Area firms ready to refocus on manufacturing

Area companies and research institutions are poised to capitalize on the renewed push to rebuild manufacturing and invest in research and development.

Speeches by President Barack Obama and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker earlier this month offered the most aggressive policy statements to date from the administration in favor of Main Street industry, placing it as a centerpiece for recharging economic growth.

Both were in Ohio — Obama at a Cleveland steel plant and Pritzker at a Westerville high tech company. Pritzker’s address connects with projects being pursued by the University of Dayton Research Institute and dovetails with advanced materials and aerospace industries concentrated in southwest Ohio.

The addresses come amid a slow national recovery with high long-term unemployment.

A local success story is Renegade Materials in Springboro, a manufacturer of carbon fiber composite materials used to replace titanium and other specialty metals in civilian and military aircraft.

Founded in 2008, the company plans to expand production into a second building and ramp from 22 fulltime employees to 70 by 2015, said Laura Gray, general manager. The company’s production employees are all veterans of the Dayton area’s auto industry, she added.

“It’s really exceeded our expectations,” Gray said.”We are very pleased with the quality of the workforce here.”

Pritzker highlighted the administration’s research push, the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, a $1 billion proposal to create up to 45 specialized research technology hubs intended to meld academic institutions and industry.

The first institution, focused on 3D, or additive manufacturing, has already been funded in Youngstown. UDRI is involved, along with the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The administration needs Congressional action to fund all the hubs, and bipartisan legislation is pending sponsored by Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt.

Pritzker said the Commerce Department awarded the institute $5 million in September to test the properties of materials made through 3D printing. UD, with the nation’s largest federally-funded university polymer research program, works with the carbon fiber reinforced polymers that are key to additive manufacturing. GE Aviation, headquartered in Evendale, in 2012 acquired suburban Cincinnati manufacturer Morris Technologies and sister company Rapid Quality Manufacturing to build its 3D capacity.

Pritzker said the federal government will launch three more research hubs in lightweight metals, power electronics, and digital manufacturing and design.

“These are cutting-edge technologies in which the United States must compete and lead. Other countries are making major investments in manufacturing innovation. To win the future, we need to lead the next wave of new industries and technologies – right here at home,” Pritzker said.

UDRI is teaming with academic and industry partners as part of a consortium to play a part in a lightweight metals and digital manufacturing research hub, said UDRI Director John Leland. The federal government is now evaluating the proposals and an announcement is expected by the end of the year, Leland said.

We are developing materials that will be novel materials that will expand applications and the value this manufacturing can bring to business,” Leland said.

The Youngstown hub, dubbed the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, is the pilot for NNMI and is led by the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining and includes research universities Carnegie Mellon and Case Western Reserve University as well as Honeywell, Boeing, and IBM, and smaller manufacturers.

Manufacturing has been the bright spot in Ohio’s recovery. The Ohio Manufacturers Directory reported that Ohio gained 5,761 manufacturing jobs from September 2012 to September 2013, or about a 0.5 percent, matching last year’s half-percent gain. It attributed the gain to continued reinvestment by the Big Three automakers with increased orders for steelmakers servicing the booming natural gas sector. It said Ohio is home to 17,261 manufacturers employing 876,144 workers, compared to a high of 21,000 manufacturers and 1.3 million industrial workers the publisher recorded in 1994.

According to MNI, Ohio’s two largest sectors by manufacturing employment both posted gains, with jobs in industrial machinery and equipment rising by 2.5 percent. Industrial machinery ranks as Ohio’s largest sector by industrial employment, employing 141,707 or 16 percent of its manufacturing sector.

Honda plans a $125 million expansion of its engine plant in Anna; Ford announced an expansion of a plant in Cleveland; and auto supplier Miba Sinter will expand its facility in McConnelsville. It said other bright spots included the opening of Niagara Bottling’s new PET Bottling plant in Gahanna; the establishment of electrode-maker GrafTech’s new facility in Sharon Center; and titanium products maker Cristal’s planned expansion of its Ashtabula factory.

More good news came Thursday with Reuters reporting that U.S. manufacturing rebounded after hitting a one-year low in October and output grew at its fastest pace in nine months. Financial data firm Markit said its “flash,” or preliminary, U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index rose to 54.3, an eight-month high, from 51.8 in October. November’s reading comfortably beat economists’ estimate of 52.4.

“The Dayton region is built on a foundation of manufacturing businesses,” said Scott Koorndyk, executive vice president for the Dayton Development Coalition. “We are encouraged by initiatives at the local, state and national level to help the manufacturing segment.”

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