Advanced Manufacturing Symposium Recap

NIACC’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center co-hosted the 2014 Advanced Manufacturing Symposium with Sukup Manufacturing Co. The event attracted two hundred attendees to Sheffield, Iowa to tour Sukup’s new corporate headquarters building and expanded production facilities. The event’s theme of Sustaining Advanced Manufacturing All-Stars in North Iowa was reinforced by a keynote luncheon speech by a great All-Star player and leader, New York Yankee’s Manager, Joe Girardi.

The day featured an opening address by Debi Durham, Director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, focused on the importance of manufacturing to Iowa. Director Durham observed, “In Iowa, manufacturing is big business. In fact, the percentage of the state’s GDP derived from manufacturing has consistently ranked in the top 10 in the country. The advanced manufacturing sector is so strong in Iowa because the public and private sectors work together to ensure conditions are favorable for growth to remain competitive in the global marketplace.”

The event featured technology demonstrations by leading industrial solutions providers including Motoman Robotics, Stratasys 3D Printing, and Lincoln Electric virtual welding. Sponsors highlighted their technology on plant tours and explained their products to attendees. (A full list of sponsors follows.) Leaders from industry, education and government discussed Iowa challenges and opportunities.

Zane Michael from Motoman Robotics explained, “Employers are responding to the shortage of skilled workers by giving existing workers more powerful, automated tools to improve productivity. Robotic welders and similar solutions don’t replace existing workers, but rather secure their jobs by improving productivity and repeatable quality.” In worldwide competition workers with the best tools win.

Dave Zrostlik, CEO of Stellar Industries highlighted the importance of innovation in solving customer problems with concrete examples from Stellar’s product lineup. “Our Hooklift solution lets municipal customers use the same truck for multiple roles, quickly switching back and forth. Our tire service trucks are custom tailored to keep valuable equipment working.  Heavy mining truck tires are serviced or replaced on the spot, minimizing downtime in customer operations that run 24/7.”

Emily Schmitt, General Counsel for Sukup Manufacturing Co. explained her company’s decision to make a major new investment in Sheffield, IA “I don’t stay awake at night worrying about the competition. We emphasize innovation to make sure the competition is responding to us. We have a wall of patents, but the value to customers is in the solutions we offer to their problems. We’ve built a company on grain handling and storage technology by understanding and serving our customer and working as a team. Innovation is how we assure Sukup Manufacturing Co. is the leader.” As a result Sukup Manufacturing Co. has grown by a factor of eight times in the last twelve years. Eighty percent of Sukup product offerings today are new in that period of time. That’s how entrepreneurial companies grow.

Service providers from the Iowa Innovation Corporation, NIACC and the State’s public universities highlighted existing and new programs to assist advanced manufacturing companies and workers. From internships and training, to financing programs, and assistance in rapid prototyping for new product development, the State offers multiple forms of assistance. Innovation was a continuing theme as the speakers all addressed the pressures to stay ahead of the curve. Gregg Barcus of the Iowa Innovation Corporation highlighted, “We’re all here focused on leading change. Failure to change is not an option. Inaction means competitors and customers all change around us, leaving the complacent behind. Far better to lead the change and capture the benefits of innovation for our customers and our team.”

And leadership was also the theme of Joe Girardi’s keynote address. Joe spoke for more than thirty minutes with an engaging personal story, illustrating leadership in baseball, business and life. He concluded, “If you have a passion and you have a vision. If you’re willing to work hard, to make yourself better and others around you better. If you’re willing to check your ego at the door, and sometimes that’s not easy to do, but you have to do it. If you’re willing to be attentive, to be in tune to what others need, what they’re asking for. If you’re willing to change and to share ideas, you’ll be a great team member. That’s what I ask of my guys – be team members. How do you make that guy next to you better? How do you push that guy next to you. .  . We win as a team. If you don’t work together you can’t achieve greatness.”

Take Aways:

  • Increasing automation and changing technology will change the skills NIACC and other community colleges will have to train and support, as the bar for the most skilled technical positions continue to rise. Money and talent for new training programs in robotics, additive manufacturing and more will be necessary.
  • Students, parents, teachers and school counselors need to understand the difference between a career path and a major. The career path has many steps, including the critical practical experience “doing” in an industry, before managing or leading. A generic four year degree without practical experience is worth far less than starting with technical training, real world work experience, and then adding two more years for a four year degree with practical context. Going straight to a four year college or university is not the right or best answer for many students.
  • NIACC is the front line intake center and coordinator of a wide variety of advanced manufacturing programming through state agencies and universities. NIACC will have to continue to partner to bring the full range of services to North Iowa employers. Success will require investments to update NIACC’s equipment such as its 3D printer (additive manufacturing) to stay current. The equipment serves both students learning the technology and employers pursuing product innovation through rapid prototyping.
  • North Iowa needs to import more students and workers from out-of-state to service the growing demand for skilled workers. We offer competitive cost of technical education at NIACC, career opportunities, favorable cost-of-living, and rural lifestyle amenities for families seeking great schools and outdoor recreation. We also have easy access to metro markets. Few states offer the strong employment opportunities of Iowa’s advanced manufacturers. Successful families grow best here.

Sponsors for the event:

Motoman – a Yaskawa Company
Dalcos Coil Punching Machines
MidAmerican Energy
Magic Coil Products
Culver-Hahn Electric Supply
Baldwin Supply Company
Gladwin Machinery & Supply Co.
Crescent Electric Supply Company & Phoenix Contact
Holmes Murphy
Innovation Iowa
Renew Rural Iowa
UNI Business & Community Services
Pier Foundry
Mazak Optics Corp.
McNeilus Steel, Inc.
Viking Materials
Iowa Economic Development
Huber Supply
Leland Industries, Inc.
Intertrade Steel Corporation
Zarley Law Firm P.L.C.
Storey Kenworthy