Business

Manufacturers, colleges, agencies discuss industry challenges

Nick Messer of Millennium Manufacturing, center, speaks at the Advanced Manufacturing Forum on Tuesday. From left are Curtis Richardson, standing, David May, Messer, Jason Cox and Tom Martin.
Nick Messer of Millennium Manufacturing, center, speaks at the Advanced Manufacturing Forum on Tuesday. From left are Curtis Richardson, standing, David May, Messer, Jason Cox and Tom Martin. The Wichita Eagle

Area manufacturers are feeling a lot of strain these days, from finding qualified workers to relentless change to relentless competition.

But the community might be able to offer some help. Area manufacturers and the colleges and agencies that support them met at the Advanced Manufacturing Forum on Tuesday to talk about the problem and share some solutions.

The forum, held at the National Center for Aviation Training, 4004 N. Webb Road, was broken into four big issues: improving management of the supply chain; cutting costs and improving safety through automation; what schools, colleges and governments are doing to produce workers; and fostering innovation and entrepreneurship.

It’s part of the Blueprint for Regional Economic Growth, a project of the Greater Wichita Partnership. It extends over a 10-county area of south-central Kansas.

The key is that it put the companies in need in touch with people who could potentially help.

Some who spoke at the conference were manufacturers who have taken the lead on managing their supply chains and have installed industrial robots to lower costs and improve quality.

“Today, we machine a part; tomorrow, we print a part; in the future, we may print the airplane,” said Paul Jonas of the National Institute of Aviation Research at Wichita State University.

Nick Messer, director of sales and marketing for Millennium Machine and Tool in Newton, said the company had more than doubled the number of industrial robots from 20 to 42 – speeding production and sales dramatically – while increasing operators just 25 percent.

The heads of local workforce training agencies, the Wichita Area Technical College and the Wichita school district all said they regularly connect with industry officials to educate and train students for the workforce. But they also asked those in attendance to not only keep telling them what is needed but to come into the classroom to speak to students and to help them overcome the stigma that students have against taking manufacturing jobs.

Craig Bay, with the Greater Wichita Partnership, said he hoped the takeaways for the CEOs and operations directors at the forum are local contacts who can help with specific problems and some understanding of what local colleges and agencies do in producing their workforce.

Dan Voorhis: 316-268-6577, @danvoorhis

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