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Women in Mfg

Mary Andringa of Vermeer Industries: Emphasizing STEM Education

  • April 15, 2015

Even as President and CEO of a global company, Vermeer Industries, Mary Andringa has never lost sight of her early-career roots as a teacher. She is a longtime, passionate advocate for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education, which prepares young people for promising and rewarding careers. Fortune magazine named her to the STEMconnector® List of 100 CEO Leaders in STEM in 2013.

Moreover, it’s never too early to begin orienting young people to STEM disciplines. Vermeer, along with Bright Horizons, has established an academy called the Yellow Iron Academy in Pella, Iowa. It is one of five schools to receive the inaugural seal of approval from the STEM Advisory Council to the Governor of Iowa.

The academy won the awards for their Math Counts and Science Rocks programs. It serves 112 children, from pre-school to school-age. Parents are very excited about Yellow Iron Academy’s creative approach to early STEM education.  

The reference to “Yellow Iron” reflects the branded colors of the equipment made by Vermeer. The privately held company manufactures equipment that serves the agriculture, biomass, wood-waste recycling, landscaping, surface mining, and utility installation industries. This equipment serves a variety of industries, but shares one thing in common: It helps people perform important work more efficiently and safely.

By selling this equipment to global markets, Vermeer helps local leaders and businesses around the world improve the quality of life for populations who then benefit from lower food prices, improvements in electricity service reliability, or more affordable forms of clean energy in their home communities.   

Vermeer is rightly proud of the work that its employees do. A case in point came in early 2015 when Vermeer was selected for the International Mining Hall of Fame for the surface-mining technologies developed by the company’s engineers. Vermeer makes a machine, introduced in 2002, called the Terrain Leveler ® that uses an industry-exclusive tilting cover drum so as to eliminate the need for primary crushers, large loaders, and huge mining haul trucks. Given the efficiencies it provides, the award-winning machine is still in widespread use today. And it’s an example of the type of technology that can be developed by those with backgrounds in the STEM disciplines.

Vermeer is also a leader in the implementation of lean manufacturing. It has been a long-term company focus that started at the top, and has engaged all levels of the organization, with positive results.

In December 2015, Mary turns over the President and CEO reins to her son, Jason. But there are no coronations based on blood lines at Vermeer. Executives are held to strict performance goals and evaluations, which figure heavily into any advancement decisions. Meanwhile, Mary, who is a past Chair of the National Association of Manufacturers, will continue to advocate for STEM education and other causes important to manufacturing.

Wyoming Machine: At this Woman-Owned Business, Staff Development Comes First

  • April 11, 2015

People are often surprised to learn that manufacturing offers great career opportunities for women, from the executive suite to the plant floor. Traci and Lori Tapani are co-CEOs of Wyoming Machine Inc. in Wyoming, Minnesota. The precision sheet-metal fabricating company has about 55 employees.

In a recent media report, Traci said, “My greatest source of pride is staff development. For the past 20 years, I’m most proud of my ability to serve as a role model for women. I love showing women that they, too, can succeed in a male-dominated career. Watching employees and others accomplish this is exceptionally rewarding for me.”

Traci is a recipient of the Manufacturing Institute’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Production (STEP) award, which recognizes women who have demonstrated excellence and exercised leadership in manufacturing careers. In addition to her leadership role at Wyoming Machine, he is involved in mentoring problems, and has brought attention to the skills shortage through her public speaking.

Wyoming Machine also understands that job applicants may not walk in the door with all skills needed to perform a job. By evaluating an applicant’s work history and previous training, the company is able to determine if the applicant has the aptitude to learn to do the necessary work. That can mean hiring candidates with unconventional backgrounds. For example, one recent hire came with a background in automated food preparation at McDonalds.

Traci and Lori have co-led the company since 2000. Its services include laser cutting, CNC punching, press brake forming, welding, and machining. Despite fierce global competition, they have grown the company by an average of 6 percent yearly since then.

One example of Wyoming Machine’s work is a mounting plate for a flight simulator that was commissioned by a computer and peripherals company. The company cuts, forms, welds, grinds, machines, and assembles the mounting plates, all to specific tolerances. The customer now orders 50 such assemblies per year.

With women as owners and as plant-floor equipment operators, Wyoming Machine is a great example of women in manufacturing.

The Manufacturing Institute: Addressing the Skills Gap

  • January 15, 2015

In the early 1990s, Labor Secretary William Brock commissioned a report that projected shortages of high-skill workers in the coming decades. The report’s projections proved accurate. Today, the skills shortage is a real challenge facing U.S. manufacturers of all sizes.

According to The Manufacturing Institute, the education and research arm of the NAM, 82 percent of executives think the skills gap will hurt their ability to meet customer demands. As the baby boom generation continues to retire, the gap could result in two million unfilled jobs.

The shortage is real. It now typically takes 90 days to recruit engineers, researchers, and scientists. Job applicants often lack the math, computer, technology, and problem-solving skills needed for advanced manufacturing jobs. Access to high-skill foreign workers is unwittingly hampered by short-sighted federal limits on H 1B visas. Even the companies that are most creative in filling vacancies admit that the skill shortage is real.

The Institute is implementing an assertive multi-point strategy that promises to move the needle on this long-term challenge. A skills-gap solution must focus on youngsters entering the workforce, as well as retraining current workers, continuing to engage women in manufacturing, and welcoming veterans into the industrial workforce.

One priority is skills training. The Institute launched the Skills Certification System to advance a renaissance of manufacturing education nationwide. Standards are designed by and for industry, and endorsed by the NAM.

Since 2011, a total of 419,528 certifications have been presented to individuals for skills including machining-and-metalworking, welding, construction, automation, die casting, fabrication, fluid power, lean, quality, logistics, engineering, and other skills. Employers can hire these individuals with confidence in the skills they bring to the workplace.

There is a great need to reach young people with positive messages about manufacturing careers.

As Ray Bacon, president of the Nevada Manufacturers Association notes, young people can accumulate the right skills and knowledge, but manufacturers and educators must do a better job of inspiring young people to choose careers in manufacturing.

The Manufacturing Institute agrees. Research indicates that only 3 out of 10 parents encourage their children to pursuer manufacturing careers, and that Gen Y respondents rank manufacturing last as a career choice, according to the Institute.

To respond, on Manufacturing Day each October, the Institute partners with manufacturers to bring students into advanced-manufacturing workplaces to see first-hand how workers deploy technology, enjoy challenging work in clean environments, and create cutting-edge products. The tours also educate teachers, and generate positive press coverage that can shape public opinion.

The Dream It. Do It. careers initiative reinforces that message at the local level all year long, and encourages students to study math and science to prepare themselves for exciting career options.

To highlight the rewarding careers manufacturing offers women, the Institute presents the annual STEP awards, where 130 women in manufacturing honorees and emerging leaders are recognized. This again calls attention to attractive career opportunities.

The Institute also teamed up with Deloitte on a report titled, “2015 Women in Manufacturing Study: Exploring the Skills Gap.” Noting that women make up 47 percent of the workforce, but only 27 percent of the manufacturing workforce, the study offers valuable recommendations for increasing women’s participation in manufacturing.

To learn more about The Manufacturing Institute and its initiatives, click here.

Cope Plastics: Demonstrating Recycling as a Business Strategy

  • January 13, 2015

Cope Plastics is a privately held, woman-owned based in Alton, Illinois, which is just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. In 2014, the firm was recognized by the International Association of Plastics Distribution with the Environmental Excellence Award for Best Recycling Program. Therein is a Great Manufacturing Story.

Cope is a fabricator of plastic sheet, rod and tube, serving customers across much of the country. In 2012, the company invited customers to return plastic scrap for recycling. In the 12-month period ending in June 2014, Cope received and recycled 604,053 pounds of scrap, constituting 36 different grades of plastic.   

Next, Cope added a single-stream recycling program for employees, many of whom live in communities that do not provide curbside recycling. Employees brought their mixed recyclables to work, and this program kept 200,000 pounds of post-consumer waste being diverted from area landfills.

Moreover, Cope now recycles old or broken wood pallets by returning them to a pallet manufacturer that converts them into mulch. This Cope initiative creates about 100,000 pounds of mulch each year, and eliminates the need to burn the obsolete pallets.

Cope adopted its recycling program as part of a sound business strategy that emphasizes close relationships with customers and suppliers. The business continues to grow, as well. In late 2014, Cope purchased J.B. Jensen & Son, Inc. The transaction provides Cope with additional screw machines and computer numerically controlled equipment to machine plastics for the auto, electronics, aerospace, food transportation, and farm equipment industries.

Cope began operations as a plastics parts distributor in 1946. During the 1950s, industrial customers began requesting  cut-to-specification parts with drilled holes and finished edges. Cope responded by expanding its fabrication capabilities.

After initially serving mostly just the St. Louis regional market, in 1964 the company opened sales offices in the Midwest and the South. Jane Saale became CEO and part-owner in 2004. The company now has numerous locations that serve as sales offices, warehouses, and limited-fabrication centers, from which it serves an estimated 7,000 industrial customers.

Della Williams of Williams RDM: A Small Manufacturer with a Big Role in Defense, Energy and Fire Suppresion

  • March 3, 2014

Small and mid-sized manufacturers are a vital part of the American economy, and one of the best examples is Williams RDM. Based in Forth Worth, this is a family-owned company that serves three distinct markets: Defense, energy, and fire suppression.

Williams RDM is led by Della Williams, who founded the business with her husband Bob in 1963. The company was known as Williams Pyro until it was re-branded in 2013. RDM is short for research, development, and manufacturing, which are the heart of the business.

At a celebratory event on a Saturday evening marking the re-branding, U.S. Congresswoman Kay Granger was on hand, and spoke to the underappreciated role women CEOs are playing at defense-related businesses. In the case of Williams RDM, the company produces cables, connectors and test equipment. They are used on the F-15 all-weather tactical fighter and numerous other planes. With an advanced design and the use of commonly available batteries, they save taxpayer dollars.

A second focus of the business pertains to energy. Williams RDM provides high-pressure, high-temperature connectors for drilling operations.

The third business segment is fire suppression. Since 1972, Williams has made the StoveTop FireStop® product, which protects millions of families from kitchen fires. One version attaches under vent hoods, while another goes under microwave ovens. Since cooking fires can spread with shocking speed, these products can be true live savers.

Craig Walters, who is a vice president at the company, has worked there for well over 30 years. “One of the things I appreciate most about our company is a part of the company culture driven by Della herself – an unstoppable tenacity. In all the years I’ve been here, the thing I’m most proud of is that when we choose to start something, we always finish it. We do what we promise and we do it right. There’s never any question about it.”

Walters and his coworkers are not the only ones who appreciate Della Williams’ tenacity and the company’s commitment to the highest levels of quality. With customers like Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Halliburton, and Boeing, Williams RDM has carved out an important niche in manufacturing.

Kellie Johnson of ACE Clearwater Enterprises: Passionate about Manufacturing Careers

  • January 6, 2014

The first thing you notice when you talk with Kellie Johnson and her husband Gary Johnson at one of their manufacturing facilities is their passion for manufacturing and the careers that it offers. Kellie is the President of ACE Clearwater Enterprises in Torrance, California, and Gary serves as Vice President of the company, which is a recognized leader in complex formed and welded assemblies for the aerospace industry.

 “I have been able to continue my family’s legacy as a third-generation manufacturer, and serve the aerospace industry, where the United States remains a global leader,” Kellie says. “We are very proud to offer amazing career paths, and we devote a lot of energy to helping people understand the career opportunities that modern manufacturing offers.”

The company was founded in 1961. Kellie joined the business in 1984, just two years out of college, and worked in all areas of the enterprise. She became President in 1989. Under her leadership, the company has grown to roughly 200 employees, operating from three facilities in southern California that offer 400,000 square feet of manufacturing technology. Their customer list is a “Who’s Who” in aerospace:  Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, NorthropGrumman, Boeing, General Electric, Cessna, Pratt & Whitney, and the U.S. government, among others.

ACE Clearwater is certified to the highest international quality standards, and is accredited in numeric data control and welding. It has received the Boeing Supplier of the Year award and was named by Industry Week as one of America’s Top 25 Small Manufacturers.

Exceptional Career Opportunities. On October 4, 2013, when manufacturing firms across the country celebrated National Manufacturing Day in their own communities, Kellie and Gary were in the forefront of those efforts in southern California. About 200 students got an up-close look at high-tech manufacturing at AceClearwater. They received a tour of a plant and watched intently as an engineer used a 3-D laser to slice a C-17 aircraft duct part, performing in a minute a cut that used to take an hour with older technology.  

Since fewer students receive career-technical education in high school these days, it is often left to manufacturers to showcase available career paths. Kellie speaks often about careers, and her firm promotes internship programs by working with community colleges and universities. In addition, Kellie sponsors three FIRST robotics teams, including one all-female team.

Like many manufacturers, ACE Clearwater not infrequently finds it difficult to find applicants with the advanced skills needed in today’s manufacturing. This national trend will become even more pronounced as a generation of skilled workers from the Baby Boom generation retires.

3-D Animation’s Role in Knowledge Transfer. To get ahead of the aging-workforce trend and improve knowledge transfer, ACE Clearwater is taking the lead in using 3-D animation to make complex information-sharing more efficient and reliable. 3-D animation can model, preserve and teach a complex manufacturing process – such as mastering the operation of a massive metal drop hammer with unique settings for each job -- more effectively than hand-written notes. This can provide Chief Learning Officers with better ways to teach complex processes and retain institutional knowledge.

Gary explains that the tools are modeled in 3-D software packages like Blender and Maya, which are already widely used in the gaming and entertainment industries. Their video production group, Dash 9 Productions, helps manufacturers deploy 3-D animation for their own knowledge-transfer purposes.

Advocate for Manufacturing. Kellie is a prominent advocate for manufacturing at the national and state levels. She has served on the Manufacturing Council by appointment of two Secretaries of Commerce (Carlos Gutierrez and Gary Locke) and in 2007 was selected by the Defense Department to participate in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, where she visited Central Command in the Middle East. She is a past Chair of the Small and Medium Manufacturers of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), and is on the Board of The Manufacturing Institute, the NAM’s research and education affiliate. She has also testified before Congress on behalf of manufacturers.

NAM President Jay Timmons said, “Kellie is a leading high-tech manufacturer and one of the brightest and most compelling voices on behalf of the 12 million men and women who make things in America.  She is a consummate communicator and energetic advocate for manufacturers of all sectors and sizes—a tireless spokesperson and highly effective in Washington.”

Timmons added, “Through her leadership roles at the NAM, Kellie has strengthened the association by helping to tell the story of manufacturing in America through visuals and videos, which is transforming the perception of our industry.”

At the state level, Kellie has chaired several manufacturing and technology groups, and received a number of prestigious awards. She hosted then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at ACE Clearwater and discussed with him the need for sound public policies, as well.

Investing for the Future. To meet its customers’ high-precision requirements, ACE Clearwater invests not only in its workforce but also in state-of-the-art equipment. It purchased six large machining centers in recent years at a cost of several million dollars, and in 2012 installed a nine-foot Faro Arm for portable inspection of form dies and large assemblies without disrupting production. More equipment was purchased in 2013, including a 3D printer, to support R&D activities. And Gary is one of 4,000 people in the nation selected to test Google Glass.

The company also emphasizes sustainability, in terms of energy efficiency, recycling, smart packaging solutions, and the use of organic fluids like vegetable oil in their machines. That commitment to investing for the future and protecting the environment is just another way that ACE Clearwater Enterprises constitutes a Great Manufacturing Story.