It wasn’t that long ago that manufacturing was pronounced dead in our country. Really dead – as in ‘nobody makes stuff here anymore.’ Low-cost manufacturing was outsourced to China, India, Vietnam, and other low-cost labor markets around the world.
Guess what? If you haven’t been paying attention, manufacturing is back – and it’s hot. I recently attended my first IMTS show in Chicago on behalf of a client, Tormach Inc. ( more on them later). And what I saw in my brief time there left no doubt – manufacturing is alive and well in America.
I’ve got to say, I didn’t expect to see what I saw in Chicago. On the eve of IMTS, I was privileged to attend an event at mHUB Chicago. mHUB is a fantastic place, a ‘maker space’ with donated machinery and equipment from some of the best suppliers in the world, dedicated to making manufacturing accessible and understandable to anyone who wants to take part.
The Sunday night event, co-sponsored by YouTube sensation John Saunders of Saunders Machine Works and NYC CNC, was promoted as a ‘Manufacturing Entrepreneurship Summit’ and ‘day of workshops and tours, with guest speakers’.
Ho-hum, right? Ahh – no.
How about close to 500 enthusiastic, mostly young people packed into an old warehouse in Chicago that’s been converted to a state-of-the-art manufacturing space (a space packed with the latest machines and tools including a brand new 1100M CNC mill from Tormach), listening to talks on CNC machining, talking about their ideas, projects and start-up businesses?
How about throngs of people clamoring around mHUB’s shop, crowding around to watch demos of live machining on CNC mills, lathes, and 3D printing machines?
How about the event running until 8 p.m. on a Sunday night, with nobody leaving, until mHUB had to shut down and the crowd went out to afterparties?
An eye opener, to say the least – and then there was IMTS.
I’ve been to many trade shows over the years, but this was truly impressive. I only attended the first day, but the show ran all week and brought in a record number of visitors – 130,000 visitors – to see the latest and greatest the machine tool industry had to offer. Companies from all over the world descended on Chicago’s McCormick Place for a one-week lovefest of all things manufacturing. Our client, Tormach, showed their newest CNC mill, the 1100MX in a 10’ x 20’ booth shared with partner AB Tools Inc. – and the interest was off the charts.
At a time when factories in our country face a serious labor shortage, especially when it comes to machine operators, it was great to see the enthusiasm on display at IMTS – and make no mistake, our young people are very much on board. The industry seems to be succeeding in getting its message through to Gen X’ers that manufacturing jobs are plentiful and a good option for a career. Not to mention, they’re cool – all you need to do is search YouTube to see what’s going on – the stuff being made, the ‘how-to’ videos, and the explosion of information available to the next generation workforce.
Reports of manufacturing’s demise were not greatly exaggerated – it really was dead, or at least on life support, for a while. But good news, people – as we approach 2019, make no mistake - manufacturing is back in America. Here’s hoping that this time, it’s back to stay.