The message was heard loud and clear: We need more STEM workers and we need them now. Students are abandoning Shakespeare for STEM, universities are providing real-world learning experiences and companies are offering paths to free education.

Upon discovering that degrees in English literature are not leading to jobs, students are marching over to the computer labs. The share of bachelor’s degree holders in the U.S. age 25 and over who majored in computers, math or statistics rose to 47% last year from 4.2% in 2009—an increase of nearly 1 million students over the period.

And at some universities they don’t have to wander far to apply what they are learning in the classroom. For example, the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Laboratory located in Grand Rapids, Mich., on the Western Michigan University (WMU) campus, is stocked with 3-D printers and scanners, a CAD/CAM lab, plasma cutter, laser cutter, welding station, metrology equipment and prototyping tools.

The lab combines prototyping, training and small-scale manufacturing with the opportunity for individuals to earn college credits to be used toward a degree or certification. And beginning in January, WMU will offer courses for a certificate program in integrated design and manufacturing.

In addition, manufacturing engineering technology, engineering design technology and engineering management technology courses will be offered at the facility for students enrolled in WMU’s ABET-accredited four-year engineering technology degree program.

The city has high hopes for the students when they graduate. “In addition to developing a skilled workforce, the AMP Lab has the potential to provide other important services to our region,” says John C. Kennedy, president of Autocam Medical, based in Grand Rapids. “This facility and its students, led by engineering faculty and graduate students, can help local inventors prototype projects.”

Corporations are doing their part as well. IBM for example created a program called Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools. It began in 2011 with one school as the company was looking to bring more students into the STEM pipeline. Currently there are 100 schools that participate in this program.

Students can enroll in the six-year program, which begins in high school, and earn both a high school and an associate’s degree in a science, tech, engineering or math-related field. The schools map skills that employers value into the curriculum, preparing P-TECH graduates to enter the workforce after graduation.

To ensure that students can find jobs in their field, the program is supported by 400 business partners that work directly with 79 schools across the U.S. The business partners ensure that students are career-ready by providing mentoring, site visits and paid internships.

In addition to filling the many STEM jobs in the market today, P-TECH is also helping these graduates move to “new collar” jobs which can range from associate analyst to digital design developer.

In addition to efforts at the university level, there are technical programs as well.

The shortage of qualified automotive technicians drove Mercedes-Benz USA to expand one its technician training and development programs. The luxury automotive manufacturer this summer announced a new program in association with Jefferson Community & Technical College (JCTC) in Louisville, Ky.

The auto training shop program, Mercedes-Benz Accelerate, is the first-of-its-kind in the state. It prepares students to become a level one Mercedes-Benz Certified Systems Technician in just three semesters. Students will train on Mercedes-Benz vehicles, intern at a Mercedes-Benz dealership and have the opportunity to gain full-time employment after completing the program.

Across the range of jobs and levels of education, opportunities are being offered to students to help them choose STEM as their career. And let’s hope they can find some time for Shakespeare.

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The 2008 global downturn changed the economics of manufacturing. To stay in business, companies slashed budgets and cut staff to operate as leanly as possible. Now that the economy has recovered, the focus is shifting from survival mode to market leadership.

The problem is that the staffing cuts that helped companies stay solvent may have left them without the in-house engineering talent needed to develop the innovative products that will move them ahead of the competition. The solution? Outsource.

Although outsourcing is more commonly associated with manufacturing or service offerings like customer care and payroll, outsourcing engineering is an increasingly common way to bridge the skills gap. It is particularly effective in the case of complex support technologies like motion control.

Motion control is often essential to the performance of a product, and yet frequently has little to do with its true function. Outsourcing the automation subsystems to motion specialists creates a sort of virtual engineering team that ensures the product operates as desired, while freeing the in-house engineering team to allocate its efforts where they provide biggest competitive advantage.

As with all things in engineering, outsourcing is not a universal solution. If an organization has an extended development timeline, deep expertise, and widely available resources, keeping the project in-house may make the most sense. In many other scenarios, outsourcing may be the best approach for cost control, product quality, and time to market.

Here are five reasons to consider outsourcing your motion control engineering:

1. Lack of In-House Motion Expertise

The most obvious candidates for outsourcing are companies whose products may require automation, but whose core value proposition lies outside of motion. A DNA sequencer, for example, applies precision motion to rapidly position a pipette over a series of DNA wells. That’s not the key differentiator, however.

What matters to the company in the marketplace are the chemistry and the analytic software that enable the instrument to outperform the competition. By outsourcing the engineering of the XY stage, the organization can devote more development hours to the biology and science aspects of the machine. The outside team becomes the mechanical engineering extension of the company.

2. Performance Goals that Exceed Capabilities

Even organizations that have been designing and building sophisticated motion control systems for years may at some point reach the limit of what they can achieve performance-wise. That is when outsourcing to a group that specializes in motion control can make a big difference.

Recently, a customer who was having difficulty meeting spec on a product reached out to our company. The customer wanted to order a specialty bearing to hopefully solve the problem. When our engineers learned more about the system, however, we realized that the issue wasn’’t caused by a single component. The problem had to do with the overall design.

The customer brought the machine to our facility, where we could analyze it using specialty equipment that they didn’t have. Our team identified several small but crucial issues. By making minor modifications that same day, we were able to improve system performance more in a few hours than the in-house team had been able to over the previous six months.

This highlights two core values of outsourcing engineering: Not only can it enable an organization to achieve better performance than it can accomplish alone, but it can deliver that performance significantly faster.

The stats above show the countries with the most engineering graduates. (Image credit: Statista)

3. Tight Development Cycles

Time to market has a huge impact on the profitability of a product over its life cycle. Particularly in sectors like medical and semiconductor, being first to market creates great customer loyalty simply because the initial product is familiar. Companies can’t afford to invest 12 months in design and testing; they need to develop and release new products in a short period of time to keep up with the competition. This is where outsourcing engineering can make a big difference.

Organizations that provide engineering services frequently have portfolios of motion systems that can be easily tailored to a particular application. A company designing a novel automated patient bed, for example, can take advantage of the expertise of a motion partner who has developed dozens of beds.

By making a few modifications to a proven design, the motion specialist can help the medical device company roll out a new system in a month or two rather than a year—and with a very high confidence level that it will work, based on data from field-tested systems.

Outsourcing engineering also speeds customization. In one recent project, a customer wanted to add an additional axis to an already complex machine. There was no question that, given enough time and resources, the in-house engineering team could make the modification on its own. The problem was that all of the engineers were hard at work on the main platform.

Rather than delay getting the product to market, the customer asked our engineering services group to develop it as a subsystem that could basically be bolted onto the machine at the last moment. The machine builder was able to offer its customers additional functionality without losing first-mover advantage.

4. Need for a More Manufacturable Device

There can be a world of difference between a working prototype and a production-ready product. Minor design elements like alignment features can significantly improve ease of assembly, quality, and production throughput. Engineering for manufacturability can also make a difference in overall system operation.

We worked with an equipment builder who placed a highly effective but failure-prone component in the heart of its machine. The machine delivered high performance, but had the potential to be a maintenance headache once it was in operation. Our team redesigned the system so that the component could be replaced after moving just one part. This design modification would enable the asset owner to replace a failed part and be up and running in hours instead of days.

5. Cost Concerns

At the end of the day, business is about profitability. Manufacturers constantly seek ways to control costs by reducing inventory, manufacturing space, labor hours, etc. Motion system design can impact all of these factors and more. Organizations with motion expertise can perform cost-down engineering to reduce the number of parts, speed assembly and test, and limit equipment demands.

If the partner offers manufacturing services, as well, things get even simpler. Instead of writing eight to 10 purchase orders and taking up factory space and labor hours to build a subsystem, the manufacturer receives the complete assembled and tested subassembly.

Design of motion control systems is as much art as science. For OEMs who need performance they can’t achieve alone—whether through limitations of experience, time, cost, or other factors—outsourcing provides an effective solution.

View the original article and related content on Machine Design

In America today, truth has become a particularly slippery asset.

This goes beyond the usual political hot topics, cutting deep into the fabric of basic reality. Because, despite our unfettered access to unlimited troves of data, statistics, forums, and facts on the subject, finding a firm understanding of the concrete truth about the state of things can be an elusive, impossible endeavor.

Manufacturing is a prime example of this.

Ask anyone outside the industry about the state of manufacturing in America, and they will likely tell you that it’s long dead. And who can blame them? After decades of news coverage of the fall of Flints and Detroits, or watching local plants shutter and rust, or the constant noise about trade imbalances and Chinese imports, it seems like a solid conclusion to draw.

Ask a politician the same question and you’ll likely get exactly the opposite response. Their eyes will glaze over in hope, they will talk about all the new jobs added in the last report, they will talk about the hundreds of thousands of openings left to fill, they will conclude that manufacturing is healthy and well and on the rise.

The truth is in there somewhere, of course, mixed between these two contradictory perceptions. Understanding that truth is vital—it’s key to any progress the industry hopes to make, key to any future for American manufacturing.

This is a problem for Jay Timmons. As president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), Timmons is responsible for communicating the true state of manufacturing to the decision-makers in Washington DC to ensure that the policies and initiatives they undertake match the needs and realities of the nation’s workers. So he, arguably more than most in the industry, absolutely needs to understand.

To do that, he is about to do something rather interesting.

Today, Timmons is leaving his DC bubble to meet with manufacturing leaders and workers in neutral territory: just outside Detroit at a pizza shop in Southfield, Michigan. It is the first stop of what is shaping up to be a full tour of the Midwest—the heart of the heart of America’s manufacturing legacy.

The meeting, Timmons says, isn’t to deliver a speech or check out the latest equipment or investments at plants in the area. His plan is just to listen, to get the real story of manufacturing straight from the manufacturers themselves. In the progress, he hopes to take home a bit of that elusive truth.

In preparation for this kickoff event, Timmons and I met to talk about his plans and how this endeavor will help feed back to his primary job as lead advocate for the industry. In other words: how listening will turn to action.

IndustryWeek: I guess the first question is why are you why are you doing this? Why are you holding these talks, and why are you doing them in such an informal setting?

Jay Timmons: First of all, they’re not talks. They’re actually more listening sessions to be able to engage with folks in areas of the country where there’s an intense focus on manufacturing or where manufacturing once was thriving and is trying to revitalize.

For us in Washington, we talk about policy issues and we work with the administration and with Congress to get laws and regulations enacted to make manufacturers more competitive. But in the end, manufacturing is really about the people of manufacturing—the people who have contributed so mightily to the success of manufacturing throughout decades and centuries of our nation’s history and made us is the strong and exceptional country that we are today.

We [NAM] represent manufacturers all across the country; we’re the voice of manufacturers. I speak on behalf of manufacturers of manufacturing workers, so I think it’s very important to make sure that from time to time there is a check in with those very people who are making manufacturing so successful, and who are are making our country stronger.

I’m excited to be able to sit down with these folks to get their perspective on how we are doing as a country, how we are doing in terms of meeting their expectations for growing manufacturing and also inspiring the next generation to want to be part of that manufacturing workforce.

IW: Are you going in expecting to hear anything specific from them or expecting to learn perspectives on specific issues?

JT: Absolutely. I think Americans have proven that we’re not a monolithic people. We are very diverse country. And honestly, I think that’s what makes us so strong. The manufacturing workforce is no different. The manufacturing workforce is very diverse, there are a lot of ideas and a lot of opinions. In fact, a lot of their ideas that haven’t even been considered could help us be even more successful.

I want to hear from the folks at all levels of manufacturing. I also want to hear from community leaders about their ideas, what they’re doing to strengthen manufacturing, and how they need us at the federal level to partner with them on many of their great ideas—getting that perspective and understanding what the expectations are and being able to synthesize those and relate those to folks in Washington.

IW: That’s the real question, though: How will you take this back home and turn it into action? How is this going to inform what you do next:

JT: It will certainly influence me and it will inform me. And so in my conversations—whether they be with members of Congress, members of the United States Senate, members the administration, cabinet secretaries, even the president or vice president—this will inform all of those discussions.

But I think it’s actually broader than that. This is also about breaking through a narrative and perhaps even a stereotype of very different Americas that are being portrayed in our news media right now.

Look, I’m from Chillicothe, Ohio; I’m from the heartland of this country. I’m from ground zero of the manufacturing might of our country and I know the story that I grew up with.

I want to be able to refresh that story; I want to be able to relate to the individuals who are making decisions on behalf of the manufacturing workforce what I’m hearing back home and how the actions of Congress and the administration are resonating with the folks they are purporting to help.

This is not something I’m unfamiliar with. I have the great fortune and opportunity to spend time with manufacturers almost every day of my life in this current job. But this is a little different. This is this is not a very structured tour around a manufacturing facility, it’s not a PowerPoint presentation. This is just sitting down with the folks who are making the things that contribute to America’s might and success everyday their own hands.

That vantage point is extraordinarily important for the men and women who are making the laws and the regulations that impact our successful as a country.

View the original article and related content on IndustryWeek

Over the next decade, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will be needed, with 2 million expected to go unfilled due to the skills gap. Further, 80% of manufacturers already report a moderate or serious shortage of qualified applicants for skilled and highly skilled production positions. (Source: NAM/Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute)

Some would call this a crisis, an understandable sentiment given manufacturing contributed $2.25 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2016—a figure that has continually risen since the second quarter of 2009.

But, what is a crisis to some is seen as an opportunity for others.

That was just the case for two Michigan organizations that have come together to make a positive change for their local communities. In 2017, Junior Achievement of Southeastern Michigan and Cooper Standard partnered together to create a STEM education program, recognizing that the highly publicized skills gap is really rooted in an interest gap with students. The goal of the program is to inspire and educate middle and high school students to consider STEM-related careers. The program will reach approximately 3,000 students throughout southeast Michigan each year and has generated overwhelming interest from students, teachers, and program volunteers.

Cooper Standard’s “Careers in Manufacturing” tree illustrates the many job opportunities in STEM fields, especially those in manufacturing.

Fostering the Next-generation Workforce

Junior Achievement of Southeastern Michigan and Cooper Standard share a passion for creating and fostering positive change. For more than 70 years, Junior Achievement of Southeastern Michigan has worked in partnership with its communities to transform the student experience by bringing relevance, authenticity, and application into learning to energize students around academics and their future. Cooper Standard is a global automotive supplier with an engaged workforce, culture of community service, and history of philanthropy. Since April 2013, the Company’s charitable foundation—the Cooper Standard Foundation—has provided $10 million to more than 100 organizations across 16 countries.

Last year, the two organizations came together to discuss how to further inspire student interest in STEM-related careers, especially in manufacturing. They also wanted to help companies in their local communities fill their talent pipeline with an educated and engaged workforce.

Together they developed JA STEMworks!, a program designed to introduce middle and high school students to a variety of STEM-related careers. Available through the local school system, JA STEMworks! is facilitated by professionals currently working in STEM-related careers. These individuals guide students through STEM activities and talk to them openly, relating the activities to real-life careers.

Students in the program design model racecars, which are then tested, weighed, and put into a small wind tunnel created by Cooper Standard engineers.  

Prior to their day at Junior Achievement, students receive several hours of classroom instruction preparing them for the experience. This additional classroom content and attention to detail is the JA STEMworks! difference. Then, throughout a daylong session, the student participants experience a variety of STEM activities developed by Cooper Standard engineers to simulate real-life working environments. These activities include:

  • Mass: adding and subtracting weight and its impact on racing;
  • Friction: working with various materials to learn resistance;
  • Wind: taking part in a wind tunnel experiment;
  • Design: working with modeling clay; and
  • TinkerCAD: experimenting with Computer Aided Design (CAD).

Cooper Standard, which funds the program through the Cooper Standard Foundation, designed the experiments based on the Company’s successful STEM outreach program. The sessions provide students a reminder of some of the STEM basics they have learned throughout their scholastic career while incorporating new lessons in a fun and interactive way, all while tying these activities to real-life job functions.

For example, during the Mass session, students physically add weights to cars and witness the impact it has on their speed; all the while, the facilitator is explaining how the weight also affects the fuel efficiency of a vehicle and the specific techniques engineers and designers use to maximize both. The students begin to really see the correlation between the activities and the real-life application of the lessons.

Each activity is a building block of knowledge, showing students how each component of design impacts the performance of a vehicle. As students rotate through each experiment, they are often surprised to learn that there are many careers tied to each topic that they may not have considered. One fun fact that often appeals to artistic students is that graduates of the Detroit College for Creative Studies are some of the most sought-after clay modelers for design.

In the afternoon session, the participants have the opportunity to put their new knowledge to the test. The students are separated into teams charged with building racecars with Legos and modeling clay using the knowledge they have learned that morning. Everyone on the team has a role in the process—project manager, designer, quality controller, etc.—to simulate a real collaborative working environment. The model racecars are then tested, weighed, and put into a small the wind tunnel created by Cooper Standard engineers prior to racing other teams’ cars.

The model car racing is the highlight of the day for students and volunteers alike; pride and confidence soar as students put their newly acquired skills to work. The session closes with an open discussion between students and professionals who currently work in STEM-related careers.

Closing the Interest Gap

While there are several programs that focus on different parts of STEM education, another unique element of this program is that it enables students the opportunity to learn about specific STEM careers as they go throughout their day. This is a critical component to JA STEMworks!, as it works to increase the younger generation’s awareness of and interest in STEM-related careers.

Although many students enjoy STEM-related activities and projects, there is a current misconception that some STEM jobs, such as those in manufacturing, are “boring.” Another common misconception is that all STEM careers require at least a four-year college degree, which isn’t accurate. Yet another is that today’s manufacturing industry looks the same as it did 20 years ago, with workers performing monotonous jobs in dark and dirty factories. In reality, technology and automation have drastically transformed the industry into a cutting-edge career choice.

Working to close this interest gap, during JA STEMworks!, every activity is tied back to a STEM career that the students can aspire to in real life. For example, modern manufacturing offers many diverse career opportunities. From production to product engineering—and other supportive roles, from communications to purchasing—there are countless options across all levels of education.

To help highlight this expansive array of career paths, students are provided an information packet at the end of the day with a list of approximately 26 STEM-related career choices. The students also have access to Cooper Standard’s “Careers in Manufacturing” tree that illustrates the many job opportunities in STEM fields, especially as it relates to modern manufacturing, along with the various levels of education needed to obtain these positions.

At the end of the session, students leave inspired and engaged. The initial feedback has been overwhelmingly positive with students eager to learn more. According to student surveys, 72% of the students said they are interested in pursuing a STEM-related career as a result of their day.

Real-Life Mentors

The students are separated into teams charged with building racecars with Legos and modeling clay using the knowledge they have learned from the program.

Another way JA STEMworks! helps to close the interest gap is through its volunteers. While these  participants vary from week to week and session to session, they share one important attribute: All are currently working in a STEM field. This is an important feature of the program, as it provides the session attendees exposure to different careers and job opportunities through someone who works in the field every day.

The volunteer group, usually about 15 to 20 professionals working with a group of 50 student participants, come from a number of notable, forward-thinking companies, such as Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., and Inforum’s INSTEM program. While individual employee volunteer opportunities are always available, most companies opt to create a team-building opportunity by sending a group of employees.

Volunteers are provided with a packet ahead of time that provide lessons on each of the sessions, as well as a “what to expect” guide that answers frequently-asked questions and the day’s agenda. Volunteers arrive on-site approximately one hour prior to the students to allow JA to share a brief training video put together by Cooper Standard, walk them through their day, and answer any questions. The students love getting to know these professionals and hearing about both their successes and failures.

In addition to fostering the next-generation workforce, Cooper Standard cites employee engagement as a key benefit of the program, and one of the reasons why the company chose to develop the program with Junior Achievement of Southeastern Michigan. According to feedback, employees are excited to know that these types of volunteer opportunities exist and that their company is working to engage the next-generation workforce. Employees also value the opportunity to meet and develop relationships with peers from other areas of the company, which is often challenging to do as today’s work environment becomes more global and remote.

For Cooper Standard, these benefits help foster the company’s established culture of community engagement and investing in the communities where its employees and customers work and live. These are important factors, as they work to hire younger associates who consider an organization’s culture when evaluating job opportunities.

Just Do It

Based on the high level of response from both volunteers and schools, Junior Achievement of Southeastern Michigan will increase its sessions to twice a month for the 2018-2019 school year, with the intention of growing to three times a month by the end of 2019.

There is a great need for STEM-education support and many opportunities for companies to become involved. For those considering joining the effort, Junior Achievement of Southeastern Michigan and Cooper Standard encourage companies to just do it! Both organizations stress that interested companies don’t need to reinvent the wheel and create a program from scratch. There are a number of great STEM education programs currently available, so take the first step by collaborating with an established program. The next-generation workforce will thank you.

Jennifer Shupp is director of business development at Cooper Standard. Jennifer Champion is vice president of development and marketing at Junior Achievement of Southeastern Michigan.

Resources

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Eric Klein, global sales manager of Schneider Electric Motion USA, answers five key questions on the future of the Motion Control industry.

In the article, Eric discusses emerging technologies, industry trends, the opportunities presented by the Internet of Things and the growing challenge of energy use and management, and how Schneider Electric Motion USA is rising to meet them.

Read the questions and Eric’s insightful responses on the Motion Solutions blog.