Pittsburgh Technical Council

The Next Generation of Manufacturing

The Next Generation of Manufacturing

Article Published: September 4, 2015

Pure luck, that’s why. The luck of the natural resources found here and the rivers to move products to market. The luck of the dinosaurs – whose remains give us oil and natural gas for energy.

 The luck of having such premier universities as Carnegie Mellon, Pitt, and others, each willing and eager to cooperate in research, innovation, and commercialization of ideas in robotics, health care, and more. 

 And the luck of playing host to the founders of the manufacturing base: Andrew Carnegie, George Westinghouse, Henry Clay Frick, and others.

Of course, the first thing that leaps to mind when considering Pittsburgh’s manufacturing legacy must be metals—steel in particular.  But what about the next generation of manufacturing here?  Metals again promise to provide the platform for continued growth and success.

US Steel“The Greater Pittsburgh region’s strong history as a center of steel, aluminum, and titanium has resulted in advanced manufacturing capabilities in primary metals, metals fabrication, and precision manufacturing – all of which are highly associated with the sectors of advanced materials and integrated electronics,” explained Petra Mitchell, president and CEO or Catalyst Connection, a Pittsburgh-based economic development agency focusing on small businesses.  

“This region contains one of the highest concentrations of primary metals in the country, with employment that is four times that of the rest of the nation,” Mitchell said. “It is also a major force in U.S. exports, with $2.1 billion in primary metals exported each year, making Pittsburgh the sixth-largest metal exporting city in the country.  

A legacy industry long associated with the Pittsburgh region, manufacturing was the leading sector for numbers of deals announced during 2014.  It has been the most active sector in terms of deals for six of the last eight years that Pittsburgh Regional Alliance  has compiled its annual scorecard, and is a sector—alongside energy —with deals in nearly every county of the region.  This past year, manufacturing accounted for 68 announced projects, representing more than $450 million in capital investment.

“Manufacturing’s performance is especially encouraging,” said Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance.  “That sector’s investment deals are creating and retaining high-wage jobs that support a robust supply chain throughout the Pittsburgh region.”

Nearly all—an estimated 98%—of local manufacturing establishments have fewer than 500 people.  About 3,000 manufacturing businesses exist in the 10-county Pittsburgh region.  The vibrancy of these smaller manufacturers is key to the overall economic health of the region, as they continue to serve markets including automobile, medical, energy, and others.

The Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, in its 2014 Business Investment Scorecard and in an industry overview prepared for Catalyst Connection, provides additional highlights proving the power and primacy of manufacturing in the local market:

•For the sixth time in eight years, manufacturing is the most active sector

•Seven out of every 10 deals locally are expansions

•$1.6 billion has been invested in development 

•For eight years in a row, more than $1 billion in capital
investment has been made

•Manufacturing is the third-largest industry in the Pittsburgh MSA in terms of gross regional product (GRP)  

Between 2012 and 2013, manufacturing GRP saw an increase of 1.2%

•GRP is $137,364 per manufacturing employee, an increase of 1.0%
since 2012, outperforming the rest of Pennsylvania

•Manufacturing employs 95,584 people, accounting for 8.1% of
the total regional workforce

17.9% of manufacturing employment is in fabricated metals, with
primary metals employment nearly four times the national average

•292,487 jobs in the region are supported either directly or indi-
rectly by manufacturing, accounting for 1 in every 4 jobs

•The average annual wage for manufacturing employees
is $57,854, 16.7% higher than the average job in the Pittsburgh
metropolitan area

•In 2013, the annual wage for a manufacturing employee increased
by 1.1%

•A total of 51 manufacturing expansions were announced locally
in 2013, the second-highest annual total since 2009, adding an
anticipated 1,594 jobs

Obviously much has changed since Carnegie and Westinghouse began their manufacturing enterprises.  The face of manufacturing must continuously change with the times, as well.  Here again, Pittsburgh benefits like few other regions.

Annually, more than $1 billion is dedicated to academic R&D in the region, including work performed at two Tier-One research universities—Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh— driving a culture of innovation.  This is complemented by another $1 billion annually in corporate R&D and $1 billion in government R&D across the region.

Economic development leaders locally have praised the CMU-Pitt alliance as a model for other regions, with Boston cited as the only other city where leading universities cooperate in such an unparalleled way.

“When our strength in regional manufacturing converges with high-value industries, including IT/cybersecurity, medical devices, and energy, we’re setting the stage for greater prosperity,” said Mitchell.  

The Pittsburgh region boasts of a well-earned reputation as a place where a solid work ethic remains in place.  But our population also remains older than many other metropolitan regions, especially when it comes to employees working in manufacturing. The challenge comes in trying to attract and retain more young people, including immigrants, to jobs in manufacturing, which are on the upswing in employment opportunities, higher-tech requirements, and attractive pay. 

Other issues include challenges in attracting new investment here based on potential work stoppages due to organized labor, even though the occurrence of such interruptions has been very low.  The region also could use a greater availability of sites and related infrastructure, primarily roads, utilities, sewers, and rail spurs. 

One of the most significant gateways to greatly expanded manufacturing in this region would be construction and operation of a cracker plant to convert elements of natural gas into a chemical used in multiple industries, primarily polyethylene pellets.  Such a facility would open the door to greatly increased downstream delivery of natural gas extracted from the Marcellus Shale.

Old-School Manufacturer with an Innovation Punch

CalgonFor a company operating for more than 70 years, using a technology that’s been around for centuries, Calgon Carbon is still a bona fide manufacturing innovator.

The Pittsburgh-based company offers three main technologies to carry out its mission of offering purification solutions for water, air, liquid and gas products used by its customers:

1)Activated carbon – its core process, using adsorption technology to eliminate impurities in
environmental and industrial applications.

2)Ultraviolet disinfection – used to purify drinking and waste water. 

3)Continuous ion exchange – employing purification, separation, and recovery techniques in
water, precious metals, and chemicals.

“We’re always looking for innovation to benefit our customers,” said Bob Deithorn, Director of Product, Industrial and Food Business Unit, at Calgon Carbon.  “We look at all three technologies when solving customer problems.”

Examples of recent innovations being employed at Calgon Carbon include:

•An advanced line of FLUEPAC ® activated carbon products to address emerging regulatory changes in the control of mercury emissions from coal fired power plants. These powder activated carbons are capable of providing more than 95% mercury removal with minimized carbon injection rates. Deithorn said this product comes after nearly a decade of intense R&D efforts, and leads the industry.

The use of carbon to store electrical energy in advanced batteries and ultracapacitors. Activated carbon is an excellent conductor of electricity, and therefore can be used to rapidly store and release electrical charge in these devices, providing rapid bursts of power when needed in products such as cars, buses, and wind turbines.  

•The invention of a cost effective process for utilizing ultraviolet light disinfection  to control pathogens such as cryptosporidium and giardia when found in surface water supplies used for drinking water. The UV light inactivates the pathogens, making it impossible for them to replicate and infect humans. 

“Our research is done in Pittsburgh, while manufacturing of these products is done here and in locations across the country and internationally,” said Deithorn.  “All of our work processes are implemented with focus on sustainability.”

A New Spin on Energy Generation

WindstaxThe answer, my friend, may indeed be blowing in the wind – the answer to accessible wind energy technology and green energy solutions, as provided by WindStax Wind Power Solutions.

Founded in 2012 and headquartered in the historic Strip District of Pittsburgh since 2013, WindStax is a full-service wind power company.  It designs and manufactures wind power systems using a blend of natural materials with modern processes and components for residential and commercial off-grid, microgrid, and supplemental stationary power requirements.  

After just a year in operation, WindStax expanded into a 10,000 square foot plant and added six new employees to meet high demand.  It has incorporated many industry firsts, including high-performance battery storage in a self-contained, portable, and reliable green energy system that is inexpensive to own and operate.  

“Three years ago, the time was right for clean energy beyond windmills,” said company President Ron Gdovic.  “We spent the first year or so working on a prototype, figuring out manufacturing procedures, and deciding on materials required.”  Before long, WindStax was kicking up some dust.

“Nineteen of our systems have been installed, 18 across western Pennsylvania,” Gdovic noted.  “We did more than R&D and fund-raise.  We had some very enthusiastic early adopters, and we grew this business the old-fashioned way – we built first two units and sold them, then built the next two and sold them, and so on.

WindStax’s Smallman Street base—the original facility where Alcoa was born—made perfect sense, with its high ceilings and overhead cranes already on-site.  But the real secret to the company’s success comes via a local network of small shops and manufacturers to make parts and complete intricate welding requirements that can’t be done at the home base facility.

“People don’t grasp how important it is to have the legacy of manufacturing here,” he said.  “We could have started this company anywhere, but kept coming back to Pittsburgh because it’s difficult to find fabricators anywhere else like we have here.  Even on Smallman Street among our manufacturing neighbors, the industry clustering has been a great help.”


GENERAL ELECTRIC: Taking Additive Manufacturing to a New Level

Pittsburgh has achieved innumerable “firsts” over the years – and another is about to be added, as GE prepares to open its first additive manufacturing facility to drive implementation of advanced manufacturing technologies across GE.

Global powerhouse GE announced in 2014 that it will build its Center for Additive Technology Advancement (CATA) in the Chapman Westport Business Park in Findlay Township, PA, near the Greater Pittsburgh International Airport.  It will focus on improving capabilities and usage of additive manufacturing, such as 3-D printing, across GE while advancing materials sciences and inspection technologies. 

Additive manufacturing “grows” parts directly from a CAD file using layers of fine metal powder and an electron beam or laser. The result is complex, fully dense parts without the waste, and manufactured in a fraction of the time it would take using other methods.

The CATA facility represents a $32 million investment over three years and will create 50 high-tech
engineering jobs initially, according to the company.  GE
already has two facilities in two suburbs of Pittsburgh: GE Power Conversion, located near Fox Chapel; and the GE Lighting Glass plant, located in Bridgeville.

“We have seven industrial businesses across GE,” explained Barbara Negroe, who heads up the new CATA project for the company.  “This central group is being established in Pittsburgh to look across GE at additive manufacturing efforts that are improving speed and saving money for our customers and determine how to apply them in other GE businesses.”

Currently, additive manufacturing at GE is primarily in the aviation and the power and water businesses, she said.

“Prior to this facility, GE had no central location to see how various parts of the company could learn best practices and enhance their use of additives,” said Negroe.  “This will be the first such site in the U.S. for GE, and was selected after an extensive national site search.”

 Read the entire issue of Made in PA right here.

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