Istma / USA It's a marathon not a sprint to attract the next generation to manufacturing
USA – ETMM caught up with Dave Tilstone, president of the International Special Tooling and Machining Association (Istma), to get his assessment of the current climate in the US tool and mould making market, and summarise Istma activity during his presidency.
How do you feel US tool, die and mould makers are faring in the current market climate?
I recently spoke to our Istma members and some of the suppliers that provide products to the tooling people, and in general they continue to be busy. But a lot of the major automotive programs that drive much of their activity have not released the tooling orders, even though the new platforms for new cars scheduled in 2018 have not changed. So there is more concern about meeting the delivery requirements rather than any cancelling of those programs. Companies involved in supplying the medical sector, primarily the moulding people, are very, very busy. Procedures involving what I would call minimal invasive surgery are using more and more disposable plastic components like forceps, which are stamped and then machined, and suppliers here seem to be doing quite well.
Last year you highlighted the problems tooling companies face in finding specialised workers and getting young people into the industry, any progress there?
You know it is a marathon not a sprint with this, because one of the issues we have in general throughout the world and specifically in the US, is that manufacturing is not sexy in the minds of the general public. Most people still view manufacturing as dull, dirty and dangerous when in fact it is not the case, so attracting younger people to the industry is really the challenge given that many of the baby boomers as we call them are going to be retiring soon. We continue to promote young people into the industry. I was just at a robotics competition last week where 1200 young people took part and that is obviously a great move forward, because many of our members sponsored the teams. And that typically leads to students and the parents going to visit those companies where they can see that manufacturing is high tech, it is a worthwhile career, and it does pay well.
Is there any support from government or academia which has helped with recruitment to the manufacturing sector?
I just got back from Washington DC, and the US [government] budget does include a $90m appropriation for apprenticeship programs. Now that budget has been approved it needs to be appropriated to the different schools throughout the US. That is a big deal for us, not so much due to the magnitude of the sum being offered but more because the government recognises that they need to fund the schools for apprenticeships [in manufacturing]. In fact, there are already moves to increase the funding to $100m or a bit more. The other thing is the Perkins Bill which issues Pell grants to help students finance their education in apprenticeship programs and we believe that is going to be approved by July this year.
Gardner Research has indicated weak US tooling machinery exports and increasing volumes of imports due to the strength of the dollar and other factors, what is your perspective?
I was talking to a seller that competes primarily with Germany and they won the contract for the tooling but the main reason that they won it was not so much due of the tooling price but because they were expected to produce small lot sizes on-demand and they were capable of doing that. So they build the tooling, and provide small component sizes compared to what they would in say the automotive sector. That company faced a lot of competition from Europe, where products are very competitive due to the US dollar strengthening or the Euro weakening, whichever way you want to look at it. The yen has settled down, I think 108 to the dollar compared to 80 not too long ago, but the real competition to the US does not come from Japan it really comes from China or Europe depending on how sophisticated the tooling is.
What changes has Istma implemented during your presidency?
We implemented a new strategic plan to do a couple of things: one to make it more attractive for members to join Istma because of the value we can provide to them through knowledge and networking opportunities. Coupled with that we wanted to have Asia, and specifically Japan and likewise China, come back to Istma because tool, die and mould makers there have such an influence in the rest of the world. Those two are the giants of the industry and we have been successful in speaking with them and getting them to participate in Istma events. We believe they will move forward by becoming Istma members in the short term.