New England has long been home to traditional manufacturing. But in the last decade, it’s also become the leader of advanced manufacturing. 

That’s why Tulip has been working with a cohort of leaders in industry, education, and government to bring to life the New England Advanced Manufacturing Hub (AMHUB) — a collaboration for advancing the health of manufacturing for years to come.  

We recently celebrated the founding of the AMHUB with a conversation with manufacturing leaders. Over the course of an hour, each of the speakers shared their assessments of the current state of manufacturing in the region, as well as their visions for its future. 

Here are the key takeaways. 

Working Together on Manufacturing’s Next Act

Unsurprisingly, the conversation revolved around the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated long-awaited changes in manufacturing. 

For one, the speakers noted that the pandemic made us embrace remote enablement more willingly, and forced organizations to put worker wellbeing at the forefront.

The panelists all observed that the disruptions caused by the pandemic have pushed existing models for supply chains, demand forecasting, worker safety, and production capabilities to their breaking points.

On the bright side, this period of experimentation has unleashed a new level of innovation.

Colin Cooper, The Chief Manufacturing Officer of Connecticut spoke, “The pandemic has upended priorities for a lot of us. We went from mapping long-term plans to fixing short-term problems. In solving these short-term problems head-on, the state of CT has been focusing on digital manufacturing transformation.”

4 Ways Manufacturing is Changing (for the better)

Re-deploying the Workforce

Even before the pandemic, manufacturing faced a labor crisis. 

The panelists noted that the present moment is an opportunity to make significant changes to how we support the manufacturing workforce. Now, and a year from now.

First off, the speakers anticipate a resurgence of employment in manufacturing. However, not all of the jobs that existed before the pandemic will exist after. Or not in the same form, at least. 

As outlined by Thomas Kuchan, a professor at MIT Sloan, we must help those who cannot return to their jobs by re-deploying the workforce and investing in training resources. “This must happen now. Not when we go back,” he spoke.

This kind of re-deployment and investing will require partnerships between companies, education institutions, the government, and various other stakeholders–leveraging the expertise and resources of each sector to maximum effect. 

Onshoring of Manufacturing

Many organizations have slowly reshored for the last decade. But the complex supply chain conversation has taken on a new level of urgency. 

The way you can win in the US, as told by Ric Fulop, the Co-founder and CEO of Desktop Metal, is by “having a factory that can make anything. No tooling whatsoever. You design for processes and switch based on demand forecasting so that engineers can modify their product much closer to the launching cycle.”

Many manufacturers have experienced first hand why agility and flexibility matter now. Fully digital production systems will make it easier for manufacturers to adapt their processes to changing conditions, and make it more attractive to keep their supply chains close to home. 

Remember to Put People Above Anything Else

As Sudhi Bangalore from Stanley Black & Decker highlighted numerous times, “We must keep people in the center of all this.”

It will take a collective effort of the manufacturing industry to leverage peoples’ skills to work with cobots. The focus should never be on how do we automate tasks away, but rather on, how do we enable more people on the shopfloor?

We learned from this pandemic that the front-line workers don’t have the opportunity to work remotely. Therefore, we must challenge ourselves to think, what are the ways in which we can keep them engaged with their work, and how can we put their wellbeing above everything else? In response to this, Thomas Kuchan advised us all to re-evaluate how we can better compensate and recognize these front-line workers for their services.

Support of SMEs

Last but not least, we must support SMEs.

Natan Linder, the CEO and Co-founder of Tulip Interfaces, explained, “We must have the SMEs catch up by helping them work with their big OEM customers, which in turn will accelerate the transformation in digital manufacturing.”

The panelists all had a consensus that it would be nearly impossible for SMEs to succeed without the help and leadership of large companies. Various stakeholders such as OEM, suppliers, and the government would need to include SMEs as a part of their vision, and come together and collaborate on digital transformation.

Ian Cronan from World Economic Forum supported this insight with the global perspective and trend that SMEs are essential to local manufacturing. Therefore, there is no way in succeeding here in New England without prioritizing SME focused products. 

To get the full recap of the event, click here to watch the recording.