Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Thursday, October 6, 2022

Manufacturing in Massachusetts Shifts into High Gear 

<img style="float: left;" src="" alt="" width="112" height="84" />It’s refreshing to hear Eric Nakajima talk about manufacturing in Massachusetts. As the Senior Innovation Advisor to the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, he has been closely involved with initiatives supporting the Massachusetts’ manufacturing community. And his perspective is very different from the many national pundits calling for “saving”, “rebuilding” or “restoring” American manufacturing.

It’s refreshing to hear Eric Nakajima talk about manufacturing in Massachusetts.

As the Senior Innovation Advisor to the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, he has been closely involved with initiatives supporting the Massachusetts’ manufacturing community.  And his perspective is very different from the many national pundits calling for “saving”, “rebuilding” or “restoring” American manufacturing.

“This is not what we’re about in Massachusetts,”  Nakajima says.  “Over the last 20 years our manufacturers have been doing the hard work of turning themselves around. This despite the fact that a lot of our other traditional industries, such as textiles, were being hollowed out – either leaving the state or closing down altogether.  But our manufacturers, including many small- to medium-sized companies, have made the necessary investments, learned lean manufacturing techniques, and adopted new technologies. They have become profitable and have continued to grow.  

“So, at the state level, it’s not a question of our saving or restoring them,” he adds.   “Rather its about us being effective partners with these manufacturers and helping them build on their success by creating  on-going alliances between industry, academia and government.”

This year’s Massachusetts Manufacturers Register and databases lists nearly 10,000 industrial businesses in the state providing more than 400,000 manufacturing jobs. The largest companies in the Commonwealth include GE Aviation, Raytheon, Staples, Gillette, IBM, EMC and other notables.

But by far, the majority of the state’s manufacturer’s are small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). According to Nakajima, it is these companies, with  headcounts ranging from just a few employees to around 150 that account for the largest share of employment in the Massachusetts economy.  So it’s no wonder that the SMEs receive a lot of attention in the seminal Building Bridges to Growth: A Roadmap for Advanced Manufacturing in Massachusetts, issued in Nov. 2011.  

The Roadmap’s charter is to vigorously support the spread of advanced manufacturing in the state. The document borrows from the National Council for Advanced Manufacturing to put forward this wordy but inclusive definition:  Advanced manufacturing is a process – a way of producing – that “makes extensive use of computer, high precision, and information technologies integrated with a high performance work force in a production system capable of furnishing a heterogeneous mix of products in small or large volumes with both the efficiency of mass production and the flexibility for custom manufacturing in order to respond rapidly to customer demands.”

The Roadmap calls for the creation of a world-class advanced manufacturing cluster, an effort that involves both public and private entities including one of the state’s major resources – its universities. For example, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Northeastern and Boston Universities. These five organizations have teamed up to create the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computer Center in Holyoke, Mass.

These and other members of the state’s educational system will add their expertise and computing resources to assets from private companies and the government to bring digital manufacturing to the state’s SMEs. One result will be to develop centers of competence where these smaller manufacturers can find the technical help and computational resources they need to adopt advanced, digital manufacturing techniques.

This is easier said than done.  As Nakajima points out, SMEs, typically employing ten to 100 people, have neither the time, the financial resources, nor the historical inclination to explore new technologies.  In addition, a group of manufacturers in a specific region of the state are used to viewing each other as competitors, not collaborators. They regard any technological advantage they might implement as proprietary. However, Nakajima does note that, with help from the state, there are some successful collaborations underway between small manufacturing firms in the greater Worcester and Springfield areas. Attitudes may be changing.

Another hurdle is just around the corner.  “We are hitting a demographic brick wall in the next ten years,” says Nakajima. “The average age at many of these small firms is 55 or older.  One estimate says that upwards of 100,000 manufacturing jobs will become available as this older workforce retires. Many of these will be for workers with advanced manufacturing skills.  Meeting that requirement is a major challenge.”

Implementing the Roadmap may help.  The plan is focuses on opening up opportunities for the SMEs, such as becoming part of the supply chain for a larger OEM, identifying possibilities in a foreign market with different standards and regulations, or being asked by a larger manufacturer to develop a new product from the ground up.

According to the Roadmap, to be able to take advantage of these opportunities, the SMEs will need to learn “new organizational and technical skills and explore new territory.  These new capabilities may involve hiring new employees or training existing employees to do new things; acquiring new equipment; infusing new technology into existing processes; meeting unfamiliar regulatory, standards, or certification requirements…if the SME successfully builds the capabilities and learning required to meet new demands, it makes a step-jump onto a new growth and innovation trajectory.”

The document goes on to state, “The multiplicative effect of an environment that facilitates and motivates this growth and innovation dynamic in as many SMEs as possible, across different regions of the state, is essential to build a world-class cluster of advanced manufacturing capabilities and realize the growth, innovation, and employment benefits of manufacturing in Massachusetts.”

Last November, when he released the Roadmap, Governor Deval Patrick also launched the Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative, an umbrella organization made up of private companies working in collaboration with state government to advance manufacturing in the Commonwealth.  Other initiatives are underway to encourage major OEMs in Massachusetts to improve their in-state supply chain by finding local SMEs who can meet their needs. The Commonwealth is also part of the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership announced by President Obama last June.

In addition, Nakajima is exploring the Predictive Information Centers  (PIC) strategy now being developed by the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS). Targeting the U.S.’s small- to medium-sized manufacturers, the PICs will leverage the talent and infrastructure within the country’s universities, national labs and industrial research centers.  The idea is to bring product design, development and advanced manufacturing capabilities to the SMEs, allowing them to experiment with high performance computing (HPC) tools and optimize their own processes.  All this while eliminating the substantial up front costs that have kept so many SMEs from adopting advanced manufacturing techniques and technologies.

NCMS and the Commonwealth are working together on other fronts as well to meet the ambitious goals of the Roadmap.  

Comments Rebecca Taylor, Senior Vice President, NCMS, “Massachusetts is one of the states that truly understands the importance of a manufacturing sector and need for a state strategy to support it.  Their recently developed Roadmap for Advanced Manufacturing is a great example of collaboration between industry leaders, academia and government that is designed to support the sector.

“The Roadmap focuses on public – private efforts that promote manufacturing, address issues in workforce and education, as well as the need to improve technical assistance, innovation and access to capital.  This builds on existing efforts that the Patrick-Murray Administration has made to support the current manufacturing sector and to give them the tools to expand and grow their businesses.

“NCMS is pleased to be working with the Commonwealth to explore ways that we can support the small and medium sized enterprises that make up most of the employment in the manufacturing sector.” Taylor adds.  “Through our efforts to put modeling and simulation tools in the hands of the SMEs, NCMS will support the Roadmap efforts and help improve the competitiveness of the manufacturing sector in Massachusetts.”

Nakajima concurs.  “Working with NCMS, we are learning how modeling and simulation and other technical services are already being used nationally to improve operations, profitability and ramp-up time of the smaller manufacturing companies.  

“In addition to exploring and implementing actions that will make us more effective in supporting new and existing manufacturing companies, we are looking over the horizon at cutting edge trends and technologies that will put us in great shape five and 10 years from now,” he concludes.  “There is no question about it – manufacturing has become the leading initiative for the Governor and the Commonwealth and supporting advanced manufacturing for the SMEs is a major focus of our efforts.”

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