Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, is Manufacturing Day (MFG Day), an annual event that honors manufacturers and showcases the manufacturing sector’s critical role in the US economy. That was never made clearer than this year, when a global pandemic revealed just how crucial US manufacturing is across industry sectors.
Sponsored by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the Manufacturing Institute, MFG Day has become a tradition every first Friday of October. These two trade groups also have launched the Creators Wanted campaign, an unprecedented effort to build the manufacturing workforce of tomorrow.
The pandemic showed how essential it is to be able to manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical devices of all types, but it also threw into sharp relief the obstacles that can arise when manufacturing is outsourced half-way around the world. Shortages of parts and raw materials became evident, as US manufacturers shifted production and scrambled to find US suppliers for the products they needed. Some badly needed parts simply were no longer available in the United States, as production had moved to China and other Asian countries over the years.
Many manufacturers were fortunate that their supply chain extended mostly to our neighbors, Mexico and Canada. Others began manufacturing the needed parts themselves to fill the gap. In the Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) September 2020 Manufacturing report, one respondent from the computer and electronic products sector commented, “Still struggling with long lead times for components coming from China [contract manufacturers].”
From the transportation equipment sector, another respondent to the ISM survey said, “Business is booming, and the supply chain has been caught off guard. We are working closely with our suppliers to ensure supply and try to control costs. The resin industry, along with plastics, is driving cost increases and scarce availability.”
Overall the third quarter of 2020 was better than many economists were forecasting. Though down from August’s highs, the September ISM numbers were quite good, with the overall Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) at 55.4%, a tick down from August’s 56.0%. New Orders for September came in at 60.2%, down from 67.6% for August. Supplier Deliveries were better, up to 59.0% in September from 58.2% in August.
The ISM’s PMI also showed customer inventories as “too low” at 38.9% and prices of goods increasing from 59.5% in August to 62.8% in September. Backlogs have increased and are growing. This might be the result of the just-in-time (JIT) production model that swept across manufacturing more than 20 years ago. At the time, JIT was seen as an economic efficiency given that inventory sitting in warehouses added costs. The pandemic proved that JIT works well when everything is going along as usual, but in an emergency, JIT becomes an obstacle.
Today, MFG Day 2020 will once again showcase manufacturing as an essential and viable part of the US economy. The sector continues to offer good-paying jobs for a variety of skills. Under the cloud of COVID-19, it’s to be expected that fewer plastics processors and mold makers will open their doors to their local communities, students, and parents than in past years. Those that do should be supported, while following reasonable health guidelines, of course.
Some companies, such as Bishop-Wisecarver, will be marking the day virtually. Bishop-Wisecarver is inviting people to attend its Virtual Manufacturing Day 2020, which will showcase manufacturing and the many career opportunities through videos and other content. It will also kick off its first Student Design Contest. Bishop-Wisecarver is one of the companies featured in the video embedded above that was produced by NAM. The State of Manufacturing tour visited 26 manufacturers in February 2019 to showcase the “next frontier of modern manufacturing.”
As the video shows, modern manufacturing plants are amazing places to work, and one of the goals of MFG Day is to help improve the image of manufacturing plants and the jobs the offer. We need to continue making strides in “reshoring” manufacturing and to do that we need more skilled workers, and people ready to learn those skills to take on the work coming back home.