WYSO

Battling The Skills Gap: Inside The Advanced Manufacturing Revolution

Mar 3, 2017

Nuvasive officials say the more than $45 million 180,000-square-foot, all-digital West Carrollton facility will generate at least 200 new jobs for the company, which also has operations in Fairborn.
Credit WYSO/Jess Mador

At medical device maker NuVasive’s new West Carrollton facility, workers in safety glasses stand at rows of off-white machines that look kind of like giant baby incubators. The atmosphere is bright, airy and clean.

It’s a far cry from what many people imagine a factory to look like, says Gregg Miller, from Springboro.

“I think a lot of people think that it's dirty, but you can see from our shop it's far from being dirty,” Miller, senior CNC programmer, says.

CNC is lingo you hear a lot in manufacturing these days. It stands for computer numerical control. The technology is typically used to cut metal and other raw materials into high-precision parts for aerospace, automotive, biomedical and other industries.

“It is all about the CNC at this point,” Miller says. “From my experience there are very few shops around that are still doing any kind of the manual-type work. Everybody is going to CNC. You’ve got a machine that will repeat as well as what these do and you can't duplicate that.”

Nuvasive’s production process at this 180,000-square-foot digital facility reflects a quiet revolution underway inside many of the nondescript factory buildings that dot the Miami Valley. More and more companies are using so-called advanced manufacturing technologies such as networking, data analytics and CNC automation, technologies that some experts say are helping to usher in a new, 21st century Industrial Revolution, and a wave of highly paid, high-tech manufacturing jobs.

Gov. John Kasich has said the trend is key to the state’s future development plans. But as Ohio’s recovery continues to pick up steam, some manufacturing experts say more workers need specialized training to be able to land these new manufacturing jobs.

San Diego-based Nuvasive specializes in spinal implants and devices used for spinal surgery. It’s the third-largest spinal device company in the world.
Credit WYSO/Jess Mador

San Diego-based Nuvasive specializes in spinal implants and devices used for spinal surgery. It’s the third-largest spinal device company in the world.

And the use of computer-programmed CNC machines means the production process is able to eliminate human error to produce parts that are exactly the same, every time.

Miller points through an observation window on the side of his CNC machine. A fully automated vice, lathe and spindle whir as they perform a complicated ballet of tasks at super high speed. Oil rushes around inside as the machine cuts long bars of titanium into tiny screws and other medical device parts.

“We're investing money in a technology where you can be competitive. With a machine like this, for my production run, we're going to set it to run 30 parts, and we're going to walk away at five o'clock and it'll run for five hours after we leave,” Miller says.

The design parameters the machines work within are miniscule. To demonstrate, Miller holds up a piece of typing paper sideways.

“If you take this sheet of paper and you slice it this way 30 times, and you take one of those slivers, that's a tenth,” he says. “That's how precise I'm trying to hold this part in order to pass our studies, in order to put this machine into validation.”

The CNC machine tracks each individual component at every step to make sure it meets specifications. Each machine is rigged with a touch-screen computer system.

Engineer and senior director of manufacturing Ruben Perez says any part that’s not perfect is flagged before it can leave the factory for shipping.

“It allows us to run this factory paperless,” he says. “So, all the steps are in the workflow of the application. It indicates how many parts to sample, what to measure. The data is captured in there and it provides the controls for training, for maintenance, for calibration. And it will block the progress of this order if anything is out of place.”

The high level of automation, Perez says, requires workers with a high level of skill. He says Nuvasive is working to forge partnerships with Dayton-area high schools, trade schools community colleges and universities to help ensure a pipeline of fresh talent.

“It’s extremely important that we hire people with a certain level of skill-set so they can become productive in a short period of time but we are really looking forward, in due time, to bringing in that less-skilled individual to really grow with the company.”

NuVasive, Inc., San Diego corporate headquarters
Credit Nuvasive

Nuvasive officials say the more than $45 million 180,000-square-foot, all-digital West Carrollton facility will generate at least 200 new jobs for the company, which also has operations in Fairborn.

Nuvasive vice president of global operations, Steven Rozow III, says Dayton’s historical manufacturing-knowledge base played a role in the company’s decision to expand in West Carrollton.

Still, Rozow says, he’d like to see more public-private collaboration to promote STEM education and advanced-manufacturing skills in Ohio.

“I think there is going to have to be some partnership between industry and in the government, on the education side, in particular the secondary level of education,” he says. “Anything that we can do to help incentivize and promote standards STEM disciplines is going to be a really powerful partnership and help in the long run.”

Consensus is building across the state around just this idea. To help close the gap, Kasich’s two-year $144 billion state budget calls for better coordination of research, education and workforce training.

The governor has proposed a new so-called chief innovation officer to lead a $750,000-a-year Ohio Institute of Technology. The goal would be to help the state capitalize on emerging technologies, advanced manufacturing and STEM jobs. Ohio already ranks third nationally in manufacturing gross domestic product, producing more than $108 billion worth of goods each year.

Horton Hobbs IV, vice president of economic development for the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, says closing the skills gap is increasingly urgent as the county experiences an uptick in high-tech manufacturing investment.

“The skill needs are changing but the demand for the new skills is growing faster than our ability to supply it, so it puts a lot of pressure on our training providers to provide employees with the kind of skill-sets that our employers are demanding.”

Barry Adams, 56, from Clark County, is working on rewiring a circuit board as part of his training for an associate's degree in industrial technology and maintenance. It’s a new chapter for Adams, who last year lost his more than 20-year job in an oil field-related industry.
Credit WYSO/Jess Mador

Over at Clark State Community College, 56-year-old Barry Adams, from Clark County, is working on rewiring a circuit board as part of his training for an associate's degree in industrial technology and maintenance.

“Maintaining machinery in working order,” is what the program is about, he says, “getting them back running when they break down.”

It’s a new chapter for Adams, who last year lost his more than 20-year job in an oil field-related industry. Now, he’s starting over with help from the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance program also known as TAA.

The $450 million program helps workers whose jobs were impacted by outsourcing with up to two years of tuition-free workforce training and income assistance.

Adams says he hopes the new skills he’s learning at Clark State will keep him employed until he’s ready to retire.

“There will always be a demand for this field. You can't get a robot to come in and troubleshoot your electric components,” he says.

Baby boomers like Adams are aging out of the manufacturing workforce in growing numbers. Their departure, Clark State Community College Career Navigator Jennifer Chilman says, underscores the need for a return to technical education, especially for young people who’d rather learn a trade than go to college right away.

“Students that were graduating high school in the late 80s and 90s, everybody went to college. That was the standard. Everybody went to college, and the skilled trades really kind of got glazed over or skipped over. And so now, we're looking at a generation that doesn't have a lot of the skill-set, and we have a lot of employers in the area that need the skill-set, so unfortunately we are trying to backfill,” she says.

But, she says, choosing high-tech manufacturing over a four-year college degree doesn’t necessarily mean missing out on basic academics anymore.

Clark State is among the first workforce-training programs in Ohio to integrate basic English and math education into its advanced manufacturing curriculum, which includes courses in CNC, welding and 3D printing.