By Jack Money
Copyright © 2017, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
Oklahoma’s manufacturing industry took a little bit of a hit in 2016.
Still, the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance managed to bring in 969 new, high-paying jobs into the state and save 910 more from leaving during the year.
The organization also helped state manufacturers make about $102 million in capital investments during the year, and worked with them to help retain and increase their sales by about $284 million.
It accomplished these feats through helping 353 manufacturers in Oklahoma implement 384 individual projects that generated an economic impact, it reported in an annual summary of its activities for the year that was released this month.
The alliance serves all of Oklahoma’s manufacturing sectors involving energy, aerospace, bio-agriculture, transportation and financial/internet technologies.
Dave Rowland, president of the alliance, said the year was off a little for the organization because oil and gas activity within the state was recessionary during most of that time.
“Manufacturing in Oklahoma lost about 16,000 jobs in 2016,” Rowland said.
However, he said that companies began hiring back people into those positions during the final quarter of the year, and said that trend continues so far this year.
Plus, he said the numbers of students enrolled in manufacturing training courses at career technology centers and other precision machining and welding programs are up.
And Rowland said the alliance also is seeing more inquiries from companies seeking to get new employees trained and more inquiries from companies about making new investments to improve their businesses.
“A lot of the signs are indicating 2017 could bring about 5 percent growth in the industry,” Rowland said.
What it does
The alliance, through its statewide network of extension agents and applications engineers, provides a range of services for companies, including assessing and meeting their needs by finding solutions available through public and private resources.
These assessments identify companies strengths and weaknesses, including financial analysis and performance benchmarking that can reveal technical or industry-specific issues.
Applications engineers from Oklahoma State University also work with the alliance to assist manufacturers with their engineering and technology needs. They can analyze failures, processes, equipment, products, plant layouts and designs.
The alliance also has a comprehensive network of both private consultants and public agencies that can help companies deal with everything from marketing to human resource issues, and the alliance’s extension agents work with companies to help them make financial deals to improve and grow their facilities.
Also, it can help companies grow by assisting them in analyzing markets, product developments and sales and in laying out strategic plans to succeed.
Or it can help them become more profitable by assisting them in identifying work tasks or other technological issues that cost them money.
Finally, the alliance organizes local manufacturing councils that give companies a chance to talk about common challenges and to share ideas.
The alliance, which formed 25 years ago, aims for all of these services to increase the competitiveness of small and medium-size rural Oklahoma manufacturers.
It does most of this using what it calls the Oklahoma Innovation Model, which partners the alliance with the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, i2E and the New Product Development Center at OSU.
Ultimately, the model creates a technology-based one-stop shop for the state’s manufacturers, the alliance said.
The alliance gets some of its annual budget through that partnership. It gets the remainder from a federal grant issued through the U.S. Commerce Department and from partnering support companies and state agencies.
In 2016, its budget was about $3.8 million.
For every dollar invested in the alliance in 2016, Rowland said it generated $69 in new or retained sales for the state, and $25 in spending to build new plants or to install new equipment.
A technological fix
One way the alliance helps manufacturers is to help identify new technologies that can be used to speed and improve the manufacturing process of whatever they make.
For example, the alliance helped HSI Sensing in Chickasha when it introduced it to vision technology the firm recently began to use. The company, founded in 1968, employs 175 workers.
HSI officials said the vision technology accelerated and improved its evaluation of raw materials it uses to manufacture custom reed switch and sensor technology.
Through using the new technology, a camera controlled by a computer evaluates each piece of raw material for its dimensional specifications. Future upgrades will allow the system to evaluate groupings of raw materials at one time.
Ryan Posey, CEO of HSI, said implementation of that technology enabled it to not only evaluate the raw materials more quickly and accurately.
It also allowed the firm to retrain and re-task employees it used to have doing that work so that it could make manufacturing improvements elsewhere in its process. Along the way, the employees gained more skills and improved their earning potentials.
“That’s exciting,” Posey said. “We get more work done, using the same amount of staff.”
Rowland predicts the alliance during the next few years will focus on bringing out emerging technologies like next-generation robotics and automation, additive manufacturing, supply-chain management, predictive data modeling and digital marketing.
Particularly, he said that additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing involving metals, is a new frontier and one Oklahoma’s manufacturers will need to embrace.
Also, he said they will be needing to use smart manufacturing, which involves the collection and use of real-time data using sensors, automation and the internet of things to automate manufacturing processes, plus communicate better with their suppliers and customers.
“We want our manufacturers to become educated and aware of those trends and how they could affect their businesses,” Rowland said, “And we are looking at how we can accelerate the transfer of those technologies into our small and medium-sized businesses, going forward.”