Sign Up For Updates

Manufacturing is the engine that made America prosperous.

Modern manufacturing will play a pivotal role in our long-term economic vitality.

Welcome to

Product Design

Sports Attack: Product Quality with High Heat

  • February 13, 2015

If you ever took baseball batting practice against a pitching machine back in the 1970s or 1980s, you might be surprised at how much the machines have improved over the years. That is especially evident when viewing the machines that Sports Attack manufactures in Verdi, Nevada, which is outside of Reno.

The pitching machines of yesteryear were clumsy, easily broken, and not very representative of live pitching. Those problems have been addressed at Sports Attack by a product design team with experience coaching and playing baseball.

So when developing the Hack Attack and Junior Hack Attack machines they started with the end in mind. They have continued to improve the machines, too, with new features introduced for 2015.

Pitch location can be changed with the turn of a small handle. The introduction of a third wheel allows the machines to operate more smoothly and reliably. With a simple adjustment, the machine can shoot fungos for outfield practice. Computer controls allow for programming a sequence of fastballs, breaking pitches, and change ups. Hitters can face the same speed fastballs that they’ll see during live game action.

Not surprisingly, today’s improved machines are used in amateur leagues, high school and college ball, professional baseball, and in Japan.

But baseball and softball are not the only sports that can benefit from the company’s machines. Sports Attack has also introduced machines for soccer, tennis, football, and volleyball.

The football machine, for example, employs a universal cradle that positions the ball for passing, punting, kick-offs, and snapping. Passes, punts, and kickoffs can be sent to any spot on the gridiron. Holders and punters can practice catching bad snaps. Aluminum throwing wheel guards protect the hands of players and coaches. There is no waiting for the machine to reset, thanks to two independently operating motors. Equally impressive, the machine arrives ready for use, with no assembly required.

Sports Attack is owned by four founder/partners, two men and two men. The firm makes the machines in Nevada, and ships them around the United States and internationally.

Steinway Pianos: The Finest Tradition of Craftsmanship and Artistry

  • February 15, 2014

Model D

Steinway pianos are built by hand, with the highest level of quality craftsmanship, at the company’s factory is in Queens, New York. Such is the excellence of these instruments that Steinway has been the piano of choice for composers and artists ranging from Sergei Rachmaninoff, Gustav Mohler, Arthur Rubenstein, and Irving Berlin, to Shirley Horn, Billy Joel, Diana Krall, and Harry Connick, Jr. Such is their durability that the Steinway presented to the White House in 1938 during the Franklin Roosevelt administration is still in use there today.

The company began operation in 1871. Unlike many of the modern manufacturing stories highlighted at, this is not a story of advanced robotics and automation. The plant is modern, but has used many of the same patented procedures and practices for decades.

About 85 percent of a piano is wood. Steinway carefully selects wood that is air-dried for up to one year before it makes it into the factory, where it is further dried with a kiln to eliminate any tendency to warp or crack.

Production begins with shaping of the rim. Six men carry 20-foot strips of maple that will form the inner and outer rims of the piano. The employees then apply presses that were invented in 1880 by Theodore Steinway and whose technology is still in use today. Heat is later applied, and the glue is set. The rim is then cured for several months in a 95 degree conditioning room. A strong rim is critical, since stringing can cause up to 45,000 pounds of pressure.

Months later, the rim is sanded, and fitted with bracing, which augments the tonal projection and tuning stability. Alaskan spruce is used for the soundboard. A cast-iron plate holds the springs and is lowered and carefully fitted into the rim with attention to detail, a process that can take several hours to complete.

The piano is then strung by hand. The bridge transmits vibrational energy from the strings to the soundboard. Hammers are made in the Steinway factory and are glued to the hammer-shanks. Finally, the entire key-frame is carefully fitted into position within the casing of the instrument.

Gauges are used to measure the precise length of key depth travel. Each key is hand-tested by on-staff inspectors and adjusted as necessary. Finishes are then applied. When the manufacturing process is completed, the result is a Steinway piano that will provide decades of music and that will appreciate in value over time.

For more Great Manufacturing Stories, click here.

Haws Corporation: Water Dispensers for the 21st Century

  • December 20, 2013

Luther Haws invented the water fountain in 1906. Today, the company that bears his name is a global leader in the hygienic dispensation of water.

Haws was a sanitation inspector for the City of Berkeley in 1906, when he saw school children drinking water from a shared tin cup. That observation inspired him to design and build the world’s first drinking fountain, with the Berkeley School Department his first customer. By the time California passed a state law banning the shared drinking cup in 1917, Haws already had a thriving manufacturing business.

The company began international operations in 1972, and moved its headquarters from California to Nevada, citing the latter state’s more favorable business climate, in 1996.

Today, Haws Corporation has manufacturing and assembly operations in Sparks, Nevada, where it employs several hundred workers; and in Brazil, Singapore, and Switzerland, allowing it to efficiently serve global markets. The company remains family owned.

Drinking fountains and electric water coolers remain a part of the product line. Hygienic, eco-friendly, touch-free Brita hydration stations (which allow one to fill a cup or bottle with water without having to touch a knob or button) were introduced in 2010. The latter product delivers filtered water right from standard tap lines, and eliminates the need for bottled water. A single unit can eliminate the consumption of, on average, about 36,000 bottles of water per year, according to Tom White, the company’s president.

Emergency equipment has become another important product line for Haws. This includes eyewash stations and turnkey-tempered emergency drench showers that are American National Standards Institute (ANSI) compliant. Haws engineers are able to tailor these products for the specific needs of each customer, with a full line of mixing valves, tempered water solutions, recirculation systems, air-charged systems, and alarms available.

In terms of careers, Haws employs operations managers, electrical and mechanical engineers, plumbers, pipe-fitters, and service technicians, among others. Its customers include chemical and industrial facilities, government agencies, parks, education and cultural institutions, and even service businesses such as ski resorts. Among many awards, the company is a past winner of the Western Nevada Business of the Year by the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada.

From Luther Haws’ pioneering, original invention to today’s company that offers award-winning products in 80 countries, this is another great story in the world of manufacturing and technology.

PPG Industries: Innovation with Impact

  • December 17, 2013

Pittsburgh-based PPG Industries is a truly global company. Founded in 1883, it now manufactures in more than 40 countries and does business in more than 70. PPG’s products are concentrated in four categories: Paints and coatings, optical, specialty materials, and glass and fiberglass.

PPG’s corporate tagline is Bringing Innovation to the Surface, and in each of its divisions, the level of innovation is impressive.

In the coatings category, PPG serves industries including automotive, aerospace, marine, industrial coatings, and packaging coatings. In 2013, PPG expanded its Springdale, Pennsylvania plant to accommodate a new electronic materials manufacturing cell. The group manufactures graphene and nano-silver conductive links, which are innovative materials used in the automotive, telecommunications, and medical fields.

In the optical arena, PPG produces optical monomers and coatings, visors and goggles, photochromic dyes, and through a majority-owned joint venture, the Transitions photochromic lenses for eyeglasses.

PPG recently invested $9 million to expand its Barberton, Ohio plant, which makes optical casting resins for eyewear, coatings for passports and silica for a variety of paint and rubber products. The expanded plant will now make organic light-emitted diode (OLED) products. These thin, efficient lighting products are used in smart phones and televisions.

The PPG story began in the glass industry, and their innovation in that field continues today. For example, Dassault Aviation in 2013 announced it will use uniquely curved, lightweight glass windshields and side cockpit windows designed by PPG for the new Falcon 5X business jet. The custom-shaped windshield provides optimal pilot visibility, and uses the company’s Surface Seal coating to shed water. The windows are manufactured in Huntsville, Alabama.

Innovative glass from PPG is playing an important role in sustainable building, as well. The Bullitt Center, an office building in Seattle that has been called the “greenest” structure of its type in the world, features PPG’s Solarban low-emissivity glass and Starphire ultra-clear architectural glass. All of the building’s energy harvesting, water harvesting and treatment, and waste processing can be conducted on-site. Architects chose PPG’s glass product for its balance of thermal, solar control and lighting performance. Solarban is part of a curtain-wall system fabricated by Northwestern Industries in Seattle. Because of the large windows and high ceilings, the building draws 82 percent of its lighting needs from the sun.

PPG’s glass products were also employed at the Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, which was selected for a 2013 Green Design Award. The project used three types of PPG glass to achieve the desired energy-efficiency objectives.

Much can be learned from any company that survives for 130 years, especially one that continues to be a global leader in its product categories. Innovation clearly is one of the driving forces in PPG’s continued success.

Vitamix: Rugged Quality, Commitment to Healthy Diets, and Export Success Fuel Global Business

  • November 29, 2013

As increased information becomes available about the benefits of healthy diets, more people are turning to blenders to create their own whole-food juices, soups, and smoothies. Consumers by the thousands have learned the hard way that not all kitchen blenders are created equally. A number of the products on the market are prone to jamming or breaking.

Product quality sets Vitamix apart. This manufacturer, which is based in Olmsted Township, Ohio, just west of Cleveland, has been selling kitchen products since 1921 and making blenders since 1937. It is a leader in blending technology, and has developed high-quality blenders that have the versatility and durability to stand up to the challenges of the whole-foods era. The firm now has several hundred employees who make and ship hundreds of thousands of products each year.

Vitamix is now a fourth-generation family business that has, since the beginning, been an advocate for healthy diets. In 1969, the company president unveiled the Vitamix 3600, the first blender that could make soup, blend ice cream, grind grain, and knead bread dough. His wife created hundreds of recipes for healthy and tasty foods that could be made with the Vitamix. The firm added a commercial blender for the foodservice industry to its product mix in 1985. Vitamix can also perform service on machines up to 20 years old, pending the availability of parts.

The company learned early on that they key to selling its products is getting people to see demonstrations. That is why you may well have seen Vitamix being demonstrated in a store in your community or on television (they have been on television, in fact, since 1949).

If product quality and durability sets Vitamix apart from its competition, its success in the global marketplace helps make it a Great Manufacturing Story. Vitamix products are now available in more than 100 countries, from Antigua to Vietnam.

That wasn’t always the case, of course. When Jodi Berg joined the family business in 1997, Vitamix was primarily a domestic business, and her mission was to make it an international company. She visited 13 countries that year, some of them multiple times (while also planning her wedding). In doing so, she drew on her background as a certified quality auditor and a director of quality and training for Ritz-Carlton.

As she explains an in article in Cleveland Business Connects, their goal was not to grow quickly, but rather to ensure the same product quality and customer experience in each market they penetrated. That focus meant saying “no” to traditional export companies, and fostering a slower, more personal approach in which it cultivates relationships, and articulates specific expectations, from its distributors. The success internationally has been dynamic. Former Commerce Secretary Gary Locke bestowed the E Award for exporting success on the company in 2010. In 2012, the firm won a Kitchen Innovations award from the National Restaurant Association, as well. Moreover, Berg went on to become the company's president, ensuring its continued dedication to its founding principles as it meets the needs of health-conscious customers.

Freightliner Trucks: Product Design and 1,000 More Jobs

  • February 13, 2012

Across North America, hundreds of older, inefficient trucks are coming off the highways. Taking their place are state-of-the-art, aerodynamic, fuel-efficient rigs, many of which are manufactured at the Freightliner plant in Cleveland, North Carolina.

Freightliner has been making trucks at the site for more than 20 years. During the deep recession in 2009, production and employment there were scaled back. But January 2012 brought far more encouraging news, as Freightliner’s parent company – Daimler Trucks North America – added a second shift. The move brings back 1,000 production jobs, plus several dozen engineer and manager positions. That is on top of the roughly 1,470 employees currently working there.

Part of the catalyst for Daimler’s decision is cyclical, with production moving back to post-recession norms. But another reason Daimler needs to add the second shift is the enormous demand for Freightliner’s Cascadia cab. When Freightliner set out to design Cascadia it started from scratch. It analyzed their own rigs and those of competitors, and interviewed scores of professional drivers. They tested their prototype extensively in wind tunnel and simulated accident settings. The finished product is a cab that is wider and taller than standard trucks, with highly responsive steering and superb visibility. It provides drivers with a level of comfort usually reserved for fine automobiles. Yet, the Cascadia is also a lighter-weight and highly aerodynamic product, which reduces its operational costs. Moreover, the assembly line uses 70 different advanced robots, ensuring consistency on each vehicle.  

This combination of superior product design and advanced assembly makes for satisfied customers, more jobs, and another Great Manufacturing Story.