Business Operations

How to Get the Most Out of R&D

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How should companies design R&D teams and processes to create the best possible results? That’s the challenge that Babson College Professor of Innovation Management Gina O’Connor addressed in her talk at the Innovation Research Interchange’s annual conference back in June. The IRI is a division of the NAM that advances the field of innovation management by creating contemporary practices—in R&D and many other areas.

A common problem: In an extensive research project at Babson College, O’Connor worked with experts from Goodyear, Synthomer and Diageo to study companies and decipher best R&D practices. She noticed a recurring theme: R&D professionals were being used by companies to solve urgent technical issues rather than to discover and invent.

  • “In many organizations R&D has this feeling of being an order taker and of having to solve problems that are finely tuned and narrowly scoped,” said O’Connor. “That erodes confidence—and eroded confidence reduces empowerment.”

Empowerment and autonomy: O’Connor described empowerment as the authority to determine which projects and initiatives to take on and what problems to tackle. Meanwhile, autonomy refers to the authority to make final decisions.

  • So, what do R&D professionals need? According to O’Connor, most want a moderate amount of empowerment, but not complete control over what to do.
  • “We want to make sure that there’s organizational commitment somewhere associated with what we are doing, but we don’t just want to be told what to do,” as she put it.

So, what works? O’Connor explained that organizations with structureless R&D systems often had erratic decision making, sudden disruptions and unexpected changes in direction that left employees feeling powerless.

  • Similarly, organizations with R&D processes that were too formal were also alienating to employees, who felt there wasn’t any room for flexibility or discussion.
  • In contrast, the best systems included strong project leaders, consistent back and forth between the R&D group and organizational leadership, constructive communication, clearly outlined goals and trust in employees.

A last piece of advice: Training and developing project leaders is among the most essential steps in achieving successful R&D, said O’Connor.

  • “What you need to be doing as a team leader every day is checking in with every member of your team, seeing what they need, where they are, what has happened,” said O’Connor. “It has to be an interactive, interpersonal kind of a thing.”

Learn more: Head on over to the IRI website to check out more of its programs and events.

Business Operations

Manufacturers Are Getting Tough on Cybersecurity

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More companies are taking a disciplined approach to the growing threat of cyber attacks, according to a new cybersecurity survey from the Manufacturing Leadership Council. The MLC is the digital transformation arm of the NAM.

  • The survey, which included input from 160 companies, indicates a dramatic change in how seriously manufacturers consider cyber threats compared to 2018, when the MLC last conducted the same survey.

Who’s prepared: Nearly 62% of manufacturing companies say they have a formal cybersecurity plan in place, according to the survey.

  • That’s up from 2018, when barely 33% of manufacturers indicated they had devised and adopted formal cybersecurity plans that encompassed their plant floors.
  • Nearly 40% of respondents said they had a high level of confidence in their internal cyber expertise, compared with just 25% who expressed such certainty in 2018.

More attacks expected: Yet even as better cybersecurity strategies are put in place, nearly 79% of survey respondents said they expect more attacks in the next year.

  • That figure is up from 64% in 2018.
  • The most frequently cited reasons for this prediction are increased levels of cyber crime and cyber terrorism and greater connectivity in manufacturers’ operations.

The effects on digital transformation: More than half the survey respondents expressed concern that cybersecurity issues could affect the speed and scope of digital transformation.

  • 14% said cybersecurity could be a major obstacle in the next five years, with another 40% describing it as “an issue of concern.”
  • Close to half—43%—said they consider cyber a part of doing business in a digitally transformed world.

Proactive measures: More manufacturers are taking advantage of publicly available safeguards, such as the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, to underpin their strategies.

  • Nearly 58% of respondents said they have adopted the NIST framework, up from 48% in 2018.
  • 45% said they have cyber insurance, compared to the 18% that said they had it in 2018.

The coming challenge: In the past four years, manufacturers have made significant strides to combat the growing problem of cyber attacks against the industry.

  • However, manufacturers will need to stay a step ahead of cyber criminals as the number and sophistication of attacks increases.

See the survey: Review the survey findings for an in-depth look at how manufacturing leaders are thinking about cybersecurity in manufacturing’s digital era.

Get help: NAM Cyber Cover was designed specifically to provide enhanced risk mitigation and protection for manufacturers and their supply chains. Find out more at

Business Operations

How to Protect Your Company’s IP

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Safeguarding intellectual property is possible even when patents are not stringently enforced, according to James Nebus, associate professor and chair of the business department at Suffolk University’s Sawyer School of Business. He discussed the topic at this year’s annual Innovation Research Interchange conference back in June. The IRI is a division of the NAM dedicated to advancing innovation management and creating best practices in the industry.

Protecting IP: In his keynote speech, Nebus outlined several actions taken by well-known companies to defend against patent infringement in “weak-enforcement countries.”

Raise barriers: One of the most successful strategies was raising the barrier to imitation, Nebus said. Companies that have used this method to guard against what Nebus called “product knowledge leakage” include DuPont and Dow. They have taken the following steps:

  • Installed information technology defensive shields.
  • Appointed trade secret managers.
  • Conducted employee IP training.

Try a different barrier: Another way that companies have kept imitators at bay is to “bundle imitable products with complementary inimitable products,” according to Nebus.

  • This is a strategy IBM began to employ many years ago. “When computer hardware first became a commodity, IBM … transformed themselves from a computer hardware company to a solutions and services company,” Nebus said.
  • “And by doing that, they changed the parameters of the customer ‘buy decision’ from the price of the hardware to the value of the solution to their business.”

Advanced manufacturing: Another way to raise the “barrier to commercialization,” as Nebus calls it, is to use advanced manufacturing techniques that are not easily copied.

  • Apple Inc. did this well in 2008, when it came out with its ultra-light, ultra-thin MacBook Air to compete with lower-cost Asian PC vendors, Nebus said.
  • “The packaging technology that enabled that design … started with CNC, computer numerically controlled milling process, which at that time was really used for low-volume prototypes. They invested in manufacturing R&D to transform that process … to high-volume production,” he explained.
  • “The imitators really couldn’t make that big investment, so Apple separated themselves.”

Parting thoughts: Nebus ended his talk with three takeaways for the audience.

  • First, “an effective strategy consists of implementing the protection mechanisms necessary to raise one of the barriers above the abilities of the imitator.”
  • Second, companies may require different strategies for different countries, especially if some are developed and others are developing.
  • Finally, companies should decide where to locate headquarters not just “on economic factors. [Remember] to take IP risks into consideration.”

Learn more: Head on over to the IRI website to check out more of its programs and events.

Policy and Legal

Manufacturing Voters Oppose Corporate Minimum Tax

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The vast majority of manufacturing voters in Arizona disapprove of the U.S. Senate’s proposal to impose a “corporate minimum tax,” according to the results of a joint NAM–Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry snap poll yesterday.

The results: More than 90% of the manufacturing voters polled are against the tax, while 91% said it would harm manufacturers’ ability to invest in their businesses, upgrade facilities and buy new machinery.

  • Respondents also said the measure would put both manufacturing jobs and the U.S. economy in jeopardy.

The NAM’s view: “With the U.S. and Arizona economies already showing signs of weakening, this is the wrong time to further undermine growth and the manufacturing sector’s overall competitiveness,” NAM Chief Economist Chad Moutray said.

  • Moutray cited analyses by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation and the NAM that found the tax would disproportionately harm manufacturers.
  • This tax “will make it harder to hire more workers, raise wages and invest in our communities,” Moutray continued. “Arizona’s manufacturing voters are clearly saying that this tax will hurt our economy.”

The Arizona Chamber says: “In the face of record-high inflation, supply chain backlogs and a major labor crunch, now is not the time to hammer manufacturers with new taxes,” Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry President and CEO Danny Seiden said.

  • “Arizona job creators will continue to urge lawmakers to reject this manufacturers tax and instead focus on policies that encourage job growth and strengthen our state and national economic competitiveness.”
Policy and Legal

Tax Reform Bought a Manufacturer New Equipment and a Brighter Future

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The oldest forging machine at Phoenix manufacturer Valley Forge & Bolt dates all the way back to 1930. Plenty of other forging equipment was bought used and then refurbished to help the business keep down costs and maintain its generous benefits for employees. In fact, this type of equipment is the most expensive outlay of capital for the company, according to CEO Michele Clarke.

Thanks to the 2017 tax reform law, however, Valley Forge was able to buy new forging equipment for the very first time. It is “a huge game changer,” said Clarke, “when you can buy state of the art equipment.”

She said as much to Senator Kyrsten Sinema, during the senator’s visit earlier this month to Valley Forge’s facility. Along with CFO Byron Harrod, Clarke spoke to us recently about tax reform’s full range of benefits for their company—and why policymakers should not threaten the gains they and other Arizona manufacturers have made.

A small manufacturer on the rise: Valley Forge is poised to have its best sales year in its almost 50-year history, thanks in large part to the new equipment. Though the pandemic put a temporary dent in its progress, it has seen a marked jump in sales since 2017.

  • The company also boosted its employment by 15 to 20% in 2018, rising to 100 workers for the first time, according to Harrod.

Benefits secured: The company makes a point of providing expansive health care coverage, with only a nominal fee for employees. The savings from tax reform has helped it maintain this commitment to employee health, as well as its 401(k) match program.

  • Meanwhile, workers benefit directly from the increase in sales as well. The company has a longstanding incentives program, handing out quarterly bonuses once key goals are met.
  • “Every employee gets money back if we do well,” as Clarke put it.

A better place to work: The new equipment has made Valley Forge not only more productive and profitable, but also a more comfortable working environment.

  • One of the machines it purchased was robotic equipment to grind bolts. “Worst job in the company,” said Clarke. The grinding process removes forging flash so the bolts don’t cut people when handled, and it involves a lot of flying metal chips.
  • “The robot probably costs close to $300,000, and we had to build a special room,” she added. It’s taken a whole year for engineers to program and set up the machine, but the benefits are worth it—“it replaces jobs that nobody wants to do.”

How tax reform helped: In addition to the lower corporate tax rate, certain other provisions in the law were crucial to the company’s equipment purchases.

  • Take full expensing, which allows companies to deduct the full cost of equipment in the year it is bought. “We went each year [since tax reform] to the maximum for full expensing, sometimes more,” said Harrod.

What’s next? The company must keep adding new capacity, said Clarke, so that it doesn’t join the four or five bolting companies that go out of business around the U.S. each year. “We stay alive because of the technology we’ve developed, and we keep making it more advanced.”

  • The company is beginning to produce fasteners with Bluetooth or radio frequency wireless, which can transmit information about their load and whether they have come loose right to your phone.
  • It’s hoping to market these fasteners to the wind industry: “They have men who climb up the towers to tighten the bolts,” Clarke explained. “But the work life in that job is a year and a half.”
  • Thanks to the new bolts, these workers would only have to make that daunting climb when they know the bolts are loosening.

This is why even the threat of a tax increase is so damaging to manufacturers, according to Clarke and Harrod. They need to be certain that their tax burden will not go up in order to plan confidently for the future.

  • “Planning is paramount,” Clarke reinforced. “It takes maybe two years from when a customer first sees [a new product]” until they put in an order.

The NAM says: “Valley Forge is yet one more example of how the 2017 tax reform law helped to power growth for manufacturers,” said NAM Senior Director of Tax Policy David Eiselsberg. “Unfortunately, Congress is considering a major tax on the manufacturing sector that if implemented would reverse the gains from tax reform and hurt the sector’s future competitiveness. As it has done for the better part of year, the NAM will continue to fight against tax increases targeting manufacturers.”

The bottom line: When policymakers start talking about tax increases, “You start to cut back, you think about not replacing engineers who leave,” said Clarke. “You think the government is not on our side; let’s just cut back and make do.”

Policy and Legal

Book Tax Would Disproportionately Burden Manufacturers

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The proposed “book tax” in the Senate’s reconciliation bill “would overwhelmingly hit U.S. manufacturers,” according to a new analysis by the Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress’s non-partisan tax scorekeeper.

What’s going on: The reconciliation bill, the outline of which was released Wednesday by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVA), proposes a 15% minimum corporate levy, or “book tax,” on certain companies.

  • The provision is estimated to raise $313 billion, and JCT finds that manufacturers would be responsible for paying nearly half of it.

What it means: The impact would be swift and devastating to manufacturers and the economy as a whole, said NAM Chief Economist Chad Moutray, who conducted his own analysis of the bill’s effects on the manufacturing sector.

Including direct, indirect and induced effects, in 2023 alone the impact would include:

  • A real GDP reduction of $68.45 billion
  • 218,108 fewer workers in the overall economy
  • A labor-income decrease of $17.11 billion

Targeting manufacturers: “‘This is a domestic manufacturing tax, plain and simple,’” said Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-ID), who asked for the JCT analysis.

  • “Despite Democrats’ claims, the book minimum tax does not close tax loopholes. Treatment of capital investments, like those made by American manufacturers, differ for book and tax purposes—for good reason,” according to a press release from Senate Finance Republicans.
  • “Congress intentionally designed tax depreciation rules to support domestic investment. Democrats’ tax on U.S. manufacturing would eliminate that benefit.”
Policy and Legal

Exclusive: Sinema Meets with Manufacturers in Arizona, Talks Policy with the NAM

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U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) recently got an in-person look at manufacturing’s success in Arizona on a NAM-arranged tour of Phoenix manufacturer Valley Forge & Bolt. During her visit, which also featured a roundtable with manufacturers from across Arizona, she spoke with the NAM about the successful passage of historic infrastructure legislation without tax increases, the necessity of boosting semiconductor production and more.

  • During the roundtable, Valley Forge & Bolt President and CEO Michele Clarke highlighted the direct impact of the 2017 tax reforms on her ability to invest in her facility and workforce. She thanked the senator for standing against future tax increases on manufacturers and for her leadership on infrastructure investment.

The NAM caught up with the senator after the roundtable for an exclusive interview. Here is some of what she said.

Infrastructure in Arizona: “We’ve got over $5.3 billion coming just to improve our roads and bridges in Arizona,” said Sinema. “That’s critical for the work we’re doing to shorten the supply chain. The benefits of this law will be seen for years to come.”

  • “It provides a real opportunity for manufacturing businesses in Arizona to be able to utilize this energy and these dollars we’ve created to move forward, attract more companies to Arizona, and become a world leader in manufacturing.”

What’s next? “My number one goal now that this [infrastructure] bill has become law is to make sure that it’s implemented quickly, swiftly, and without bureaucracy,” said Sinema.

  • “I want to make sure Arizona is getting its fair share of dollars so that the men and women who are running and working for our manufacturing companies can put these dollars to good use and make sure Arizona retains and grows its status as a domestic manufacturer.”

Creators Wanted: “There’s a need for us to really focus on investment in our education system so that we’re training the highly qualified tradesmen and tradeswomen who can do the work of this domestic manufacturing,” said Sinema. “That’s an area where we have an opportunity to grow, not just here in Arizona but across our nation. To meet this need so we can retain our global independence and competitiveness.”

Chips: “Arizona is already a hub for the microchip and the semiconductor industry; but passing the CHIPS Plus legislation will allow us to triple or even quadruple that investment,” said Sinema. “It’s incredibly important for us—not just for the tax credit and the investment in R&D—but for the tech hubs, for the investment in science, and to help attract more companies to build semiconductors right here in Arizona.”

The last word: “Manufacturing is the bread and butter of our state,” said Sinema. “It ensures that Arizona is a hub to the nation and the entire world in making products that will power our economy for the future.”

Read more: Check out the local coverage of the senator’s visit from the Daily Independent and the Phoenix Business Journal (subscription).

Business Operations

A Summer Reading List for Innovative Manufacturers

Heading to the beach? Take along the Manufacturing Leadership Council’s summer reading list to catch up on today’s top trends in digital manufacturing while you catch some rays. With these articles, you’ll discover new ideas, technologies and best practices to give your company a competitive edge.

Workforce: Leading the Way to Workforce Optimization. As digitization changes employees’ expectations of their employers, manufacturers must adapt. Examples include options for remote work, interactive training, agile and rapid collaboration platforms, career development, work-life balance and more.

Industrial automation: Camozzi’s Autonomous Vision. Successful autonomous manufacturing will depend on the fundamental relationship between humans and machines, says Camozzi Group CEO Lodovico Camozzi, whose company makes industrial machinery. In a recent interview with the MLC, Camozzi shared his view of manufacturing’s autonomous future, including:

  • How advanced additive manufacturing approaches promise new production paradigms;
  • The importance of collaboration in driving innovation and excellence; and,
  • Why the industry must maintain a human focus in today’s digital world.

Cybersecurity: Ransomware Attacks Increasingly Targeting Manufacturers. Think your business is safe from hackers? Think again. Ransomware attacks against manufacturers are on the rise. All businesses should be on guard against cyber extortion, advises Peter Vescuso, vice president of marketing for industrial cybersecurity provider Dragos and a member of the MLC.

Supply chain: How Manufacturers Can Navigate Supply Chain Challenges.
As global supply chain woes, worker shortages and wage inflation challenges intensify, manufacturers everywhere want to know the best way to navigate them. In this article, a panel of industry experts shares top tips to sustainably and profitably overcome current obstacles.

Artificial Intelligence: AI Roadmap: How Manufacturers Can Amplify Intelligence with Artificial Intelligence. Artificial intelligence offers manufacturers a host of benefits, including better visibility into supply chains, insights from predictive analytics and the ability to quickly respond to unexpected changes in demand. A six-step road map can help manufacturers looking to integrate AI into their businesses.

5G: 5G Will Help Unlock M4.0’s Potential. 5G technology offers speed and capacity advantages to manufacturing companies. According to the MLC’s recent Transformative Technologies survey, 26% of manufacturers have already invested in 5G technology. More than half expect to invest or are considering investing in the technology over the next two years to take advantage of 5G’s benefits.

Sustainability: Overcoming Roadblocks to Advance Sustainability Programs.
The manufacturing industry is expected to improve its sustainability and keep leading the fight against climate change. However, making green changes to processes and procedures can be costly. To get the most bang out of their sustainability investments, manufacturers should focus on data-driven initiatives and indicators.

Looking for more digital manufacturing insights? Browse the Manufacturing Leadership Journal for additional information on technology, organizational structure and leadership in manufacturing’s digital era.


An Army Vet Finds a New Mission in Manufacturing

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Fernando Gonzalez grew up admiring his aunt because she served in the army—and when it came time for him to choose a career, he wanted to follow in her footsteps. He joined the U.S. Navy when he graduated from high school, working in navigation. But he still wanted to continue his education, so he eventually went to college, supporting himself by working as a security guard and later as a customer service representative for an auto company. At the same time, he joined the U.S. Army National Guard—giving him plenty to do all at once.

  • “I was doing school, work and the National Guard,” said Gonzalez. “I suppose I’ve had a kaleidoscope kind of career—lots happening all at the same time.”
  • Eventually, he decided to return to active duty and joined the U.S. Army as an industrial maintenance specialist. But when he completed his service, he found himself looking for a new kind of role.

A new path: As he was preparing to leave active duty, Gonzalez took advantage of the U.S. Department of Defense’s SkillBridge program through his local transition office. It was there that he learned about The Manufacturing Institute’s Heroes MAKE America initiative. He joined the logistics career skills training program at Fort Stewart near Savannah, Georgia—led by Heroes MAKE America and education partner Savannah Technical College—and got to work.

  • Through an eight-week accelerated training program, he learned about manufacturing while also getting hands-on experience.
  • After interviewing with a recruiter from Cargill, a global food corporation based in Wayzata, Minnesota, Gonzalez was offered a position. Today, he works at the company as an operations manager.

What is Heroes MAKE America? The MI—the workforce development and education partner of the NAM—designed Heroes MAKE America as an integrated certification and career-readiness training program that helps prepare transitioning service members, veterans, National Guard members, reservists and military spouses for careers in manufacturing. The initiative offers in-person training and remote training options, as well as career support and placement.

A positive experience: Gonzalez enjoyed the opportunity to learn about manufacturing and logistics and particularly appreciated being exposed to a wide array of careers in the industry.

  • “Heroes was great,” said Gonzalez. “We toured some plants in the Savannah area, near where I was stationed in Fort Stewart. We saw a crew ship at port, we toured a steel mill, we learned about manufacturing and logistics.”

A smooth transition: Gonzalez found that his new career had plenty of similarities with his time in the military, making it a good match for the talents and work style he had honed there.

  • “The soft skills correlate,” said Gonzalez. “You still deal with people; you still deal with some type of chain of command. You have goals for the day, the week, the quarter. In the military, we talk about missions, and that’s still what we do here. In the military we have this attitude of getting things done, figure it out. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t done it before—you figure it out and make it happen, and that’s been true here, too.”

A great job: Gonzalez has enjoyed learning new processes and applying his skills in new areas, working to maintain and operate equipment that receives, stores and loads commodities like corn and soybeans onto train cars for shipping. “Every day I learn something new,” he said.

The last word: “Manufacturing is a crucial industry,” said Gonzalez. “It has incredible opportunities at all skill levels. It’s vital to our country, to our security. And it’s not going away.”

Business Operations

What Manufacturing Leaders Learned at Rethink 2022

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Manufacturers flocked to Florida this summer to discuss the cultures, skills and technologies necessary for digital transformation at the 2022 Rethink Summit, the signature event of the NAM’s Manufacturing Leadership Council. The MLC is the world’s first member-driven, global business leadership network dedicated to senior executives in the manufacturing industry.

The big event: The first in-person Rethink since 2019, this year’s summit drew the largest crowd since the annual event began 18 years ago.

  • The conference in Marco Island, Florida, hosted some of the most innovative leaders and teams in the industry, from companies such as Pfizer, Intel, Dow, Saint-Gobain and many more.
  • Participants learned about real-world advances and shared best practices in supply chain resilience, effective business cultures, machine learning, business ecosystems and more—as explained by industry experts who put these innovations into practice themselves.

The panels: Here is a quick sample from the array of manufacturing expertise on offer.

  • A Pfizer case study: Pfizer Vice President of Digital Manufacturing Mike Tomasco explained how Pfizer Global Supply transformed itself from a digitally siloed operation to a world-class digital powerhouse.
  • Bridging the digital divide: A panel of leaders—including Graphicast President Val Zanchuk, BTE Technologies President and NAM SMM Board Chair Chuck Wetherington and Intel Senior Director of Industrial Innovation Irene Petrick—discussed how small and medium-sized manufacturers can keep up with the digital transformation occurring throughout the industry.
  • Reaching the next generation: A panel of young manufacturing leaders from Dow, Cooley Group and Saint-Gobain North America discussed what young people are looking for in manufacturing jobs, including interdisciplinary teams and lots of communications up and down the organization levels.

A week of manufacturing: The Rethink Summit was only one highlight of a week of manufacturing events put on by the MLC. The roster of events also included the MLC’s Council Day and the ML Awards Gala.

  • Council Day offers MLC members the opportunity to chart the agenda for the MLC’s next year, thus influencing how the whole industry thinks about and plans for digital innovation.
  • The Awards Gala spotlights companies and individuals doing incredible work to advance M4.0. The black-tie event honored leaders and companies in 11 project categories, plus the Manufacturers of the Year and Manufacturing Leader of the Year.
  • This year, the MLC named Pfizer CEO Dr. Albert Bourla the Manufacturing Leader of the Year, for Pfizer’s extraordinary and ongoing contributions in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

The last word: “[T]he fundamental shift in our economy to doing business digitally in all industries, including manufacturing, not only continues but is gaining greater speed and urgency,” said MLC Co-Founder David R. Brousell during an address at Rethink.

 Join us next year: Keep up to date with the MLC by visiting the website and stay tuned for Rethink 2023!

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