Episode 36

Published on:

12th Jul 2021

Introducing Additive Technology to Your Manufacturing Workforce with John Wilczynski

Contact John Wilczynski:


Lisa Ryan: Hey, it's Lisa Ryan. Welcome to the Manufacturers' Network Podcast. I'm excited to introduce our guest today, John Wilczynski. John is the Executive Director of America Makes - the nation's leading Public-Private Partnership for additive manufacturing technology and education. John graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering technology. He's worked in a variety of manufacturing positions with varying levels of responsibility. He continued to gain experience in manufacturing while spending more than eight years at General Motors Pontiac Metal Center division, working through various positions and levels throughout the stamping organization.

John, welcome to the show.


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John Wilczynski: Thank you for having me, Lisa. It's good to see you.

Lisa Ryan: John, for people who aren't familiar with America Makes, please share with us a bit of what that partnership looks like and what do you do over there.

John Wilczynski: Absolutely. American Makes is what we call a manufacturing innovation institute. There are now sixteen Manufacturing innovation institutes in the United States - all focused on different advanced manufacturing technologies. We were the first - we were founded back in 2012.

Our technology focuses on areas around additive manufacturing or what most referred to as 3D printing. We're looking to bring together the community around the technology - ultimately looking to increase the adoption and use of the technology. We specifically do that by working in a Public-Private Partnership. That means is we're trying to bring together the community from industry - both large and small, nonprofit Community, government Community, and the academic community. We want to understand what the problem space looks like and then organize a coordinated response, so we're focused on applied research at the Institute. That means we're looking to identify the topics that are preventing us from using the technology today. Ultimately, we're trying to do that in a way that helps everybody.

It doesn't just solve a problem for eight individual organizations but instead creates intellectual property that can be shared across the community.

Lisa Ryan: It also sounds like giving this attention to manufacturing is another goal to bring people into industry. You and I talked before the show about how hard it is to get people to come into manufacturing as a career when you have cool things like 3D printing and additive manufacturing. Please share a bit about what you're doing in partnership to change that conversation and, shall we say, woo people into manufacturing as a career.

John Wilczynski: Absolutely. It is more complicated than you think - especially for those of you who live in this world today and understand all of the benefits that come. As you mentioned, I got to see the product being produced and fenders being made on the equipment from the automotive industry. Then taken to the assembly plant, I could realize the product that I was touching every day. This is not common for a lot of folks. I think we have something really interesting in additive manufacturing to help communicate more efficiently to students entering the workforce. More importantly, we try to get the guidance counselors and parents to understand where opportunities exist.

We just kicked off a program within the State of Ohio. We're based in Youngstown, Ohio. It is an activity to deploy 3D printers to several high schools and provide them with a curriculum. Most importantly, we provide resources to those guidance counselors and parents to understand where opportunities in manufacturing exist.

It is our education and workforce development director who calls additive the gateway drug to manufacturing. It's an easy space for people to get their heads around. From its inception, 3D technology is digital, which in some ways, makes it a little easier for us to introduce it to students because all they've known is operating in that environment since they've been children.

Lisa Ryan: Well, reaching out to guidance counselors and parents is excellent because that's where the conversation needs to get started. Making sure that those guidance counselors have the resources like you said, is critical too. Too many times, guidance counselors' sole focus is to help kids pick out college. Giving them that access to, "Hey, this is a terrific way for these kids to make a living." It is a gateway drug. I like that.

John Wilczynski: It's also something that translates to the existing workforce. If you think of incumbent workers, and we see technologies changing around us every day, there is a need for the product that we might produce today to look different tomorrow. It's always hard to focus on a product day in and day out with your nose down. You're just working on it, and most of the workforce has to operate in that environment. We're trying to help bring information to them raise awareness - to make sure they're well-positioned. When we think of the future workforce, it is unlikely that many of the positions from today are even defined, for you know 10, and 20 years from now.

We have to be able to start creating this more adaptive workforce. That means the introduction of new technologies - again not easy to do. Awareness is a big part of the challenge that we're all faced with.

Lisa Ryan: What do you see with the companies and organizations you've worked with? What's working well? What are some of the best practices that you're seeing?

John Wilczynski: You need to put tools into the hands of the folks that you have working for you. Just like in many fields, they are the people who understand what they're doing today - better than any engineer - who has dreamt up the process or oversees the value stream map of what's going on. They touch and feel these products every day. They understand what works and what doesn't. We've seen many folks have success with introducing low-dollar pieces of equipment into the hands of, and maybe it's not the operator on the floor necessarily, but it's the skilled trades crew or the folks responsible for the equipment. They expose them and give them some training on what the technology can and where it makes sense to use it.

For hundreds of dollars, a low-cost 3D printer on the floor, maybe in the shop where they can start playing with it. These the most accessible entry points for the technology around prototyping. Around you need some particular setup because two items must be aligned every time to do that overnight, before the first shift coming in. This action creates a tremendous opportunity. When you start to see those things click is when you see more adoption. Then they become the champions within the organization. We've seen work as the introduction of tools, getting them some training, and providing them the time to use the tools you're providing. There are several cases where what doesn't work is buy the equipment you think will lead to some specific increase in revenue. You must realize the cost of that as the business owner and, in particular, small business owner. Even a $1,000 investment isn't necessarily insignificant, so you have to weigh it and determine when you can pull the trigger on those kinds of things.

But you also can't put it in the corner and let one person use it and collect dust. We've all seen that on the shop floor - tools that got introduced by somebody that never really took off. That is not an effective way to use the technology.

Lisa Ryan: Right well, and too many times manufacturing has this stigma of we've been doing it this way for 40 years, and if it's not broken, we're not going to fix it. Realizing that these kids are in school now and graduating from school prepares them for jobs that don't exist yet for products that don't exist yet.

So where do you see that that fine line between being flexible enough to kind of turn on a dime and getting out of that mindset that things are always going to be like this because we've been doing it this way for 50 years?

John Wilczynski: This was all thrust upon us this past year. I'm sure that's come up more than a few times here recently in your podcast but what we saw dovetails nicely into this training topic. There were opportunities to fill and supply Chain gaps that existed. It might not be the component for an aircraft you are used to making because not too many people were flying or somehow related to hospitality. Often the skilled workforce or the workforce that you have is plenty capable if you're able to expose them to the technology.

We saw success stories where organizations could introduce the technology and get their folks back to work quickly - working on unconventional things for them. That's not easy to do. You're not going to turn around a tier-one supplier or an OEM making automotive parts and put 1000 people back to work, making facemasks. They're not equal. I completely understand that. Still, you also have to be in the position somewhere within the Great Lakes region if and when the combustion engine starts to transition towards electrified vehicles that we all understand is happening at some level, and it will continue to happen.

Some manufacturers make their living daily making components for those combustion engines. What does that mean? It doesn't mean anything to them today or tomorrow, or next year. How are they positioning themselves so that in five years or, more likely, ten years out - when it becomes a more relevant technology. What does that mean for their workforce if they're not adapting or at least starting to think about these things? They're going to be facing complex challenges moving forward. Some of their competitors are already there. It's the balance of introducing technology. It's not necessarily going to displace your current approach, but you have to continue. One of the points I wanted to make is the importance of investing in the workforce, just keeping your folks trained. It starts with on-the-job training. You get them to the point where they're capable. You must continue to invest in them so that they can you know it takes a desire on their end and an employee.

But at some point, we all have to realize the world will change at a pace that it has over decades - when our parents were working in manufacturing. It is a very different world today than it was, you know, 20, 30, 40 years ago. We have to start creating a workforce, which will be tough with the existing workforce. But they're competent and well-trained people. You have to figure out how you introduce them to these new concepts, and then we start to get wild and start talking about VR and all those kinds of things. We see the intersection between our technology and those technologies work very nicely.

Skilled trades folks worked for the plant that I worked in and me. They were experts. They knew more than I ever would, but they didn't memorize the thousand page manuals. Today, we put something in front of students, and they put a headset on, and they can interface with where the gearbox comes out, check clearances, and do things that our parents never thought could be a reality.

So how do we make sure folks are ready for that? You can't just turn the switch and put a headset on someone who's been working for 40 years. That's not going to work very well. It's the gradual introduction to the technology, and making sure they understand how it can help them

Lisa Ryan: This past year has been a perfect example of what would have happened if we would have said what if a year and a half ago, what if the hospitality industry disappeared overnight? What if people stopped flying? What if combustion engines disappeared from the face of the planet because everything went electric. These are the questions that we can start asking now. Maybe we're not ready to make that change overnight, but at least it's not going to come and surprise you when something like a worldwide pandemic comes.

The give of COVID was it did speed up technology to a place that probably would have taken us 15 or 20 years to get to where we are now. But it also allows us to ask that question, what if and start to make those plans like you're seeing some of your partners doing.

John Wilczynski: We've done a lot of work around pandemic response and continue to show the progress that would work. It's more important to make sure that we learn from our lessons and figure out how to translate that into creating resilience supply chains - widespread talk right now. This month, a year ago, we were having these conversations with folks around recovery response. In the dream, we were getting to the point where we're focused on resiliency. We're at that point now. We've seen a lot of the efforts back off as conventional supply chains have caught up. What did we learn from any of that? How are we making sure we're implementing that? How do we ensure that if a barge gets stuck in a canal somewhere, we have an alternative path forward?

That's easy to use that example and not have to back it up because I'm just talking to you, but as you think about exploring your various failure modes that could exist within your process and your supply chain. You have to study. I know we did a lot of that in my past life, where you considered every option and waited. We need to make sure we're doing that. Hopefully, we won't encounter the same kind of craziness over the past year, but change is inevitable. We're going to see it. We will have disruptions. We will have unrest. We will have all of these things that impact our business. If we continue to do things the way we always had, we're unlikely to survive through those things. We saw that in many cases, and not that it was anyone's fault, what happened over this last year, but others reacted and were able to sustain themselves in the meantime at least.

It'll be an interesting next ten years to see how all of these new technologies come together and how dealing with this new reality is a threat across everything that is just the reality of living in a connected world. From a manufacturing point of view, we hear countless stories of where threats come in, and that's something we deal with quite a bit in our world. As a wholly digital technology, there are concerns about where threats come in. When you start to look down into the tiers of the supply chain, there's not a lot of folks who can afford the types of bodies that you need in place to deal with those kinds of threats. There are lots of opportunities; lots of risks out there as well.

Lisa Ryan: When it comes to those threats and those failures, what are the main things you're seeing that keep manufacturers up at night?

John Wilczynski: We do a lot of work with the Department of Defense. There are increased sensitivities around every component that's manufactured. It's the information that you have access to. A competency model is being utilized right now around manufacturing to make sure people understand what cyber maturity matrix. It's about the various stages of awareness, so people know where there are potential threats. Some of it's pretty basic - knowing where your information is stored, knowing who has access to it. Those all sound relatively simple until you start to think about interacting with my supply chain or my vendors. What are they sharing? What information do they have access to? Then, as you start to move files around, as most of the manufacturing is digital at this point, we're not sending mailing a lot of files anymore. We're getting 2d drawings and having the manufacturers create opportunities. Many cyber threats need to be considered, so awareness is the first thing that needs to be addressed. We need to understand that there are concerns that you should have. It would help if you kept that in front of you. Once you're through that and make sure your people all understand that.

Then you start to add on systems, make sure you're monitoring things, do maintenance properly, and update doing updates. As silly as all of that sounds, those patches and that update are done. They've seen potential vulnerabilities, so you have to stay on top of all of those things. Not easy to do as a small business owner. Potentially the person or a small number of persons manages all of those activities, but it has to be done. We've seen countless examples where there were entry points into a bottom tier of a supply chain that ultimately led to a bigger problem up the supply chain. They tagged along with the information as it was shared from place to place, so it is certainly something to pay attention to right now right.

Lisa Ryan: Ass we're starting to get to the end of our conversation, what would you say when it comes to your best tip to help manufacturers listening to this podcast? Whether it be in the supply chain or technology – something you've seen that could help our audience today.

John Wilczynski: Double down on the people. As you're introducing new technologies, a skilled workforce is what you need. There are a lot of displaced folks out there. We hear from countless manufacturers that are struggling to find capable bodies. You have to make sure you're taking care of your folks. What I mean by that is making sure that they are trained and understand what's coming out. Introduce them. The more engaged they are, ultimately, the more interested they will be in staying on the right track.

At that point, it will make your insertion of technology easier because if you have them buying into what you're trying to accomplish and following your vision. It's a lot easier to get them behind you versus forcing it upon them because they're not engaged. It's maybe an over-simplification of a concept, but we've seen a lot of success as we're again doing a lot of work with the Department of Defense. We also work with the large installations, and they have a large workforce that's been around for a while. It's not easy to introduce these new concepts, although we have to make sure that we're meeting these requirements for the types of sophisticated components that they need for the current military. We've seen quite a bit of success. The only way it works is to double down on people.

Lisa Ryan: John, it has been an absolute pleasure having you on the show today. If people want to get a hold of you and connect with you, what's the best way for them to do that?

John Wilczynski: So, probably the easiest way is to go to our website. It is simply America Makes.us. You can find me there. I can share my email address on LinkedIn, all of those kinds of things as well. I'm happy to talk to folks, especially if you've got questions want to engage in the additive manufacturing space; we'd be glad to talk to you.

Lisa Ryan: All right, well, John, again, thank you so much for joining me today.

John Wilczynski: Thank you very much thanks for having me.

Lisa Ryan: I'm Lisa Ryan, and this is the Manufacturers' Network Podcast. See you next time.

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About your host

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Lisa Ryan

As a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), an award-winning speaker and author of ten books, Lisa Ryan, CSP, works with her clients to develop employee and client engagement initiatives and strategies that keep their top talent and best clients from becoming someone else’s.
Lisa’s expertise includes: strengthening workplace culture, improving employee engagement, increasing customer retention, and initiating gratitude strategies (“Grategies”) for personal and professional benefit. Lisa’s participants enjoy her high energy, enthusiastic delivery and quick wit and they leave the session with ideas they are committed to acting on immediately to make positive workplace culture changes.
Lisa costars in two films with other experts including Jack Canfield of “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” She is the Past-President of the National Speakers Association, Ohio Chapter and holds an MBA from Cleveland State University.

Relevant Experience

• Keynote, breakout or workshop speaker at more than 100 national and international conferences
• Thirteen years of industrial marketing and sales experience, including seven years in the welding industry – and yes, she does weld
• Host of “Elevate Your Engagement Levels: What You Need to Know” on the Elite Expert Network and the C-Suite Network
• Creator of “The Seven Mistakes Managers Make to Crush Company Culture” video series
• Best-selling author of ten books, including “Manufacturing Engagement: 98 Proven Strategies to Attract and Retain Your Industry’s Top Talent”
• Award-winning speaker