From custom to customer

March 1st, 2017 / By: / Editorial

Manufacturing USA—the new name for the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation—has established nine manufacturing innovation institutes, with six more planned in 2017. These public–private partnerships each have distinct technology focus areas but work towards a common goal: to secure America’s future through manufacturing innovation, education and collaboration.

The mission of the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA) Institute, based in Cambridge, Mass., is to lead a domestic manufacturing-based revolution and transform traditional fibers, yarns and textiles into highly sophisticated and functionally integrated network systems. To that end, AFFOA is assessing current and future workforce needs.

“Our first task is to understand what models have been successful,” says Noah Lillian Drori, AFFOA’s director of education and workforce development. “The needs in a situation where the same machines and processes are being used, but new materials are going through them, are completely different from the needs in a situation where there are new machines, new techniques and new technology considerations.”

In Part 2 of our 2017 State of the Industry report (page 47), IFAI’s market research manager Jeff Rasmussen says: “Innovation permeates every aspect of a business—the technologies, markets served, products and services created and delivered to increasingly demanding customers.” In “Fewer, faster, finer” on page 61, CEO Michael McKeldon Woody discusses how Trans-Tex LLC has adapted to changing customer demands. On page 66, IFAI Japan executive director Kikuko Tagawa points out the ongoing development of high-performance, high-function and “friendlier” fabrics in Japan’s recent economic growth.

Ongoing innovation isn’t a new concept in the specialty fabrics industry, and neither is the need for a skilled workforce, probably the two most pressing issues (or opportunities) now facing most manufacturers. It will be interesting to see how these two forces interact: will the expanding impetus on manufacturing innovation bring 01 interest in these jobs from potential employees? And if so, will the kinds of skills needed fundamentally change the kinds of manufacturing we now have?

Some years back (okay, a lot of years), I wrote about a 1955 story by Walter Miller entitled “The Darfsteller,” in which an aging actor is fighting the use of centrally controlled robots on the stage (replacing human actors). He asks a friend, bitterly, how he would like it if his craft was taken over by black boxes. “I’d get a job making black boxes,” his friend replies.

I’ve had some time to think about that answer (okay, a lot of time), and now I find it somewhat facile on the face of it. Because a job can be done by a machine doesn’t mean that it should be. Deciding which jobs should be may ultimately define our manufacturing future.

In Miller’s story, “darfsteller” is defined essentially as a “self-directed actor.” In our June issue focus on innovation, we’ll be talking to a lot of those. What’s your story?

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