During a worldwide speaking tour well over a century ago, famed American author Mark Twain is said to have responded to rumors that he was gravely ill with one brilliant, succinct line: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” And much like Twain’s untruthful demise, the so-called decline of manufacturing in America has been wildly overblown. The National Tooling and Machining Association (NTMA) is helping to separate truth from fiction and lead the way for strong American manufacturing today and into the future.
From its headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio, the National Tooling and Machining Association (NTMA) represents a growing membership of almost 1,300 member companies across the nation. Ninety-eight percent of member companies are privately held family businesses, and any of their employees are welcomed to participate in NTMA activities or services.
The non-profit trade association has thirty-three federated chapters in the United States and works on behalf of businesses from one or two-person operations to companies with a thousand or more employees. It is often smaller companies that make up the backbone of America’s custom precision manufacturing industry. Although some may have only a handful of employees, the combined revenue is tremendous.
Tool and machining businesses generate well over $40 billion a year, which benefits both the companies themselves as well as customers, staff and the overall American economy. From modest shops making precision machined parts like dies and jigs to massive enterprises taking on large projects, the NTMA is there to support tooling businesses on a path to success.
Tooling affects every aspect of our lives – from the nuclear industry to aerospace – on a daily basis and remains a vital economic powerhouse. One of the objectives of the National Tooling and Machining Association is to ensure government, industry and the public are aware the sector is not only alive and well, but that it is thriving, with the United States maintaining its position as one of the greatest manufacturing-based economies on earth.
In many ways, the factors which led to the formation of the NTMA are the same ones facing the American economy today, namely the need for skilled labor. When the NTMA was incorporated in Ohio back in 1943, the war effort was in full force.
The US entered World War II after the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, and the need for armaments, ships, submarines, tanks, personnel carriers, ammunition, guns – in fact, anything machined from metal – was overwhelming. Many of Detroit’s automotive manufacturers converted factories to make airplanes, and the need for machinists was at an all-time high.
“Due to the demand for skilled labor and the lack of availability in the marketplace, a group of companies decided they were going to create an organization that would promote education [and promote] the industry itself, so that it would have a supply of people that they needed to run their equipment in the factories,” says Dave Tilstone. “So it is exactly the same scenario we have today.”
Tilstone has been president of the NTMA for the past seven years and was previously an executive at Kennametal, the well-known supplier of tooling and industrial products for industries ranging from agriculture to aerospace. Tilstone was hired by the NTMA for his years of industry background and extensive knowledge of tooling and machining sectors.
The NTMA also serves other roles on behalf of its members, ranging from providing valuable information and advice to networking and programs supporting tooling and machining.
The organization works with lobbyists and public relations people in Washington to help support the manufacturing community and its members specifically. Advocacy helps key players such as lawmakers, the Department of Labor and the Department of Commerce understand and appreciate that the NTMA represents an extremely viable, growing community. “It’s not all doom and gloom for manufacturing.”
The National Tooling and Machining Association is addressing the need for skilled workers head-on and dispelling preconceived notions that manufacturing is somehow ‘dirty.’ Today, the opposite is true, as the industry has become much more high-tech and safer.
The need is greater than ever before, as those born during World War II are now selling their tooling and machining businesses and retiring. To fight the lack of skilled employees, NTMA has launched creative initiatives to engage younger people. One of these is the National Robotics League (NRL), aimed mainly at junior high and high school students as young as fourteen.
The NRL program benefits students in several ways. By creating their own fifteen-pound remote controlled robots and battling them against others, young people develop valuable skills and are engaged with others. This helps them to learn more about the machining and building process while working with others and building a practical knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math subjects and how these apply to manufacturing. For the NTMA, the program helps to steer students towards a career in the industry.
“The schools compete with one another, and the NRL supports this endeavor because it gets junior high school and high school students involved with the design and manufacturing of the robots and with the support of our members in the local community,” says Tilstone. “We have a national competition, and it’s become quite successful. We’ve had over sixty schools become involved in many states as well as Puerto Rico.”
Roughly one thousand and two hundred students come out in the greater Pittsburgh area to compete. The NRL serves as an example of a successful program, as it reinforces in the minds of students, their parents and guidance counselors what the industry has to offer bright young people.
Another important event for the NTMA is Manufacturing Day℠ (MFG DAY) which takes place on the first Friday in October. MFG DAY was created in 2012 by Founding Partner Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, International and provides a forum for manufacturers to help dispel misconceptions about manufacturing and work towards addressing upcoming labor shortages by getting future generations involved and engaged.
“We certainly promote MFG DAY, and we are a sponsor,” comments Tilstone, adding that students are bussed by their schools to a number of locations where they get the opportunity to see different companies. Once at these businesses, they are exposed to the manufacturing process and different career options.
The NTMA believes that the lack of skilled labor will not be remedied by the U.S. government or regional governments alone and so it has developed an online apprenticeship program called NTMA-U which is designed to supplement the on-the-job training the student or employee would have at the shop floor level. Members can put newly-hired or existing staff through this online apprenticeship program, which is sanctioned in all fifty states by the Department of Labor.
Narrated modules are online, available anytime, day or night. Instead of having to go to a physical classroom, students will sometimes stay an hour later at work, come in early for training, learn in the convenience of their own homes after dinner or before they put their kids to bed for the night.
NTMA-U has been extremely well-received with over 1,600 online classes subscribed to last year. Additionally, support and textbooks are available, and certificates can be downloaded after completing each module. NTMA-U provides a wide range of benefits for students and employers alike. For employers, the online program is beneficial, as it results in better-trained employees.
The National Tooling and Machining Association acknowledges that automation is the future, and will supplement existing manufacturing jobs and replace redundant or repetitive tasks, allowing skilled workers to concentrate on more important, value-added parts of the process. In fact, says the NTMA, a lot of good things are going on right now.
Manufacturing in America is extremely cost-competitive since energy prices are relatively low. And other industrialized nations such as Germany, Japan and China have shrinking populations and are losing the ability to produce many consumables and products that are in demand.
“The other side of it is, we believe that the momentum the U.S. now has with productivity and with automation is a very favorable one,” says Tilstone. “We are adopting new technologies quickly, and since we have a reputation for doing that, this will help us become more competitive on the global landscape.”