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Wisconsin manufacturing: rich history and continued innovation attracts companies from around the globe

April 12, 2019
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Wisconsin is home to some of the world’s most recognized and forward-thinking brands, including Kohler, SC Johnson, Harley-Davidson, and Briggs & Stratton. Each a leader in its respective industries, these companies collectively have a track record of more than 500 years of innovation. They are among the manufacturers that have helped solidify Wisconsin’s reputation as a state with a legacy of leadership in the industry.

Today, staying on top of—and even driving—trends such as Industry 4.0 is what keeps these and other Wisconsin manufacturers at the forefront of production and sustainability practices.

Printing company Quad, for example, actively supports and promotes the responsible management of forests and incorporates sustainability into every aspect of its business. InSinkErator, the world’s largest manufacturer of garbage disposals, recently completed the development of a new headquarters with a work environment designed to optimize productivity. The building, which incorporates enhanced research capabilities including a sound-testing chamber and 3D printing capabilities to rapidly produce prototypes, is designed to achieve base certification in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

With Wisconsin’s success in helping companies keep pace with the ever-changing business landscape, it’s no surprise the state continues to attract attention from global companies looking to achieve operational excellence. For instance, internationally renowned companies Foxconn Technology Group, HARIBO and Komatsu recently committed to building manufacturing sites in Wisconsin.

The Foxconn project represents the largest corporate attraction project in U.S. history and one of the largest greenfield investments by a foreign-based company, as measured by jobs.

Plans for Komatsu Mining Corp.’s $285 million, 2.5-million-square-foot campus call for advanced machine, heat treat and fabrication shops, as well as state-of-the-art technology, research and development, and robotics labs.

HARIBO’s $242 million, 500,000-square-foot site will be its first manufacturing facility in North America and will be among the three largest confectionary plants in the U.S.

Wisconsin cultivates collaboration to become a manufacturing leader

A strong manufacturing reputation is not built overnight, or on innovation alone. The Wisconsin educational system is universally admired for its excellence in workforce training. The state currently hosts 17 engineering-related schools, and there are more than 100 different manufacturing programs within the University of Wisconsin System.

What’s more, Wisconsin was the first state in the nation to develop a technical college system, which fosters an integral part of the Wisconsin manufacturing ecosystem: collaboration.

SC Johnson, for example, partnered with Gateway Technical College to expand its integrated Manufacturing and Engineering Technology (iMET) Center. The center supports the growth and needs of Wisconsin employers through advanced training in Industry 4.0 careers. It also houses a fab lab to allow K-12 and college-level engineering, design and skilled trades students the chance to further develop their innovations and advanced manufacturing skills.

“Gateway Technical College is positioning itself to lead in internet-of-things workforce training, adding new courses in smart manufacturing, cybersecurity, advanced robotic systems and predictive data analytics,” said Bryan Albrecht, president of Gateway Technical College. “In partnership with innovative companies, our students are transforming the future of work and Industry 4.0 integration.”

Meanwhile, UW-Milwaukee’s Connected Systems Institute (CSI) combines the efforts of industry and academia to make discoveries that lead to greater productivity. CSI’s immediate focus is industrial internet-of-things (IIoT), specifically in manufacturing, and features physical test beds for research and development projects as well as training programs.  The test facilities give industry partners the means of experimental validation using different views of the IIoT space and to prepare a skilled workforce. CSI is a multidisciplinary collaboration with Rockwell Automation, Microsoft, Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and other industry leaders.

Wisconsin offers companies support for evolving their manufacturing capabilities

In Northern Wisconsin, the UW-Stout Manufacturing Outreach Center works with small and mid-size manufacturers to improve processes, develop products, train workforce and improve financial results.

The Transformational Productivity Initiative (TPI), a program of the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, helps manufacturers do more with existing resources, through technological advancements as well as eliminating waste and maximizing efficiencies. TPI offers a set of tools and delivery systems to help manufacturers assess and prioritize actions to increase their productivity via basic process improvements and management best practices as well as the integration of automation and digital technologies.

“Our deep experience in essential sectors like food, water and energy allows us, and the companies we partner with, to respond to today’s market-driven needs,” says Jela Trask, business and investment attraction director for WEDC. “It’s one thing to have manufacturing capabilities, but we also help companies to be more efficient, to get to market quicker and to be more globally competitive.”

The pace of technological advancement only continues to accelerate, and companies that tap into the Wisconsin manufacturing ecosystem will be well equipped to achieve the operational excellence that is critical for future growth and competitiveness.

More information on Wisconsin’s manufacturing industry can be found here.

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