For most of its history, the Hickory Metro has been known world-wide as a manufacturing center. In the past, the area has produced furniture and hosiery predominantly. However, in recent years, our manufacturing has diversified, and the area now produces a myriad of products.
For some 20 years, the Manufacturing Solutions Center has been working to help manufacturers solve problems and test their products. It grew from a hosiery manufacturing center in the 90’s, because its leaders saw a great need in the community. The main goal of the Center is to help area businesses create jobs and to be successful. It tests, trains, researches, markets, engineers and helps to develop products. Its mission is “to help US manufacturers increase sales, improve quality and improve efficiency to create or retain jobs.”
The Manufacturing Solutions Center has recently moved to its new location in Conover, next to the Conover Station. The expansive, high tech building represents a 3 fold increase in space for the company. The building appears to be part of historic Conover, with its old style brick construction. However, the building is new, and was designed from the floor up for the company.
The new building offers ample space, with improved flow. Many large rooms for testing, and true airlocked rooms are an advantage. A classroom and a large kitchen/break room make for a more pleasant work environment, and the building also offers a very large incubator area for new businesses.
The design of the building highlights the new wave of manufacturing: high tech, expansive and clean. Many people cling to an antiquated idea of what manufacturing is. There are no more filthy factories filled with people doing mindless jobs. The manufacturing industry is, in fact, highly automated. People are an asset, and they perform all of the jobs that require thought or craftsmanship. It is their skills that are needed. In fact, in many manufacturing centers, sewers and artisans are paid more handsomely than the CAD operators.
The MSC hosts field trips for the 8th graders in our region. The tour is in depth, and includes a bit of history of manufacturing. The point of these field trips is to help change the perceptions of these young people. Manufacturing, as it exists in 2013, is explained in detail, and it is more exciting than most would imagine. One teaching tool the MSC uses is a wall sized touch screen tablet. This device operates much like an iPad. The center uses it to teach history, link to interesting manufacturing articles and videos online, share information about groups they work with, and live view any room in the building.
The building was designed by Campbell Designs, with much input from the staff. The building took nine months to build, and came in on time and in budget. The $3.1 million project was completed at just $100 per square foot. The touch screen wall was created by Blind Squirrel.
What does MSC Do?
Many people have great ideas, but unfortunately, ideas in and of themselves don’t tend to make money. The ideas must be implemented. The Manufacturing Solution Center is skilled at helping turn ideas into realities. It helps to answer such questions as:
- How will you make the item? MSC offers advice on manufacturing, and it has many helpful contacts. It also has the technology to help build a prototype. MSC offers 3D modeling, reverse engineering and product development.
- How will you market the item? MSC has marketing experts who offer exceptional advice dealing with international sales, government procurement, joint marketing, marketing materials and market diversification, in addition to other marketing services.
- How will you sell the item? MSC helps you walk through the process of how you will sell your item. Will you sell it to big-box stores, or on a website, or in smaller, locally owned shops?
- How much should it cost? MSC helps create a cost analysis to ensure that a business will be able to profit.
MSC exists solely to be a problem-solver for the manufacturing industry. It is mainly job-driven: its goal isn’t to think, but to do. While MSC is based in Hickory, the Manufacturing Solutions Center has worked with businesses in 46 states, and on 6 continents. It has 4 staff members dedicated to working with entrepreneurs, and a large staff to assist in all other areas. MSC works with such companies as Nike, Adidas, Land’s End, Target and New Balance, but it is still dedicated to helping small business owners.
MSC understands that our area is unique because of our tremendous ability to manufacture goods. We have a large and hungry work force, who have spent years manufacturing different items. We have the necessary support businesses to make manufacturing possible, and decades of valuable experience. Many of the businesses that the MSC works with are out-of-state, but most use companies in our region to manufacture their goods.
The Manufacturing Solutions Center is approximately 60% self funded, but does use government grants and resources to operate. The group is a great benefit to our local industries. Recently, the government began to require extensive lead testing for many types of fabrics. The cost was quite prohibitive, and it would have put several local companies out of business. The Manufacturing Solutions Center purchased lead testing equipment and tested thousands of fabrics. When not a single one had lead in it, they questioned why. Then, they set out to create a fabric that did contain lead. This proved to be very difficult, and in the end, they used a centuries old recipe that used crushed insects, and provided a bold red color. However, after one washing, the color immediately faded to pink. After repeating this several times, they were able to prove that lead is an ineffective dye, and that no one in the industry would have any use for it. They took this information to the government, and testified in CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) in DC . As a result, the testing standards were considerably lightened, and our local companies, along with many others in the country, saved vast amounts of money.
Jill McCann has one of the more interesting jobs at the Manufacturing Solutions Center. She compares what she does to the television show C.S.I. She works with reverse engineering, defect analysis, and general problem solving. If a manufacturing company has a problem they can’t solve, she is on the job. She works backwards, using high-tech equipment, to find the source of the problem, and often, who is to blame. This is helpful when a product fails. She can figure out exactly what part of the product failed, and why. She is able to detect if a particular vendor has changed a small detail that ends up compromising the product. Sometimes, people want to know how an item was constructed. In this case, she works backwards, destructs the item, and then puts it back together. This enables groups to continue to make a product, even if the original plans were lost.
There are many other employees at the Manufacturing Solutions Center who work to test items. They test for flammability, durability, chemical content, and many other markers. The testing is not limited to a particular field, and they test everything from textiles, to furniture, to socks and computer equipment.
As manufacturing opportunities filter back into our area, the Manufacturing Solutions Center will be here to help the companies be successful. Many businesses that had moved to China, or other countries, are making the choice to bring their labor back home. The companies site several reasons for moving back, including:
- Higher quality
- The ability to produce shorter runs
- Quick turnarounds
- Better problem solving
- Lower carbon foot print
- Environmental awareness
Hickory will continue to thrive as a hub of manufacturing. The Manufacturing Solutions Center is a vital tool, and is an excellent incentive for businesses looking for a new location.