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Home / Business / In the shadow of an empty GM factory, Youngstown shows what production future looks like

In the shadow of an empty GM factory, Youngstown shows what production future looks like

A massive 3D printer fills the room: A 12-foot 25-foot steel plate on the floor is surrounded by 8-foot steel walls, and at the top a beam holds what looks like a giant ballpoint pen. The proprietor Michael Garvey has been the test-driving machine on large hunks of black plastic, which could eventually shape everything from a boat hull to an airplane wing.

Although 3D printing is currently only a side project for Garvey, he plans to scale his business fast. He has already fished out a plant where he can put several more of these giant room sizes printers, fed by molten plastic pellets, which he shows he can carry with trucks.

Unlike Silicon Valley, which has little experience with heavy production, this fake industrial hub has all the know-how needed to rediscover how America does things in the future.

"With our history in Youngstown, we have to learn how to adapt," Garvey said. "We have the sets of skills that we developed in an older industry, and we transfer these sets of skills to more of a digital environment from the 21

st century."

The story is one thing, but it is also Youngstown, Ohio's present, with the closure this week in Mahoning Valley's last major producer: General Motors & Lordstown Chevy Cruze Assembly, which employs 4,500 people recently as 2017 , plus thousands of others at local vendors who will also shut down as a result.

In recent years, the federal government has extinguished money in a lively collaboration between academics and industry focused on preserving US production for the next generation. And many existing companies use other new technologies to become leaner and more productive. But even if they succeed, the thousands of solid middle-class jobs that local residents can get from GM come with only a high school diploma, probably not back.

Instead, the new industry will require a smaller number of highly educated engineers, programmers and machine operators – what types of skills are currently lacking, not just in the United States, but around the world.

  A factory in Youngstown, one of the big steel towns in the early 20th century.
Garvey returned to Youngstown from a trading floor job on Wall Street in the 1980s to save his father's bronze foundry, which had suffered along with the steelworks that used to line the river. He started a company that allowed these plants to run more efficiently by measuring imprecision in the operation of their machines, thus reducing downtime.

The gigantic printer project will eventually run with robots talking to each other with little human involvement, known during the production of jargon as "Industry 4.0." It is part of a progression that started with water and steam power, advanced with electricity, leap forward with data plate, and now entails devices communicating with each other and learning alone through artificial intelligence.

It can utilize fewer people per widget produced, but the way Garvey sees it, has no choice.

"We are a society at risk," he said. "And if we don't get involved in Industry 4.0 in a significant way, we're pretty much sealed our destiny."

Silicon Valley of 3D Printing

Mahoning Valley transformation began seriously in 2012, when the number of production workers in the area began to rise from an all-time low, when the Obama administration put one of their Five National Manufacturing Institutes in Youngstown.

This was focused on a process called "additive" production – that is, 3D printing. The local business incubator, which had attempted to nurture information technology startup, pivoted to focus on advanced production. It also did Youngstown State University, which lured some of the best faculties in the field with more than $ 10 million of equipment.
  Products made from a 3D printing machine in Youngstown, where a local business incubator focuses on advanced production.
That model, bringing in federal funding and academic brain power, is one that has worked well before in developing innovation clusters and enriching communities down the line. For example, Silicon Valley could not have happened without the US Department of Defense buying the micro-chips that the Bay Area companies began to produce, or if Stanford University had not encouraged entrepreneurs who subsequently patented technologies and spun out their own companies. [19659006] 3D printing has been around for a decade now and it is still often seen as a novelty way to pump out plastic ornaments and models. People working with the technology in Youngstown saw the machines as a way of expanding and improving the region's existing industrial base, enhancing the fashion and pop-stores that still dot the city as corner prints.

Take the production of all the devices needed to make things out of metal, such as gauges, clamps, and drill bits. Traditionally, tools and other parts are molded with molds made of sand, and produce tough steel shapes that need to be ground further. They take several steps and sometimes weeks to make, can break easily and fail to handle delicate details.

Therefore, there is some start-up on the Youngstown Business Incubator that specializes in 3D printing of the molds for the tools that can take the tenth of the time – and works with major manufacturers to incorporate the process into their production lines.

In 2014, a Youngstown State graduate Zac DiVencenzo started a company called Juggerbot 3D on the incubator. He works with plastic companies as a DSM additive to adapt their products as closely as possible to the equipment the manufacturers are looking for: A quick way to experiment with and produce parts, from gearboxes to pump housings. Youngstown is an ideal location, he said, as it is less than a few hours drive from many large assembly facilities. "My partners may not be so close," DiVencenzo said, "but my customers are."
  Zac DiVencenzo, COO of Juggerbot 3D, stands next to a 3D printer.

] In addition to producing precision parts and mold for heavy production, Juggerbot sells its own proprietary 3D printer, experimenting with medical devices and surgical implants, like a prosthetic knee connector or a perfectly fitted shoe insert that can be printed to order.

Other activities on the incubator include producing spare parts for the US Air Force's older aircraft that it cannot get anywhere else, and soon 3D glasses will fit the people's characteristics based on face scanning.

The point of all these attempts is to create a flexible production base that can adapt to customer needs quickly, rather than the rigid assembly line at the now-closed GM factory in Lordstown. That the facility is configured to only produce a model of car and to switch to something else would require millions of investments, plus months of free time.

Inclusion of additive production is also a way for smaller Youngstown companies to remain resilient and make products at a lower price so that when downturns come or a large client moves away, they can swing to other markets. Factories that a large aluminum citizen producer has come in contact with Youngstown State to see if there are ways they can incorporate 3D printing.

"They know their world is going to change," said Jim Tressel, president of Youngstown State. "Don't know how. But they know, as Thomas Edison said," there's a better way to find it. ""

If Youngstown can turn into a 3D printing, it will still be smaller scale and more distributed, rather than relying on huge tent-based companies this year. It will not be so visible to the outside world, but it will be less vulnerable to the whims of a single institution.

  3D printing machines in Youngstown Business Incubator.

"Lordstown is very unfortunate. But that's what everybody sees every day," said Ethan Karp, director of a coalition of manufacturers called MAGNET. "What they don't see is the vast world of much smaller businesses in our region that are healthy and growing and improving."

Of course, there is no guarantee that the edge in additive production will turn Youngstown's fortunes. Although the site becomes a global center for 3D printing innovation – YSU hosts a worldwide technology conference in 2020 – elsewhere, technology is also pursuing, and talent competition is fierce. Therefore, the university also invests in research areas such as natural gas extraction and biomechanical engineering, just to secure its games.

"I think it's our big pile of chips," said Mike Hripko, vice president of external affairs for Youngstown State, of 3D printing. "But it's not our only stack of chips."

Fewer working hours, more robots

Although technology allows production to continue in the Mahoning valley – either through 3D printing or other advanced techniques – it will probably not be the job of dynamo that car manufacturers and steel mills was on top.

Vallourec, a French steel pipe manufacturer that employs 750 people on site for the former Youngstown Sheet and Tube factory, has automated production and removed human hands from the most dangerous parts of the process for many years.

Eric Shuster, the construction manager, said the threads used to require a team of 10 workers, but now need only seven or eight people. "It's going to be some loss," he said. "You must expect it. We do not see the growth of the head count."

  Frank Deley is president of Taylor-Winfield, a manufacturer of tools for manufacturers worldwide.
Despite technological advances that have cut down on the working hours involved in the industry, the industry says there is a great need for workers, because the economy is doing well and a generation of people entering the profession decades ago , go now. In the fall, the job search rate dropped to its highest score on record, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The lack of trained workers, in turn, fuels further attempts to push people out of the process.

Taylor-Winfield is a youth-based company with 87 people who have existed for more than a century and created tools and tools for manufacturers worldwide. It has a R&D lab with sensors and lasers that allow layers of robots to display products with almost no human touch.

"What we hear again and again is that it's hard to hire people across the country," said company president Frank Deley. "So when we figure out the process, we find out how we can automate it."

Deley hires people from local universities because they usually have family ties to the area and will not just leave for a better pay somewhere on the coast. There is a strategy many companies have had to rely on, since Ohio can be a difficult place to lure people to if they have no existing conditions there.

In recent years, the industry has taken this problem into its own hands.

Jack Schron runs a company called Jergens outside Cleveland, which produces hooks, racks and fasteners that keep things in place, from machines to concert speaker systems. The products have not changed so much, but the process of making them has. A person now has two giant machines at once, and requires specialized knowledge and extensive training at work. Schron starts people as temps, hires them if they exercise, and moves them around in the factory while learning new things.

  Larry McRae, a CNC engineer, works on the floor of Jergens, a manufacturing company in Cleveland.

He has also pressed for cooperation between manufacturers, as support for shared training programs. Their graduates may end up somewhere other than the company where they achieved their skills, but overall the pool of new recruits is getting bigger.

"We trust we get our fair share," Schron said. "We have to wake up to production not being Lordstown. It's all working together."

And what about all Lordstown employees who were laid off? Even with manufacturers complaining loudly about how desperate they are for workers, the jobs they have to offer are often very different from those that GM cuts.

For one thing, they will require more education, which is available through various state and federal programs, but difficult to implement if you are already over 50 and expect you to complete the work years at the facility. It may mean starting at the beginning, where years of seniority do not matter, and so much less than uniformed car workers did earlier.

"I think there will be some pain in this transition," said Glenn Richardson, CEO of advanced production in Jobs Ohio, the state's private sector of economic development partner. "If you have to retrain, you enter an entry position. But I think the potential is there to get back to it."

And right now there are not a lot of training programs in 3D printing, given how new the technology is.

Barb Ewing runs the Youngstown Business Incubator, and believes in the power of entrepreneurship to revive the local economy – but less is known for the power to create enough work for everyone.

"How do you prepare your society for jobs that don't even exist?" she said.

  As GM's factory in Lordstown, an iconic American job goes into extinction

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