ADVANCED MANUFACTURING: Driven by technology, diversity & service

Manufacturing drives Wisconsin’s economy, with about 16 percent of all working adults employed in the industry. Advanced manufacturing, in particular, utilizes the latest technology to drive growth and meet customers’ needs.

Most companies are using advanced manufacturing techniques to improve products and processes, which means today’s factories bear little resemblance to those of 30 years ago. Workspaces are bright and clean, with employees often using computers and related technology to make products. In addition, most employees handle multiple tasks and have either completed extensive training courses or earned a degree or certificate.

“The manufacturing base is very diversified – different capacities, materials and engineering capabilities – and that sets the industry in Wisconsin up for success,” said Jerry Murphy, executive director of New North, Inc., an economic development organization of 18 counties in northeast Wisconsin.

Today, even traditional manufacturers are using market demand to shape their futures. While central and northeast Wisconsin have a long history in paper manufacturing, that sector has transitioned into other industries built on paper, such as converting and packaging. “The papermakers diversified and are now more into packaging – everything that comes after the giant paper roll,” Murphy said. “It’s amazing how manufacturing has repositioned itself.”

Energy powers manufacturing growth

Whether it’s wind, solar or equipment designed to improve energy efficiency, Murphy said companies recognize the energy sector is a growing one. The list of manufacturers involved in some way range from the state’s largest – Johnson Controls Inc., which produces equipment and controls for HVAC and security systems – to small ones like Bubbling Springs Solar in Menomonie, which makes solar thermal collectors.

Companies have recognized the importance of working together when it comes to energy. The New North launched Wisconsin Wind Works several years ago, creating a statewide network of more than 180 businesses involved in that particular energy sector.

“We have a very strong supply chain and are working collaboratively to satisfy the growing need here and overseas in the wind power supply chain,” said Murphy, adding that 12,000 jobs in the state are tied to solar and wind power. “Companies are re-tooling to supply growing markets for renewable energy equipment. It was essential to get the word out about what we have here, and creating Wisconsin Wind Works did just that.”

Advancing manufacturing forward

Big and small companies are embracing advanced manufacturing techniques and lifting the veil to raise awareness about how they’re doing business.

At Midwest Prototyping in Blue Mounds, founder Steve Grundahl said the company is expanding, recently adding four new 3D printers to help the company keep up with demand, and also expanded into a neighboring building because they were running out of room.

“We’ve been doing 3D printing since we opened 13 years ago, but back then we called it rapid prototyping,” he said. “We’ve discovered the key to success is providing great customer service and paying attention to details.”

Midwest Prototyping works with a variety of clients, from entrepreneurs to large OEMs like Harley Davidson and John Deere. “Clients come to us usually with a fairly detailed CAD model and we bring that idea to reality,” Grundahl said. “Staying tuned in to the latest technology is essential since it allows us to better meet our customers’ needs.”

Another manufacturer – Hastings Air Energy Control Inc. in New Berlin – is meeting their customers’ needs by letting them try out products before buying. The provider of in-plant air filtration systems and vehicle exhaust removal products opened an expanded technology experience center last fall to provide customers an opportunity to see how the company’s products work, said Hastings President David Bohrer.

The company expanded its former showroom by 4,600 square feet and installed the company’s newest equipment there. The center features the full suite of Hastings’ product offerings, including innovative collection and removal technology for the following application areas: grinding and sanding dust, vehicle exhaust, welding fume and oil mist. Since it opened last fall, customers have come by daily to check it out.

“No facility we know of offers such a wide variety of equipment, cutting-edge energy management technology and working examples of safety products related to process ventilation,” Bohrer said. “We’ve found that when people come in and get to try equipment out, it really helps with the sale. We can also use the space as an educational tool for not only our salespeople, but also outside groups who want to know more about how the equipment works.”

As manufacturing continues to evolve, Murphy is confident Wisconsin companies will stay competitive. “If we had just stayed in paper, we would have been in trouble,” he said. “Manufacturing in Wisconsin is well positioned for continued success.”

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