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Act Global: Company Sells Environmentally Responsible Synthetic Turf in 70 Countries

  • April 20, 2015

Synthetic turf has become a popular alternative to traditional grass at sports stadiums, practice fields, playgrounds, and in other landscape settings. Its advantages are compelling: Quality playing surfaces; low maintenance; as well as resistance to wear and adverse weather.

Another major advantage is consistence with water-conservation goals. Many parts of the world, and of the United States, are enacting regulations concerning water use. Even in areas without such regulations, those wishing to be good stewards of the economy are often choosing synthetic turf, rather than natural turfs that require constant watering.

Synthetic turf has come a long way since its first use at the AstroDome in 1966. Today’s third-generation synthetic turf products from companies like industry leader Act Global have advanced designs, and use state-of-the-art UV inhibitors that withstand tough environmental conditions.  

Many projects employ crumb rubber infill, which is made of recycled tires. For an excellent example of high-quality crumb rubber infill, see the Great Manufacturing Story on Liberty Tire Recycling.

Act Global, which is based in Texas, is one of the world’s largest artificial turf companies. They manufacture synthetic turf products on three continents. Moreover, they have served companies in 70 countries and counting. Their installations are FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) certified, signifying optimal, world-class quality. Act Global points to its research and development, coupled with its product quality and customer service, as reasons for its successful growth.

The company also emphasizes good citizenship by supporting world aid organizations, contributing to disaster relief, and supporting other worthy charities. As stated on Act Global’s web site, “We believe that it is our responsibility and privilege as a company to give back.”

Orbital ATK: State-of-the-Art Aerospace, Defense and Communications Products

  • April 12, 2015

Manufacturers in the aerospace, defense, and communications sector do more than keep Americans safe and secure, and allow us explore the frontiers of space. They also are major employers. You may not be familiar with Orbital ATK, but the company’s economic footprint is substantial. It has facilities in 20 states, and has a highly trained global workforce of about 12,500 people.

Its ammunition plant in Missouri can produce 1.4 billion rounds of small-caliber ammunition in a year. It also produces ammunition in Radford, Virginia. Nobody in the United States makes more small-caliber ammunition.

The firm also makes missile propulsion systems and combat-tested aircraft survivability systems. The company has 300 long-range missile defense interceptors and target systems completed or under contract.

In 2015, the company celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Pegasus air-launched rocket. Following the rocket’s introduction, the development team was honored with the National Medal of Technology from President George H. W. Bush and the Smithsonian Institute’s Air and Space Museum Trophy.

Orbital ATK manufactures satellites in Beltsville, Maryland; and has a missile products group based in Baltimore. The corporate headquarters is in Dulles, Virginia.

The company’s impressive capabilities have been assembled over a period of time. In the years before Orbital and ATK merged, ATK had purchased key divisions from Hercules Aerospace, Honeywell, and Thiokol Propulsion – all with the determined goal to deliver innovative and affordable solutions to customers, including the U.S. military and NASA. A sports-products division was recently divested in order to sharpen the focus on core competencies.

Orbital ATK is also on the forefront of facilitating space exploration. It provided critical hardware for the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V vehicle that in 2015 launched four first-of-their-kind NASA satellites from Cape Canaveral. The program deploys four satellites that will use Earth’s magnetosphere as a lab to study the microphysics of plasma processes of space weather in near-Earth space: magnetic reconnection, energetic particle acceleration and turbulence.

Orbital ATK produced the 10-foot diameter composite heat shield. The assembly was made using advanced fiber placement manufacturing techniques at the company’s Iuka, Mississippi, plant. It was the 53rd Atlas V launch using Orbital ATK-built composite structures.

The story of Orbital ATK is a reminder that much of the world's most advanced aerospace, defense, and communications R&D and manufacturing is done in America.

ClearCorrect: 3D Printing Leads to Healthier, Prettier Smiles

  • April 9, 2015

Tens of thousands of American would love to do something to improve their smiles or better align their teeth, but have no interest in traditional braces. ClearCorrect LLC gives those patients a new option through the use of 3D printing.

Based in central Texas with about 130 employees, ClearCorrect LLC is one of the leading producers of clear aligners that provide gradual correction of dental alignment. The company’s technicians use 3D printers to produce aligners that are custom-fitted for each dental patient.

The aligners apply pressure to the teeth that need to be moved. Every four to six weeks, the patient begins wearing a new aligner to continue the realignment process until completion. Because they are clear, the aligners are not visible. ClearCorrect has worked with more than 13,000 doctors and dentists to date.

Until 2006, ClearCorrect’s process of creating the aligners was manual and time-consuming. Using 3D printing has enhanced the accuracy, scalability, and the speed with which the dental devices can be produced. 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is the process of printing an object layer by layer, using sand or another specially chosen material.

The dental lab has an expansive group of Objet 3D printers, which are manufactured by Stratasys. The lab then prints the aligners based on imaging received from dental offices. This is one of the creative ways that 3D printing is already changing manufacturing.

Myers Pump: Manufacturer Celebrates 145th Anniversary

  • February 18, 2015

Myers Pump, a division of Pentair, manufactures several types of pumps that have practical, everyday applications. Their engineered solid submersible pumps and reciprocator pumps serve the municipal government, commercial, and global industrial markets. They also make water well, sewage and sump pumps for residential use.

The pumps are manufactured in Ashland, Ohio, where Myers Pump has had a presence since 1870. The company employs more than 300 workers in the city, which is midway between Cleveland and Columbus. Production employees belong to one of two unions at the plant. Lean manufacturing and demand-based production are a part of the way of life at the company.

In the early 1900s, Ashland was a thriving manufacturing center with more than 80 factories, and government records showed it as having one of the nation’s highest per-capita incomes. Myers, which was run by four brothers, at one point had more than 1,000 employees, many of which were skilled machinists. Orders came in faster than the company could fill them, as demand for pumps surged from industrial customers, agricultural customers, and homeowners who drew their water from wells. Myers also manufactured farm implements.

Gradually, electrification reduced the need for residential pumps, and agricultural automation lessened demand for farm implements. The company survived those trends, as well as the Depression, by adapting their business lines and emphasizing more efficient pump products. The original ownership family sold the company in 1960, and it was acquired by Pentair in 1986.

With 145 years of manufacturing and still going strong, FE Myers is another Great Manufacturing Story.

Donaldson Company: The First Word in Advanced Filtration Technologies for American Military Aircraft

  • September 12, 2014

When American service men and women fly military aircraft is desert environments, they depend upon advanced filtration technologies to protect them from dust, dirt, and other environmental hazards.

Donaldson Company, a Bloomington, Minnesota-based manufacturer celebrating its Centennial in 2015, has developed some of the most advanced filtration technologies for military applications. Its engineers have solved advanced challenges ranging from dust collection to power generation to the purification of compressed air.

Donaldson has a long history of supporting the military. As far back as the 1950s, B-52 bombers used Donaldson’s catalytic air cleaners. A decade later, Donaldson introduced the first turbine-engine air particle separator system.

The record of innovation has continued in recent years, as Donaldson has developed advanced Inlet Barrier Filter systems (IBFs) that protect engines from airborne contamination. The latest versions reduce component erosion, extend engine life, reduce engine temperatures, save power for mission use, and require less maintenance. The company is now developing a new class of IBFs for Boeing MH-47G Chinooks.

To continually develop advances in airborne filtration system technologies, the company relies on a workforce that is heavily staffed with trained scientists, computer experts, statisticians, and engineers. Even while celebrating the Donaldson Company’s 100th anniversary, these employees are likely to remain challenged and busy for many more years to come.  

Gilbarco: The People behind the High-Tech Service Station Fuel Pumps

  • May 6, 2014

The automobile not only changed the way Americans live, work, and travel, but it also created new industries, including fuel pumps and service stations. Old-time fuel pumps are now collectors’ items and command a pretty penny at antique stores and auctions.

But today’s ultra-modern versions of the device do much more than pump gasoline. They determine the price, collect payment on a secure basis, and offer consumers options such as paying for a car wash, buying lottery tickets, or purchasing a fuel additive, which the pumps deliver on demand. Modern fuel pumps also include media components that deliver video entertainment, stereo sound music, and digital advertising messages.

One of the two primary manufacturers of today’s sleek fuel pumps is Gilbarco Veeder-Root, whose parent company is Danaher. Gilbarco is based in Greensboro, North Carolina. Gilbarco saw so much potential for the video display applications that they purchased a California-based video-display company in early 2014. Gilbarco pumps can be synchronized with security cameras that enable store personnel to monitor a transaction in progress and match it to video footage to help prevent fraud or correct any errors.

In addition to gasoline pumps, Gilbarco makes compressed natural gas (CNG) dispensers with fast fill rates and advanced safety features. These new machines are helping pave the way for the growing use of natural gas vehicles, which offer the promise of reduced emissions and cleaner air.  

Gilbarco also manufactures the Insite360, which is a cloud-based platform that allows retailers to monitor and control all of their Gilbarco pumps from a single remote web dashboard, enterprise-wide.

Gilbarco’s primary competitor is Wayne, which is a General Electric company. It was formerly known as Dresser-Wayne. Wayne manufactured its first fuel pumps, which dispensed kerosene, in 1891, and has been making gasoline pumps since 1907. The company introduced its first blending pumps in 1956. Their manufacturing facility is in Round Rock, Texas, where they employ several hundred workers, and also offer a broad variety of technological innovations for their customers around the country and around the world.

MAKO Surgical: No. 1 on Deloitte Technology Fast 500 List

  • February 19, 2014

In Fort Lauderdale, a medical device company called MAKO Surgical designs and manufactures products that help orthopedic surgeons achieve optimal outcomes in hip and knee replacement surgery. Founded in 2004, the company placed No. 1 on the 2011 Deloitte Technology Fast 500 for rapid growth. In late 2011, the company announced that it was hiring for 100 new jobs, with average annual wages of $85,000.

MAKO’s highly advanced robotic arm technology assists the orthopedic surgeon in achieving consistently reproducible precision in knee and hip joint replacement. The firm also makes implants for a procedure that provides a less invasive method for knee resurfacing. Partial Knee Resurfacing is a treatment option designed to relieve pain and restore range of motion for adults with osteoarthritis that has not progressed to all three compartments of the knee.

In joining MAKO officials to announce the company’s expansion, Florida Gov. Rick Scott emphasized the need for college and high school students to be well grounded in math and science so as to prepare for careers at technology-oriented companies like MAKO. Indeed, MAKO’s rapid growth and record of helping surgeons, and ultimately patients, makes it a Great Manufacturing Story.

BioPharmaceuticals: Improving Patients’ Quality of Life

  • December 21, 2013

When one thinks about the global economy, the biopharmaceutical industry may come to mind as one of the industries in which the U.S. is an unquestioned global leader. That assertion is, in fact, true. Of the 5,400 medical compounds under development worldwide, about 3,400 of them are being developed here, according to PhRMA.

More than 810,000 people work in the U.S. biopharma industry. Through their efforts, millions of patients enjoy healthier, more productive and fulfilling lives, with hope for a brighter future. Encouragingly, the mortality rate for heart disease, HIV/AIDS, childhood cancer and a host of other conditions have improved, with medications playing a key role.

R&D lies at the heart of that progress. Members of PhRMA invest about $48 billion per year in R&D, up from $8.4 billion as recently as 1990. One-fifth of all private-sector R&D in the U.S. is conducted by biopharma companies, according to the National Science Foundation, more than any other single industry.

The average cost of developing a new drug (including the cost of failures) is about $1.2 billion, a process that often takes 10 to 15 years. For every compound that ultimately receives Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, typically five to ten thousand other compounds will have been considered.

In 2012, the FDA approved 43 new drugs, the most in 15 years. These drugs treat such conditions as skin cancer, leukemia, cystic fibrosis, respiratory distress syndrome, and tuberculosis, among others. Thirteen of the approvals were for orphan drugs, which treat rare diseases.

Once a drug is reviewed by FDA scientists and approved, it can be introduced, manufactured, and marketed. Manufacturing facilities must be designed, constructed, and maintained to the highest standards, as required by the FDA.

Many physicians, patients and policy advocates are continuing to urge the FDA to streamline the approval process further, as some drugs are now introduced first in Europe, where regulatory hurdles are perceived as less time-consuming.

While improved patient outcomes lies at the heart of this Great Manufacturing Story, the industry’s economic impact is part of the story, as well. Jobs in the industry, ranging from Ph.D. scientists to lab technicians to marketing representatives, pay about twice the national average. Those 810,000 employees, in turn, generate economic activity in their own communities, supporting a total of 3.4 million jobs, according to PhRMA. Battelle estimates the overall economic impact of the industry is about $790 billion per year.

With increased understanding of genetics, the future looks brighter than ever for innovative new treatments. To ensure that medications continue to be developed, and that the U.S. retains its leadership position in the industry, the U.S. will need to maintain a framework that balances the cost of innovation and the affordability of treatments. The U.S. will also need to ensure that our education institutions are providing enough graduates with strong backgrounds in sciences, math, engineering, and technology, to ensure these jobs don’t gravitate to other nations.

American Electric Power: Producing Electricity More Efficiently

  • December 19, 2013

North America’s first ultra-supercritical (USC) electricity generating unit went into service near Fulton, Arkansas in 2012. The 600 megawatt coal-fired plant was built over a period of four years, in compliance with stringent state and federal environmental standards, at a cost of $1.8 billion.

Operated by Southwestern Electric Power Company, a division of American Electric Power (AEP), the USC plant is more efficient and cleaner than plants with supercritical (SC) generating units. In recognition of these state-of-the-art qualities, POWER magazine named it the Plant of the Year for 2013.

America’s electricity mix is always evolving. Coal currently accounts for about 39% of U.S. electricity, followed by natural gas at 27%, nuclear power at 19%,and hydro power and renewables, at about 6% each, according to the Energy Information Administration. The agency projects that coal will continue to be the country’s leading source of electricity for a period of time, after which it may be surpassed by natural gas. Nonetheless, for the foreseeable future, coal will be a major source, and it will be important to continue to develop affordable, cleaner ways to generate electricity from coal. Clean coal technology is one approach. Getting more electricity per unit of coal is another.

That is where AEP's Arkansas plant comes in. How does it work? The key is the difference between SC and USC modes. The critical point of water, where vapor and liquid are indistinguishable (and added heat or pressure will not cause a change of state), is 705 degrees Fahrenheit. At the AEP plant, the USC unit operates above 1,100 degrees. Since the water is heated to produce superheated steam without boiling, this leads to a more efficient steam cycle, which reduces fuel consumption, reagent consumption, solid wastes, water use, and operating costs. It is more efficient due to the thermodynamics of hotter, higher-pressure steam through the turbine, making USC the most efficient steam-cycle technology available.

Earlier plants were operated in the SC mode, not the USC mode, because of the unavailability of metals that could withstand such temperatures. Now, recently developed chrome and nickel based alloys are used in the components of the steam generator, turbine, and piping systems, and can perform for long periods of time at the higher temperature conditions. The plant is named for former electricity executive John Turk, Jr. Fuel for the plant is low-sulfur coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming.

Robotics: A Growing Impact

  • December 18, 2013

Across the U.S., there are more than 232,000 robots in use, according to the Robotic Industries Association (RIA). While the automotive industry remains by far the biggest user of robots, they are increasingly being adapted for use in the life sciences, food and consumer goods industries as well. RIA represents more than 300 robot manufacturers, component suppliers, systems integrators, and end users.

The man considered the Father of Robotics was Joseph Engelberger, who co-founded Unimation Inc. in 1956 with his partner George Devol. They built the first industrial robot, which in 1961 was installed in a General Motors factory.

The U.S. is second to Japan in the use of robotics overall. But as measured by robotics density (robots as related to the number of workers), the U.S. trails a number of other countries, including Germany and South Korea.

Experts say that only about 10% of the U.S. companies that could benefit from robots are using them so far. Many small and mid-size manufacturers, for example, are in various stages of investigating the benefits of robotics. Concurrently, engineers are continually working to make robot programming easier, improve their cooperation with humans, and make them more cost competitive. As this occurs, their use in U.S. factories and distribution warehouses will almost certainly continue to grow.

M.I.T. economists Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson garnered attention in 2011 with their book, Race Against the Machine, suggesting that industrial robotic automation leads to job losses. But there is ample evidence that robotics actually help generate or keep jobs in the U.S.

Consider Marlin Steel Wire Products in Baltimore. Its president, Drew Greenblatt, was able to win a job from a customer in Chicago to produce 160,000 sheet-metal brackets per year, thanks to increased efficiency from robotics and automation. ”They were made in China, now they’re made in Baltimore, using steel from a plant in Indiana and the robot was made in Connecticut,” he explains. Another example is Toppan Photomasks, which located its highly-mechanized ecover facility in Round Rock, Texas. The ecover operation helps install smart-ID technology into U.S. passports

Research by Peter Gorle of Metra Martech in 2011 showed that robots carry out work that would not be economical in a comparatively high-wage economy, and work that would be unsafe for humans. That attribute can help companies in developed economies like the U.S. remain competitive.  Dr. Henrik Christensen of Georgia Institute of Technology goes further, noting that robotics creates new types of jobs that tend to pay better, which more than compensates for any jobs lost due to automation.

Many manufacturing experts strongly believe that robotics will play an extraordinarily helpful role in the reshoring movement. By allowing certain functions to be performed safely and efficiently by machine, they argue, there will be one more reason to keep or move operations to the U.S., rather than in lower-wage nations.

In the meantime, robotics will remain one of the most fascinating fields to observe as the technology advances in the years to come.