communications Specialist Laurie Knoll.
  • Click Bond is in the early stages of developing content for a virtual experience. It is planning an interactive website that includes career testimonials, virtual maps and how-to videos about machines and technology, according to Click Bond Corporate Communications Manager Danielle Costella.

You can see a recording of the webinar here.

Policy and Legal

A Recap on Rapid COVID-19 Tests

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As you probably saw last week, the Trump administration announced a deal with Abbott Laboratories to produce more than 150 million rapid COVID-19 tests, per CNBC. Abbott’s rapid tests cost about $5 to make and take just a few minutes to deliver results without lab equipment. Such antigen tests are not quite as accurate as molecular tests (which are conducted in a lab), and the FDA says that doctors might find it advisable to confirm a positive result with a molecular test.

Here are some more updates on the deployment of rapid tests, which is an important development in the COVID-19 response effort:

  • The Trump administration offered more details about the shipments this week, announcing that these rapid tests would start making their way to states in mid-September, according to CNN. Most of these tests are intended to go to first responders and to help schools and daycare facilities reopen.
  • The investment has also come with an employment bump, as Abbott Labs brings on new workers to help produce the test, the Daily Herald reports. Around 2,000 employees are needed to help meet demand, and no previous experience is required for jobs that will pay $15 an hour for the day shift and $18 an hour for nights, along with a $2,500 retention bonus.
  • Yahoo! Finance reports that another rapid test maker is seeking emergency FDA approval. Roche Holding AG will launch a rapid test in September in Europe and is hoping to get emergency authorization to roll it out in the United States, too.
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