Skip the Beach--Head to the Assembly Plant!

March 5, 2012
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Spring break is right around the corner, and many families, especially here in the Midwest, will be heading to warmer climes to thaw out.

As tempting as that might be, allow me to offer an alternative—a factory.

Yes, I know, you work in a factory every day. You go on vacation to escape the factory. But hear me out.

Despite an unemploy­ment rate hovering around 8.6 percent, U.S. manufacturers face a significant talent shortage. A recent study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute found that 5 percent of manufacturing jobs remain unfilled simply because people with the right skills are not available. That translates to 600,000 available U.S. jobs.

Part of the problem is that we’re producing too many graduates with liberal arts degrees and not enough people with technical and vocational skills.

Manufacturing also suffers from a poor public image. Although most Americans consider manufac­turing important, a Deloitte study found that less than 20 percent of parents think there’s a future for manufacturing or would encourage their children to enter manufacturing-related fields.

This image of manufacturing does not match reality, of course. You know manufacturing isn’t “dumb, dirty and dangerous.” You know manufacturing can be a rewarding and challenging career. But do your children?

If the nation’s factories are to be assured a steady supply of skilled workers and engineers, we must get young people jazzed about manufacturing. Taking a factory tour is a great opportunity to do just that. They are a fantastic learning experience, often with an opportunity to sample the products right off the assembly line.

Many factories offer regularly scheduled tours, and many others are happy to provide tours by appointment.

WeGoPlaces Tourism has recently posted 80 factory tours to its travel Web site. Located across the United States and Canada, the tours include Airstream trailers in Jackson Center, OH; Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Waterbury, VT; American Whistle Corp. in Columbus, OH; BMW in Spartanburg, SC; Boeing Commercial Airplane in Mukilteo, WA; Cape Cod potato chips in Hyannis, MA; Crayola crayons in Easton, PA; and Fender guitars in Corona, CA.

Another good source for factory tours is the travel guide, Watch It Made in the U.S.A., compiled by factory-tour experts Karen Axelrod and Bruce Brumberg. Their guide contains info on more than 300 factory tours.

Most tours take less than two hours. When planning to attend a factory tour with a large group, be sure to call ahead to make a group reservation. Individual visitors or small group walk-ins usually don’t require a reservation. Be sure to check the tour hours. Many tours are seasonal, or limited to week days. Some factory tours are free, and others require an admission fee. Fees may vary depending on the group size.

Heading to Europe this summer? Why not break up the endless array of cathedrals, castles and museums with a visit to an assembly plant? Volkswagen’s transparent assembly plant in Dresden, Germany, is an eye-popping experience.

If you know a factory that offers tours, share it with us. What do you think? How else can we get our children interested in manufacturing careers?

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Teachers & counselors should tour plants, too

March 7, 2012
Some good tour suggestions in the article. Maybe more importantly than getting kids into these facilities, we need to get educators and guidance counselors in the door. They tend to be leading the charge, with an assist from parents, to push kids away from manufacturing careers. —Mike Monnier, Field Service Supervisor, BarSplice Products, Dayton, OH

March 7, 2012
The only way I would suggest a manufacturing job would be one that required an ME, IE or EE degree. I wouldn’t suggest a job on the production floor. Been there, done that. Today’s world of manufacturing is entirely different than it was 20 years ago—for the worse. But they say it gets worse before it gets better. Time will tell. Although technology has improved greatly, working conditions have not. —Thomas Fowler, Planned Work Specialist, Walt Disney World, Orlando, FL

Inspire your kids!

March 8, 2012
From a young age, kids need to be exposed to creative products such as Lego, Tinker Toys, Erector Sets, model cars, etc. Anything to nurture their creative instincts and visualization. We, as parents, must also ignite their curiosity and learning when the opportunity presents itself by talking about things around the house, how they work and how they were made. A point I make to students is, “Most everything you see was made by a machine. And every machine is made by another machine.” Yes, exposure to any facility where they can see how things are made is usually an unforgettable experience. Also, if you work in an applicable environment, you should find the opportunity to show your kids the exciting things done at work. The reality will hit closer to home, and your workplace will be something they will picture and keep in their minds. As they get older, students need opportunities such as co-ops and summer jobs to give them exposure and experience to choose their career path. Looking to the future of our businesses and the future of our kids, we need to create opportunities to promote interest and possible careers. —Don Millitello, engineered systems sales manager, Streamline Automation LLC,Huntsville, AL

Take the factory to the kids

March 8, 2012
We decided to take the factory to the kids. I am currently in the process of creating a three-year program in robotics, process control and factory automation in the local high school. At least 60 percent of the course work is hands on. By year’s end, one class will have configured and have running a three-CNC, robotic-fed machine cell, as well as an automated inventory system with AGV transport. Basically, it’s a mini-factory. The kids are all over this to the level of working through breaks and starting prior to class start. —William Lovell, owner, c-Link Systems Inc., Lewiston, ME

volunteer for career days

March 8, 2012
Good timing on this question. I am going to represent my company next Tuesday at the local middle school for their career day. We will tell them about the company and what we do and provide them with a cool demonstration of industrial automation with a simple PLC setup and a cool industrial robot video. When I was growing up, things like this are what got me interested. —Derek Ware, process controls engineer, Gates Corp., Johnson City, TN

March 8, 2012
Check out The Edge Factor show! That really shows the excitement to be found in manufacturing! —Lori Dick, senior PR rep, Society of Manufacturing Engineers

Drafting course got me into mfg.

March 9, 2012
When I got out of the Army, the state of Washington had a MDTA course for design draftsmen, which I enrolled in. Graduation from this course got me a job at Boeing, drafting air frame parts. I kept this job and used it to put myself through school, finally graduating with an MBA. We need more vocational training jobs, giving young people more choices that lead to a solid avocation. Some states, California comes to mind, offer degrees in manufacturing technology.—Charles D. Robbins, retired, Bellingham, WA

Teens get into mfg by default

March 9, 2012
Lots of teens get into manufacturing by default. In my case, I didn’t like school, and it was easy to find a place as machinist,then a setup person, a CNC programmer and finally a manufacturing engineer. It all happened without planning, just by circumstances. —Mario Cerviani, senior manufacturing engineer, San Diego

Check out our robotics training center

March 9, 2012
In Alabama, we created the Alabama Robotics and Technology Park (, which is a training facility where you can get a two-year degree in automation and robotics. We offer daily interactive tours, in which any school or group can see robots and factory controls in action and see associates training on the latest in technology. We have equipment from nine robot vendors and two PLC vendors. We have had thousands of visitors since opening last year, and we train daily. I invite everyone to come see us and take the tour.—Art Meadows, automation & robotics trainer coordinator, AIDT, Birmingham, AL

RIA supports Nat’l Robotics Week

March 9, 2012
A lot of people care about this industry and that can be seen in the comments here. It is with a happy heart I am able to announce that the RIA is supporting National Robotics Week, April 7-15, with two webinars: “Career Opportunities in Robotics” and “Fundamentals of Industrial Robots.” We hope to attract a wide array of interest, not least of which from youngsters and the young of mind. For more info on the webinars: —Brian Huse, Robotics Industry Association

Let kids have a go!

March 12, 2012
My company hosted a 15-year-old student for two days of work experience last year. I let him see some of the robotics work we were doing, then set him loose on some simulation and off-line programming software. The speed with which he picked it up was amazing! How can we get kids interested in manufacturing careers? Let them have a go! —William Bradley

Persuade parents

March 12, 2012
Going to the schools is great, but getting to the parents is the first barrier to overcome. Need to engage and get them on board to talk about manufacturing and trades at home and take the kids to plant tours instead of Disneyland. Today and tomorrow, tradespeople will make more money, and work less hours than university graduates and have a more rewarding and stable career. If you can build and fix things, you will always be in demand.—Paul J. Zepf

Robots are the answer

March 12, 2012
My suggestion is to get kids into manufacturing through robotics. I just got a kit of Lego Wedo, and I’ll try to support the local school to organize activities around educational robotics. I’ve also written an article for engineering students: —Samuel Bouchard

Post videos to Facebook

March 12, 2012
Post videos on Facebook showing simulations running in CAD software. Then flash to the same thing running in the machine. Link the video to a site with a lot more videos. Show clean, modern, well-lit machine shops.—John Thomas

Go beyond the Three R’s

March 12, 2012
The only thing most public schools teach is the three R’s. The current system does not do anything to develop valuable skills for children who wish to work at a manufacturing job and go to trade school or engineering school. Most pricipals are bureaucrats and in-the-box thinkers who cannot move beyond their narrow scope of conventional wisdom. Students need to have alternatives right after middle school. Unfortunately, administrators do not know how to make school relevant. They do not know how to change the high school curriculum from college prep or general education into something useful for other young people.—Charles D. Robbins

Educate the parents

March 12, 2012
Get the parents to understand the value this sector offers. I know this from my own expierence. I have an MBA, but 26 years ago decided to get into manufacturing. I started with a EDM tooling company instead of going into the service business or Wall Street. A few years later, I became CEO of the company. Seven years ago, I took over Mitsubishi’s EDM, milling and waterjet program. Throughout my 25 years, I have a seen a great rise in U.S. manufacturing, from large companies to startups. I have seen the industry grow up to be a major employment venue for good-paying skill jobs that have lasting foundation. Manufacturing compaines are looking to fill good-paying jobs in medcial, automotive, mold making, tool/die, power generation, aerospace and job shops. This is one area where entrepreneurship truly can be had. The days of thinking of manufacturing being a low-level, dirty job are gone! Let children visit trade shows and see how machines work and what they do, and then know the industries that use them.—Nicolas Giannotte

Get involved in schools

March 12, 2012
Get involved in your school district and community education programs. Where I live, community education offers classes such as basic engineering building blocks, gearing & speeds, crazy robotic contraptions, etc., many starting as early as kindergarten. We also have a lot of the Lego programs, see Come high school, there is a wealth of industrial technology programs: machine tool, drafting & CAD, power mechanics, and electronics.—Cameron Anderson

Robot competitions

March 12, 2012
FIRST Robotics sponsors Lego robotics competitions for children 9-14 and more complex robot competitions for high school students. Take a look at the 2012 basketball playing robots these amazing kids have built. Stop by a FIRST Robotics competition in your hometown in March or April. All FIRST Robotics events are free and open to the public: —Cherrie Fleisher-Strauss

Start in middle school

March 12, 2012
Start in middle schools. Show teachers what manufacturing is like from chip cutting to plastics to medical. Videos and tours. • Develop education requirements for each job range. These requirements to include junior and high school courses as well as college if required. Help teachers develop programs for teaching kids. • Video or plant tours for both parents and kids. • Stress the range in jobs available: management, manufacturing engineering, information technology, machinists, assemblers, etc. These activitives should be coordinated by SME chapters. Both schools and manufacturing businesses should participate.—Bud Mann

Change pop culture

March 12, 2012
To get kids interested in manufacturing, we are rowing against the current of pop culture. Manufacturing plants, executives, and shop floor workers are all usually portrayed in an unflattering manner in movies and TV. The glamour private sector jobs are shown as working for publishing, advertising and law firms. As for the media, have you ever seen an investigative report on the news about something good happening in a factory? (If it bleeds, it leads.) We need to use kids’ existing interests as inroads that can lead to interest in manufacturing. Possible inroads: • Kids know that computers and robots are cool. • Kids like the CSI shows. (How are all those lab instruments and supplies made? What role does chemistry, physics, electronics, etc., play?) • Kids like cool cars, boats, planes, motorbikes and submarines. (The Speed Channel shows a lot of manufacturing activities. It's educational in a stealthy way, unlike the How its Made series, which is wonderful, but explicitly educational. Its audience is already interested.) • Kids like guitars, amps, keyboards, etc. (Visiting Fendor, Gibson, or the numerous low-volume custom instrument shops would be an awesome experience.) —Alan Underdown

reintroduce kids to the fun of getting their hands dirty

March 12, 2012
CNC machines being used for repeat production of parts mandates the need for programming knowledge. The fact that kids today are no strangers to computer tech is a benefit here. However, I continue to go into shops with manual mills, lathes and grinders that are still in use, mostly by the grey beards. The knowledge of fit and finesse needs to be passed on, best through hands-on experiences. The youth of today need to be reintroduced to the fun of getting dirty and the satisfaction of having created something from their own hands and imagination. The simple toys are best: Legos, Tinkertoy, Erector, K'nex. Whatever happened to electric trains and slot cars? They allowed almost immediate gratification from putting something together and watching it work (or fail; which is also a missing part of the process). As the imagination develops, it doesn't take long before moving from the provided engineered pieces to creating and mixing components to create even greater scope and accomplishment. And yes, parental involvement, support and encouragement is essential! Glad I found this discussion, as you can tell it strikes a nerve with me. My father was an apprenticed tool and die man from GM who, without a H.S. diploma, managed to get promoted into upper management and traveled the world as a consultant. The proudest I knew him to be was when he saw me following his footsteps as I moved into machine design and build. He took me on plant tours, and I thought they were Disneyland.—Kent Gabrielson

We need the “A” and “B” students

March 13, 2012
Yes, we need the “A” and “B” students. Technical school is not a place where you can just push kids through the system and get a quality person. Some are left behind because they cannot grasp the concepts. I encourage everyone to try technical training, especially women and young girls. They posess a different outlook on the career path in the technical fields. A programmer is not a troubleshooter in most cases, and a troubleshooter is not a programmer. But, with PLCs and robotics, you must be able to do both. The skill and knowledge could be life critical, and you need a well-rounded person with these appitudes to do the task.—Art Meadows

The trades are not a dumping ground

March 13, 2012
We have done an unfortunate thing over the years, treating the trades as a dumping ground for kids that do not wish to go to college. Growing up in the ’50s, my grandfather used to continually remind me that if I did not “excel,” I would wind up in a trade school with the “dummies.” I never liked his thought process and never will. But, a good many people still think like that. I am doing some teaching in a technical high school at the moment and better than half the career paths are in the trades.—William Lovell

Plant tours worked for me

March 13, 2012
Tours are a great way to inspire kids to get excited about manufacturing. This ASSEMBLY magazine article has some great examples, and getting the word out that these options are available is important. It worked for me. My parents sure believed in this. I went on many factory tours as part of our vacations growing up! FLEXcon hosts a school every spring by offering a tour and a “trade show” area that shows examples of the manufactured items our products go into. Additionally, making this a part of school culture is important, so that down the road it’s a natural part of the conversation, rather than an uphill struggle. If college programs for engineering, business and teaching communicated and worked together to ensure that future teachers start out with a collaborative mindset, the education system would be automatically tuned in to request collaboration. The student and regular chapters of SME could play a large role in creating a program that would provide success in this effort.—Shirley Monte

time to rethink our education system

March 13, 2012
Not every young person is a math, science, or computer science student. It may be time to rethink our education system. In Asian and European school systems, students reach a point where they continue on with sciences or the trades. There are ample trades where a living can be made with great success. Unfortunately, we seem to give no positive credit to a student who chooses a welding, plumbing or carpentry trade. To fill the manufacturing line, we need well-trained individuals.—James McMenamy

Manufacturing is not for knuckledraggers

March 13, 2012
Well, this sure does nail a few sore points with us knuckledraggers! I agree with you all, in that the education community has beat down the blue collar career paths for decades. No parent thinks joining the military, learning a trade, or going through an apprenticeship or technical school is as good as college. I’ve done both, and I can tell you that the prospects and rewards for the blue collar have been greater so far. We really need to rethink what we tell our kids. Manufacturing has been one of the most satisfying experiences I have ever had in my work life, and it’s a shame there has not been a way to share that with the young.—Rob Lewis

Manufacturing needs a broad range of people

March 14, 2012
I grew up in Michigan where manufacturing is a huge part of the economy. My parents come from the era where working for the car industry was a good and stable career that would carry them through retirement. The world is different now, and so is manufacturing. The reality is that our desire for variety and new technology results in short-lived products and a fast-paced turnover. This is not good or bad; it is just the evolution of manufacturing. However, it is something that the parents and educational counselors of child have yet to understand. There are a lot of hard feelings and uncertainty regarding manufacturing in Michigan, with good reason. What parents and counselors need to learn is that manufacturing is entering a new era where the desires of the consumer are better understood. The education of manufacturing engineers is more broad. Take someone like me, who went from working on the floor fabricating to receiving an education in engineering and hopefully going further to earn an MBA. So there are many types of people in manufacturing, ranging from the mechanically inclined to the business inclined. It is vital that the industry receive people that are skilled in all these areas. In my opinion it is a matter of introducing manufacturing concepts in high school as a natural progressive step to other skills that child loves. For example, shop class should have a unit in which students establish a manufacturing plan for their projects. This way, a student learns that it isn't just about making something cool, it is also sharing is with the rest of the world.—Victoria Hicks

Mfg. 2.0

March 14, 2012
Some folks say that information technlology can do for manufacturing what it has done for printing: Make it something you can do in your home or small company, without a huge capital investment. In their 1992 book, "The Virtual Corporation," William Davidow and Michael Malone predicted this trend. Perhaps the Manufacturing 2.0 enthusiasts are overreaching in their vision, but surely there's great potential. Is this not something that high school kids would like to do?—Alan Underdown

blame the media

March 14, 2012
Tough to get the kids coming out of high school to look at manufacturing as a viable career, given the ongoing reports in the press of closures and the associated unemployment. The driving factor is the parents. They read these reports and want their child to go to a university and get a "good job." If we are to continue to have a high standard of living, it is essential to have a robust manufacturing sector. Educators, parents and the kids themselves have to see the possibilities that a career in manufacturing is a good choice—stable, well-paying, and with long-term employment prospects. But it’s tough to convince folks that manufacturing matters.—Mike Breen

more reality TV

March 14, 2012
I say more reality TV. Shows like American Chopper and Sons of Guns have shown CNC machining in a very positive way. They make it "cool" and attractive to the younger generation.—Scott Brueckner

learn by doing

March 20, 2012
An interest in manufacturing can be inculcated in children during the developmental stages of life, because kids are very curious. They learn by doing. As an educator and trainer, I find it very rewarding to introduce elementary and middle shool kids to projects and programs like robotics, designing, disassembly and assembly of used equipment, computers, household items, as well as games, group projects and plant tours. When mathematics and science courses are geared towards practical applications and solutions to life problems in the real world, children are empowered to think creatively. The same holds true for teenagers in high schools as well as college students up to the graduate levels. Some of my students have gone on to own their own plants, businesses and others manage various industries. I am still open to more ideas, because I am in the process of starting a technical college that will emphasize hands-on sustainable industrial and manufacturing technologies in Ghana.—Prof. Gregory Yawson, Ph.D.

get career changers

March 20, 2012
We currently have millions of unemployed, well-educated people. I would target them first for a career change. When I taught machining, I found many people in their 40s doing exactly that. A machine shop apprentice program is much more effective than schools. Mechanical aptitude tests should be used to pick the best students for shop apprentice programs.—John Thomas

show kids CNC machining

March 20, 2012
For the past two years, our SME chapter has participated in a local STEM event called TechFest. We are very fortunate that the event is held at the local community college and they grant us access to the CNC equipment in one of the labs. We turn miniature bats out of aluminum and spend time talking to students about the need to be good with math and science to be successful as machinists, technicians or engineers. Last year, we had the added bonus of having one of the 3D printers running to show additive vs. subtractive manufacturing. It's really rewarding for the volunteers and the kids have fun and get to leave with a keychain to remember us by.—Mike Monnier

Nat'l Robotics Week

March 20, 2012
National Robotics Week is a start. At Yaskawa Motoman, we opened our labs to the local community and invited all the secondary schools, trade schools, community colleges, robotics clubs, etc., to come out and play with the robots. We are also making our engineers available to the kids for a "what do you do all day?" talk. Finally, we created an "Intro to Robotics" video that exposes the students to all manner of robots—not just industrial—to let them see the great future in store for those that choose automation or manufacturing as a career. The video is being distributed to all our field people, and they will show it a their local schools and robotics clubs. We encourage all stakeholders in robotics (suppliers, integrators, users, educators, hobbyists) to do likewise and support NRW during the second week of April. If not this year, then certainly in 2013.—Erik Nieves

host shop classes

March 20, 2012
We host a local high school's "shop" classes for a yearly tour. The group size has grown consistently. This year we're expecting nearly 60 kids (juniors & seniors). Not bad for a school with approximately 200 per graduating class.—Troy Billet

the dregs of society

March 20, 2012
We as a nation have preached college to our kids now for three generations. Now you ask, how do we get them interested in trades? It is like asking them to become second-class citizens. Not everyone is cut out to go to college. Kids consider themselves a failure when they are forced to take a job they consider menial. We have done it to ourselves. Then when we get the dregs of society in our apprenticship programs, we cannot understand why they bust the drug tests, don't show up on time if at all, and cannot execute any more than watching nuts fall into a bin. I’m highly generalizing, of course. There are some good students in apprenticeships. But, too many good students are off at university.—Jonnie Enloe

Make Manufacturing Sexy

March 20, 2012
It's great to see that more and more people are talking about this very important subject. Manufacturing is the life blood of a prosperous economy and it needs to be promoted on a much greater scale than it currently is. There's lots that can be done. My business partner has just written a book: "How To Make Manufacturing Sexy." It is a real eye opener. You can check it out on her blog: —Heidi Garcia

bring back shop class

March 20, 2012
Bring back shop class (wood & metal working) to middle school & high school. Too many educators have eliminated these classes and added additional foreign language classes. When my daughter started middle school, I was shocked that those programs were eliminated. I still remember my metals class experience from high school after all these years, but do you think I remember a particular English class or social studies? Nope.—Donald Bryans

apprenticeship programs

March 20, 2012
There appears to be a deminishing interest in manufacturing and the skilled trades in the past 10-20 years. Budget reductions in high school vocational programs have had some impact. There has been an increasing trend for manufacturing jobs transferring to foreign markets due to lower wages. Job security has been an issue. I feel there are still terrific opportunitites in manufacturing within the United States. I am employeed by an automotive components manufacturer that is struggling to hire skilled technicians. I agree with the idea of plant tours. I plan to offer such tours to our area high school and technical schools in the near future. We have recently reviewed the curriculum of some of our local technical intitiutes and determined there are a few gaps we would like to see closed with regard to our particular needs. We are hopeful to gain their support though we understand acreditation plays a factor in some programs. I am fortunate to work for a company that invests in its employees. We have an internal education program for several technical areas including a strong apprenticeship program for maintenance and machine shop trades. We need to be creative with ideas to attract this generation to manufacturing. Think outside the box!—Christopher Brinley

Autodesk Tinkerbox!

March 20, 2012
Autodesk Tinkerbox! You may say it's just a game, but it really gives kids (and adults) an opportunity to see how things come together and what it takes make those parts come alive. Great educational tool to get kids excited about manufacturing. —Jordan Parker


March 20, 2012
Jordan, I had to try the app. It is very clever. I can see it sparking interest in CAD/CAM careers. The only education I have seen that delivered someone who could quickly absorb everything a machinist has to understand to be proficient is mechanical engineering. The ME degree teaches about metal and how it responds when you apply cutting and bending forces to it. (By the way, I have never met a recent graduate with a ME who would not practically die to learn hands-on machining, especially CNC.) Learning to use a computer to post CNC code is only part of the equation. The programmer also has to select the correct tools and work-holding. They also have to select the correct sequence of operations to deliver a stable manufacturing process. Some CAD/CAM people who do not have hands-on machinist experience will do some of the following. Rough then finish features, then rough some more, in stainless steel or high temp alloys. Therefore, deforming the features already machined. They will also produce an expensive process because they do not have years of experience which helps them see the most simple accurate way to process a machined part. The best CAD/CAM people I have worked with were journeyman machinists. Conversely, the worse were people who had taken all the CAD /CAM courses but did not understand the physics of metal. We need to be careful when encouraging young people to get into this industry. If they are not going for an ME degree, I advise them to find a machinist apprentice program.—John Thomas



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