Meet The Machine That Makes Most Of The Things In Your Life

Instructor Steve Henkelman programs a CNC machine at Grand Rapids Community College. Credit: Dustin Dwyer

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This month, we’re taking a look at some of the hidden assets of the industrial Midwest – the parts of our economy that don’t often get noticed when we talk about our strengths.

We found one hidden asset right smack in the middle of our manufacturing sector. It’s a machine that’s in literally thousands of factories across the Midwest. And, though, you might not have heard of it before, the CNC machine – and the people who operate it – are at the core of our economy.

CNC stands for computer-numerically-controlled. And what the computerized machine does is it machines things. That sounds ridiculous unless you know that machine is not just a noun. It’s also a specific manufacturing process.

It’s when you cut away a material. It’s basically commercial sculpting.

“Machining is at, or very close to, the foundation of manufacturing,” says Peter Zelinski, senior editor at Modern Machine Shop magazine.

Zelinski says, even if you’ve never heard of it, CNC machining is essential to your life.
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A Look At Two New Trends In Midwest Manufacturing

Manufacturing has been at the center of the Midwest’s long-term decline, shedding some 8 million jobs over the past three decades. More recently, it has been at the forefront of the region’s economic recovery.

In October, manufacturing was the leading sector in the Midwest Economy Index, which measures economic activity in the region. It was, in fact, the only sector to make a positive contribution to the index, produced monthly by the Chicago Fed.

Changing Gears reporters Kate Davidson and Dan Bobkoff examined the current state of manufacturing in the Midwest recently for American Public Media’s Marketplace. They found that today’s successful Midwest manufacturers look “more like startups than smokestacks.”

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What is Advanced Manufacturing and Why is it The Future?

The face of advanced manufacturing? David Bourne of CMU's Robotics Lab sits in a Humvee being built by a helpful robot.

Back in June, President Obama came to Pittsburgh to tout something called Advanced Manufacturing. He created a group to work on it, made up of government officials, academics, and industry. The point, the president says, is to promote innovation, make the country more competitive. But, we wanted to know:

What is advanced manufacturing anyway?

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Midwest Memo: Chicago Mayor Engages In Testy Exchange, Honda Invests $355 Million In Ohio

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Angry residents confront Emanuel. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel sought solutions for the city’s budget woes during a public meeting Monday night. He got more than he bargained for, according to reports from our partner station WBEZ. A question from a laid-off traffic employee led to an extended back-and-forth with union members in the audience. “I’m responsible to the city taxpayers and the city residents,” Emanuel said, referring to a projected $635 million budget deficit. Audience members yelled that they were taxpayers too.

2. Honda renovates Ohio plants. Honda announced Monday it would spend $355 million to refurbish four plants in Ohio, according to The Columbus Dispatch. The improvements come as the automaker returns to full production following the Japanese catastrophes. The Dispatch reports some jobs will be added, but specifics are not yet available. Honda has more than 13,000 employees in the Buckeye State.

3. Lawmakers seek tax-credit extension. Tax credits for advanced battery manufacturers in Michigan are scheduled to be phased out by Gov. Rick Snyder, but Democrats in the state Legislature want to extend the incentives packages. The Associated Press reported Monday that the Democratic proposal would include tax credits for battery production and facility construction, as well as credits for buying electric vehicles and charging stations.

Kentucky Cities’ Joint Development Effort Gets Underway

We told you last month about the joint approach that two big cities in Kentucky — Lexington and Louisville — are taking to economic development. Well, they aren’t wasting any time in getting started.

The effort by Mayors Greg Fischer of Louisville and Jim Gray of Lexington kicked off on Thursday with an appearance before 1,100 people at a Leadership Louisville luncheon. The partnership will be called the Bluegrass Economic Advancement Movement. Here’s the story from the Louisville Courier-Journal. Continue reading “Kentucky Cities’ Joint Development Effort Gets Underway”

Heads Up: Louisville, Lexington Aim To Become Advanced Manufacturing Hub

The Great Lakes region has always been known as a center of advanced manufacturing. But with auto jobs disappearing, that title may be up for grabs. Now, the mayors of Louisville and Lexington, KY, want to nab it.

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Greg Fischer, the mayor of Louisville, and Jim Gray, the mayor of Lexington, announced in Chicago on Thursday that they will team up for an 18-month, $250,000 study of how to turn their region into a “cluster” of advanced manufacturing expertise.

In doing so, the Kentucky cities hope to attract new investment, adding to the auto jobs the state has landed in recent years. The study, to be done by the Brookings Institution, was unveiled at the Clinton Global Initial America, where both mayors were on hand. Continue reading “Heads Up: Louisville, Lexington Aim To Become Advanced Manufacturing Hub”