Thursday, December 18, 2014

Wilkes County Manufacturing – Not the Factories They Once Were

Written by Linda Cheek, President

“The ability to make things is fundamental to the ability to innovate things over the long term,” says Willy Shih, a Harvard Business School professor and co-author of Producing Prosperity: Why America Needs a Manufacturing Renaissance. “When you give up making products, you lose a lot of the added value.” In other words, what you make makes you.

As president of the Chamber I’ve had the opportunity over the last few months to tour several Wilkes County Manufacturers.  These opportunities came about as I’ve been involved in the facilitation of Leadership Wilkes 2014, NC Works’ 1000 in 100 Initiative, and Manufacturer’s Day at Worldwide Protective Products.   During each visit we heard about the changing workforce and the difficulties in hiring skilled labor.  The visits also included a tour of the manufacturing facility enabling us to see the production lines in operation at which time I quickly noticed the lack of employees working around the equipment and machinery.  The machinery was being operated by technology that was observed by a limited number of employees.   In a recent article featured in TIME magazine writer Rana Foroohar states, “Today’s U.S. factories aren’t the noisy places where your grandfather knocked in four bolts a minute for eight hours a day.  Dungarees and lunch pails are out; computer skills and specialized training are in, since the new made-in-America economics is centered largely on cutting-edge technologies.”   
Worldwide Protective Products uses automated production lines and operations.

This statement holds true in Wilkes County’s manufacturing.  In years past when I’ve toured textile mills there would be rows of employed sewers sitting at machines sewing fabric pieces as rapidly as possible as they worked diligently to reach their production goal.  Today, the sewing is completed by massive automated sewing machines with large spools of thread attached.  There’s one employee located at the end of each line that’s responsible for the machines operation checking the automation and observing the spools of thread making sure they feed the machines or need replacing.   At times in other automated manufacturing processes, we saw employees stationed at computers watching the machines manufacture the products.   

We read that throughout the United States there are industries developing new manufacturing techniques way ahead of global competitors and are using these to produce goods more efficiently on super automated factory floors.  These factories have more machines and fewer workers — and those workers must be able to master the machines.  We learned that many new manufacturing jobs require at least a two-year tech degree to complement artisan skills such as welding or milling.  As new technology is engaged, the bar will only get higher.  We read that some experts believe it won’t be too long before employers will expect a four-year degree — a job qualification that will eventually be required in many other places around the world too.

To prepare our youth for these super automated manufacturers, Wilkes County Schools and Wilkes Community College have implemented numerous technical programs that offer the education and training to meet the skills needs.  Programs such as STEM in Wilkes County Middle Schools, a project based curriculum designed to challenge and engage the natural curiosity of students. The program is a three tiered framework which encompasses integration of STEM concepts, use of individual and collaborative classroom technology, and project-based learning that promotes critical thinking skills.
Wilkes Community College has the Industrial and Workforce Development Division which includes departments of Architectural & Building Construction Technology, Engineering Technology, Transportation Technology, Advanced Manufacturing & Materials, and Horticulture & Bio-Agriculture Technology.   A few of the many areas of study provided by the division include architectural technology, automotive systems technology, collision repair & refinishing technology, building construction technology, computer engineering, electronics engineering, heavy equipment and transportation technology, horticulture technology, industrial systems technology, and welding technology. 

Wilkes County has also committed to become a NC Works Certified Work Ready Community.  A Certified Work Ready Community provides counties with a framework to validate that they have a skilled workforce ready to fill current and future jobs.  Partners in the CWRC initiative include the NC Community Colleges System, the NC Dept. of Public Instruction, the NC Dept. of Commerce, the North Carolina Chamber, and numerous economic/workforce development entities throughout the state.  To obtain the certification counties must achieve established goals of individuals earning a National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC) along with business recognition and recommendation of qualified NCRC applicants in their hiring process.  To learn more about the CWRC for your business or industry, contact Dan Little with Wilkes Economic Development Corporation 336-838-1501. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Worldwide Protective Products wins Orr Safety Sales Growth Award

Worldwide Wins Orr Safety Award - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Congratulations to the Worldwide Protective Products Team.  Worldwide was present during the 2014 Orr Safety National Meeting held in Orlando, Florida last week. Orr Safety invited 25 of their top manufacturing/suppliers, out of the 1600 they represent, to attend the meeting this year. At the end of the Sales Meetings and Product Exhibition, Orr held an award celebration on Tuesday evening.

Worldwide Protective Products won the category for the Largest Sales Dollar Volume Growth, with over a 70% growth from fiscal year 2013 to 2014.

Don Chamberlain, National Accounts Sales Manager, accepted the award for Worldwide. He stated, "Without everyone's help and dedication this would not have been possible." He went on to thank everyone "for all of their support and efforts" in a thank you note to the Worldwide Group, including the Sales, Management, and the Manufacturing Teams.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Changing Face of Hand Protection

R&D produces lighter, less costly gloves By Matt Piotrowski  Flash back 15 years ago — the year is 1997 — Bill Clinton is starting his second term in office, the Toyota Prius is unveiled for the first time, and we all watched in disbelief as the tragedy of Princess Diana unfolded. Since that time, there have been two different U.S. presidents in office, the hybrid car is now a household term, and a new beauty has been welcomed to the royal family.

Change is inevitable                                                                                                
Sometimes it is slow evolution and other times it is lightning fast transition. This holds as much truth in the cut-resistant hand protection industry as it does in everyday events. In our industry, change can be slow or fast, but one thing is for sure — change is here to stay.
Flash back again to 1997. Cut protection for your hands is dominated globally by a single fiber. Para-aramid is at the top of the cut resistance food chain and is an industry favorite. This wondrous yellow fiber single-handedly changed the industrial glove market forever and set in motion a tidal wave of reform in how we protect our workers most valuable assets. No longer was the glove just four fingers and a thumb. It was now truly a vital part of on-the-job safety.
Fifteen years later, para-aramid continues to be an industry leader and end user favorite. However, much like the effect the hybrid car had on the automobile industry, people began to take notice of the alternatives. End users became more educated, more informed and more cognizant of the fact that reducing hand injuries saves money. Yarn and glove manufacturers in turn responded by trying new ideas, new formulas and new technologies — all in the quest to supply what every customer wants — better protection at a lower cost.   
Innovative ideas
Ingenuity and innovation have allowed us to benefit from this new wave of technology. What once was only available in open end yarn or basic ring spun design can now be produced in dozens of configurations with multiple fibers or filaments, in any number of yarn constructions. New high performance fibers have paved the way for more application-specific hand protection solutions. Polyethylene, ballistics grade nylons, high performance synthetics and even improved para-aramids have changed the way we look at the cut-resistant glove today.
The advent of implementing fiberglass and stainless steel into yarn construction has allowed the average cut-resistant glove to not only be lighter and less costly, but also more protective and more comfortable. Customers with smaller budgets for safety and hand protection are now able to provide innovative solutions for their workers, without having to break the bank. Cut protection, in varying levels, can now be extremely affordable and maintainable.
Fiber manufacturers and suppliers continue to churn out new ideas and products that can enhance a glove in just about any safety category. No longer is a glove that protects its wearer from cut and slash injuries only yellow in color. As the awareness and importance of workplace safety continue to grow, customers are always hunting for that double whammy — reduced recordable injuries and reduced costs. Many end users feel they can now reach that once unobtainable goal.
What once was an industry with only a handful of selections to choose from has now exploded into a virtual “grocery store” of selections. Seamless knit, cut and sew, flat dipped, sewn on, reinforced, fully lined, etc. — can all be provided now in very application-specific designs or in broad, one-glove-fits-all configurations.
The introduction of industry-accepted cut resistance testing and qualification has also aided in the growth of new fibers and technologies by supporting claims of superior cut results with scientificATA BoarHog Cut Resistant Gloves facts. Many apparatuses are available for use to demonstrate or qualify a product’s cut resistance level and more and more people at the end user level are beginning to demand and rely on testing and certification as benchmarks for their applications. Throwing a glove onto your desk and dragging a box cutter across it is no longer an acceptable measure of protection level. Customers want solutions that actually work, and that can be cost-effective, and they want proof to back up their claims.
Several groups, such as the International Glove Association, continue to advocate for increased awareness and updates to current industry-accepted ratings. This will prove to be paramount in supporting the continual growth of innovative and unique products.
The ultimate glove
Awareness within the industry continues to grow as everyone scrambles to make the “ultimate glove.” Though a glove that can work in every single application will likely never exist, think of the incredible new designs manufacturers will think of trying to get there.

Matt Piotrowski is in Research and Development at Worldwide Protective Products and is based in the company’s Buffalo, NY, facility. He can be reached at (877) 678-4568,
Cut Resistant Gloves