Advanced Manufacturing - Industry Overview
By Pat Toensmeier
Advanced Manufacturing invents and creates the products people need and want.
Whether it is clothing, cell phones, computers or automobiles, CDs and DVDs, food and drink, athletic gear, medicine or cosmetics, virtually everything we use on a daily basis is manufactured. These and many other products are part of everyday life because advanced manufacturing techniques make them reliable, affordable and available.
Advanced manufacturing also plays a major role in creating solutions for a variety of problems. Hybrid cars that reduce pollution and conserve energy; implantable medical devices that improve health care; and special airtight packages to keep perishable foods fresh, are only a few examples of the challenges advanced manufacturers tackle.
What makes manufacturing so versatile is technology. Advanced manufacturing applies cutting edge concepts in electronics, computers, software and automation to improve production. In the past 10 years, the use of computer systems and software to monitor and control processes in large and small plants has led to increased product quality and productivity. Communications technology has increased the ability of engineers and plant managers to check on operations-even if it's halfway around the world. Systems can be set up to transmit data on how much material is being used, how machines are running and if problems are occurring. The ultimate example of what can be achieved is "lights-out manufacturing," which allows a highly automated plant to be run by computers and robots, with minimal involvement by skilled human operators.
These high-tech capabilities let engineers create more exciting products than were possible just a few years ago. One example of this can be seen in electronic devices like cell phones and digital recorders, which are getting smaller and less expensive, yet have more and more features built into them. This is possible because of the miniaturization of circuitry, and the use of "clean" assembly techniques that prevent contamination of sensitive components... .
Manufacturing encourages creativity and analytical thinking. It is an area where ideas can be tested almost immediately, and where one person's inspiration may lead to a major product breakthrough. For these reasons, students who want a career that is meaningful, exciting and rewarding, should consider advanced manufacturing. Whether a student's interest lies in production, engineering or designing, experts say there will be plenty of demand in coming years for qualified candidates-girls as well as boys.
A recent study released by the National Association of Manufacturers and the Manufacturing Institute, reports that 81% of American manufacturers say their biggest problem is finding qualified workers. If this problem isn't fixed, the report states it will impact our nation's economic well-being.
The Manufacturing Institute recommends that students take math and science courses starting in middle school as manufacturing is technologically driven. Computer programming skills should be studied as well, notes Ron Ross, vice president of employee relations at Battenfeld Gloucester, Gloucester, Mass., due to the importance of computer-aided design, engineering and manufacturing programs (known as CAD/CAE/CAM) in product development and machine tool operation.
For students with a firm grounding in the sciences, the opportunities are vast. When it comes to manufacturing, says Stefan Skibicki, Jr. of Lockheed Martin, Orlando, "we are only limited by our imaginations."