Festo Fosters Manufacturing Resurgence in Southern Ohio

  • November 30, 2016
  • Festo Corporation
  • Feature

By Cory Fogg, Content Editor, Automation.com

It is no secret that the 50-year decline of the American manufacturing industry wreaked a great deal of havoc on the Midwestern area known (largely as a result of this decline) as the Rust Belt. While many in this country still yearn for the halcyon days of American production--and the related bounty of manufacturing jobs--] the rise of automation has changed that landscape forever. Yet thanks to the recent efforts of companies like Festo, that change may herald a brighter future both for American manufacturing and the young American workforce.

Festo’s Investment in the American Manufacturing Market

A prominent German supplier of automation technology, Festo is at the leading edge of a trend that is seeing a plethora of German-based machine builders invest in the recovering American market, combining to provide $18.8 billion worth of goods to the US in 2015. The president of Festo’s U.S. branch, Rich Huss, explained that “Reindustrialization provides an opportunity for Festo, as OEMs and end users in the US rely on pneumatics and electric motion products in their automation systems”

A top-down look at Festo's expansive $60 million Mason, OH facility (Photo Courtesy of Festo)

HAHN Automation

Visiting some of the southern Ohio-based facilities that implement those products, the impact of this opportunity really hits home. About 20 minutes down the road from Festo’s new $60 million distribution facility is the US office of HAHN Automation, a company which specializes in building customized, fully automated machines for manufacturers, and is reliant on products from the Festo center. HAHN’s main concept, MasterCell, is at the center of these innovations. Usable as an automatic single workstation, or integrated into large scale automation systems, a visit to the HAHN facility showed MasterCell integrated with products from Festo and other suppliers as part of a machine which assembled bases for rolling desk chairs. This is just one example of the ways Festo and their customers are bringing the phrase ‘Made in America’ back to prominence.

Too Many Jobs, Too Little Skilled Labor

The truth about American manufacturing, as most in the industry are aware, is that there are actually, plenty of jobs available. A projected 3.4 million of them over the next decade in fact. Contrary to the manufacturing past, however, the jobs have moved away from the less-skilled assembly line workers, and more towards the technology-savvy, more specialized laborers. Much of this comes from the companies’ need for experts who work with and maintain the advanced machinery that has taken over the assembly line. Festo, along with other area manufacturers, are taking aim to close this labor gap.

Festo Didactic’s Efforts to Bridge the Labor Gap

Through their educational program, Festo Didactic, and the Festo Learning Center on the campus of their Mason, Ohio-based distribution facility, the company is using the German apprenticeship model to empower young individuals with the skills they need to launch their manufacturing career.  The head of the Learning Center Midwest, Carolin McCaffery explained that students in the program spend one day in class at a local community college, one day practicing what they learned with trained instructors at the Learning Center, and then three days implementing those skills in their real work environment, all over a two-year timespan culminating with an Associate’s Degree in Mechatronics. “[The Learning Center] gives our apprentices a place where they can work with instructors on high-end workstations that simulate a work environment and correspond to their classroom curriculum,” described McCaffrey.

Festo's Carolin McCaffery and a Festo Didactic instructor explain the program at the Festo Learning Center in Mason, while the student apprentices continue their work (Photo Courtesy of Festo)

Walking through the learning center, during a tour of Festo’s facility, six of the eleven students currently going through the Mason program were all there, working closely with two instructors to deliver close, hands-on training with the latest industry equipment. Some would implement those skills for Festo in the future, while the rest held future positions at companies like Nestle, HAHN, Clippard and several other organizations. One of the apprentices, Nathan Gledhill, sees the mutual benefit of the program. “This is the future of maintenance tech. The more I talk to people in this field the more I see how it is big over in Europe and it’s coming this way,” observed Gledhill, “You get in on the ground floor and you’ll be set.” With some 379,000 open manufacturing jobs available in the United State today, the future of apprentices like Gledhill is looking very bright indeed.

The Success of American Manufacturing Depends on an Investment in the Workforce

The future success of American manufacturing, and the long-term job prospects of the incoming workforce, is dependent on companies like Festo--along with the many others who are making educational efforts—to give their future employees the skills that the companies need them to have. While the days of the traditional assembly line worker may be long gone, if manufacturers make the continued investment in their future, a prosperous age of automation and maintenance specialists may be just beginning.

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