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Manufacturers Collaborating for Growth: Highlights from The MFG Meeting 2023 in Phoenix

The MFG Meeting provided nearly 400 attendees with actionable insights on economic political, demographic, social, educational, and technological issues, while social and networking events promoted collaboration.
May 17, 2023

When people and information connect — such as the 390+ manufacturing industry leaders at the MFG 2023 event in Phoenix, Arizona, this April — it moves industry forward. Tom Sheridan, president of Royal Products, summed up the event succinctly when he said, “We come here for the content and the networking. The networking is phenomenal. You couldn't ask for a better group of people. The sharing of ideas is just incredible.” 

Produced by AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology, in collaboration with The National Tooling & Machining Association (NTMA), The MFG Meeting featured three days of presentations and events that delivered actionable information on the current economic, political, demographic, social, educational, and technological climate. 

Newly elected AMT Chairman Daniel Janka, president of Mazak Corporation, noted that, “Manufacturers face many challenges today, including disrupted supply chains, a shortage of skilled labor, high inflation, and high interest rates, but with any challenge there comes opportunity, and AMT continues to provide its members with outstanding resources.”  

Addressing The MFG 2023 audience during welcome remarks, Roger Atkins, president of NTMA, said that “When I look out over this group, this is the backbone of U.S. manufacturing. What better group than the builders and the users in one room collaborating and looking forward to push manufacturing ahead.”  

AMT will provide in-depth reports from all  MFG Meeting presentations in the coming weeks (see Agenda for a full listing). In the meantime, here are highlights of the event. 

Day 1 Plant Tours 

Wednesday, the first day of the three-day MFG Meeting, offered tours of Amphenol Aerospace, Genuine Machine Products, and Cadence Aerospace. Benjamin Moses, AMT senior director – technology, toured the Genuine Machine plant and commented that the tour provided “a transparent look of aerospace and defense manufacturing. Company President Nate Ankrom was open about quality, on-time delivery, and growth. It was refreshing to see him note the challenges, then discuss a path and solution to improve productivity, both within operations and through technology — and he's willing to invest in both.”  

The Warm-Up Event  

The Phoenix weather cooperated perfectly for a new MFG Meeting event held on the lush grounds of the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass. “The Warm-Up Show” was hosted by Meaghan Ziemba, Mavens of Manufacturing, and Andrew Crowe, The New American Manufacturing Renaissance.  

Ziemba stated that, “Little things lead to massive movements,” and proved her point with the power of a simple connection. In this case, literally two simple connection cables for a technical college’s robot that got damaged and rendered the robot unusable — and also literally a simple social media post about the problem that reached a FANUC representative who provided the school with the parts it needed. 

Crowe coined one of the event’s more memorable phrases when he spoke about self-care, saying, “Most conferences are just regular hotels, and there’s so much opportunity this week to give ourselves a break. We’re really hard on ourselves when fighting our industry’s workforce issues. But if we take a quick breather, we can look at problems as things that we can conquer. The location of this conference really sets the tone for finding different solutions.” 

Population Matters 

Demographer and author Ken Gronbach delivered Thursday’s keynote address, emphasizing the value of using demography data to project the future.  

“Your interests are joined at the hip with populations. What do you need to know to dispel an anxiety? You need to know how big your end user markets are,” Gronbach said. He noted Harley-Davidson’s business declined because it failed to look ahead. “Baby boomers aged out of their demographics because they couldn’t hold [1,000-lb. bikes] up at the lights anymore.” 

He cites one cause of the current workforce challenge as a combination of huge numbers of Baby Boomers (1946 – 1964) retiring and Generation X (1965 – 1980) being so small. But relax, says Gronbach, because the combination of Millennials and Generation Z is huge. “Do you realize that in 2024, we will have 170 million people under 40 years old? They’re going to move out of their parents’ homes. They’re going to throw away all those trophies they didn’t deserve. They’re going to start households and families, and yes, they will consume products.” 

Recession?

Economist Alan Beaulieu, president of ITR Economics, delivered Friday’s keynote address and braced the audience with the word recession straight away. 

“Beginning late this year, we’re going to slip into recession,” he says. “It will be milder than normal, but it will impact a lot of industries. [It] will last until late 2024, and then we’ll be back on the upswing in 2025.” 

Beaulieu advised listeners to dismiss upcoming mainstream media reports on GDP “because next year is a presidential election year, the media is going to go crazy when the economy looks like it is cratering. Both parties are going to blame each other. There’s going to be all kinds of vitriolic speeches. It’s just going to be madness, and I’ll show you why [the recession is] going to be very mild and measured.”  

During the slowdown, “It will be a good time to look at yourself and say, “What do we need to change? And if you don’t know what needs to be changed, then ask the Millennials working for you, because they’re more than happy to tell you what you're doing wrong.”  

To be prepared for the 2025 upswing, he advises those involved with consumer goods to automate, noting that, “Consumers are in fundamentally good shape.” 

Next, “You want to look at what technology do you need? Are there things that are holding you back because you don’t want to spend money? This is a perfect time to spend money, because anything you’re going to do to make your business better is only going to cost more” after 2025.  

Al Moore Award 

The MFG Meeting culminated with a dinner dance event and the presentation of the Albert W. Moore AMT Leadership Award to Rick Kline Sr., chairman and CEO of Gardner Business Media. He has been at the helm for more than 40 years, growing the company into a preeminent provider of manufacturing technology magazines and digital content leaders. 

“As part of this role [as publisher], I have learned that I shine the brightest when it is the reflected light of those who I work with,” Kline Sr says. (watch full speech). “Many of you are members of AMT. You are always in our minds as an important part of our audience. You are at the heart of American manufacturing and are critical for our country’s future. We hope we are helping you be more competitive, more sustainable, and more profitable.”  

Stride and Swing  The MFG Meeting provides attendees with opportunities to connect during several fun events, including the Miles for Manufacturing 5K run on Friday morning, which had 67 registered runners and two virtual runners. The event raised $17,570 ($15,500 in sponsorships, $2,190 in runner registration fees and fees from four participants in the Miles for Manufacturing mountain bike adventure in the afternoon). Winner Brooke Willis finished the 5K in 25:12, with her husband Ty Willis crossing in third place at 26:12. AMT’s Customer Engagement Manager Jordan Marks finished second at 25:22. 

Since the Miles for Manufacturing event started at IMTS 2014, the event has raised $194,206.91, and every dollar has gone to STEM schools, FIRST Robotics and VEX Robotics teams, and community-based organizations that champion under-served students.  

The Friday afternoon golf event had 74 players sign up for 18 holes at the Whirlwind Golf Club at Wild Horse Pass. The event’s primary sponsors were SMW Autoblok and Erowa Technologies, as well as Gardner Business Media, Siemens, Festo, GIE Media, and Manufacturing News.  

Playing best ball rules (or perhaps sneaking Master’s winner Jon Rahm into their foursome), the first place team of Steve Lesnewich, Rick Bauer, Matt Lindgren, and Mark Smith finished with 62. Second place with 65 were Dave Smith, Brad Haas, Lee Morris, and Eric Hagopian; third place with 66 were AJ Schaeper, John Dalrymple, Scott Karmer, and Daniel Jacobs.  

Networking  

Following each day’s business events, evenings during the MFG Meeting featured dinner and social events that encouraged attendees to connect with new people.   

“The diversity of everybody that contributes to the manufacturing field is awesome,” says Ty Willis, business development manager Mitsubishi HC Capital America. “You don’t know what seat you’re going to sit in and be in front of somebody of influence within the manufacturing community, and it’s really cool because that keeps it exciting. You just don’t know what kind of conversations you’re going to have, but you have to be open for them. I've had some valuable conversations and am hopeful of making some deep relationships.” 

First-time attendee Shri Muthu, co-founder and CTO of Diagon, agreed. “It feels like a very tight knit group,” he says. His start-up firm is a San Francisco-based B2B digital marketplace re-imagining how small- and medium-sized businesses source equipment. “I have a really good impression of The MFG meeting. We met so many great people from machine tool builders, distributors, media communities, and people building some cool software products.”

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Bonnie Gurney
Vice President, Strategic Partnerships
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