by Robert Zaruta, President/CEO, NWIRC

Driving impact for manufacturers! That is the tagline for Northwest Industrial Resource Center (NWIRC), and that is how the work of NWIRC and the six other IRCs across the Commonwealth are evaluated. These Centers comprise the PA MEP, the official representative of the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) in Pennsylvania. As a refresher, the NIST MEP program is a unique public-private partnership that delivers comprehensive, proven solutions to small and mid-sized manufacturers, thus fueling their growth and advancing the overall manufacturing economy. The Centers of the PA MEP are strategically located throughout the Commonwealth based on the specific needs of each region.

The PA MEP recently published a report highlighting impact for FY2018 summarizing data received from 557 companies that benefitted from services. The data was gathered during a survey process by an independent market research firm commissioned by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The purpose of the survey is to measure the return on investment to manufacturing clients served statewide. According to data reported by the 557 companies, PA MEP affiliate services directly contributed to the following achievements:

•Creation and retention of 6,113 manufacturing jobs;

•Realization of $186.2 million in new sales and $565.3 million in retained sales;

•Investment of $182.3 million in expansion, modernization, new technologies and workforce advancement;

•Recognition of $71.3 million in cost savings

James Shillenn, PA MEP Director, noted that the collective impact is impressive and the services provided by each of the Centers is essential to improving the competitiveness of Pennsylvania’s many smaller manufacturers.

The Allegheny Conference on Community Development recently published the PA Manufacturing Scorecard 2018 Annual Report and the data underscores the successful work of the MEP program. Pennsylvania experienced a 5.0% increase in its manufacturing GDP from 2016 to 2017, outpacing the U.S. (4.3%) and ranking the 8th largest increase in the country. PA employment in manufacturing increased by 0.6%.

The data is encouraging, but there are also challenges facing the economic performance of the state’s small to mid-sized manufacturers: making ongoing continuous improvements and identifying growth opportunities. These challenges are also linked directly to keeping up with technology, also known as Industry 4.0 or the 4th Industrial Revolution. Often these manufacturers lack the in-house expertise to pursue or deploy these principles and technologies.

The IRC Network is at the forefront of the Industry 4.0 movement, offering its clients a full breadth of services to understand and implement the new technologies, including autonomous robotics, additive manufacturing and3D printing, Internet of Things, Cloud computing, cybersecurity, big data and analytics, simulation, and horizontal/vertical software integration.