More than one-hundred vendors, local businesses and industry partners visited Hass CNC Machine Tools in Little Rock on Tuesday (June 14) to get a firsthand look at the company’s hi-tech tool building automation that is changing the face of the state’s manufacturing sector.
According to Michael Garner, general manager and vice president of sales for the company’s Little Rock location, Oxnard, Calif.-based Haas CNC held “Demo Days” across the country on Flag Day each year to give observers an opportunity to see the technology that is involved in today’s manufacturing setting.
“This is a great opportunity to display just how involved the technology is, used in today’s manufacturing,” Garner said. “As we look to recruit more young people to skilled trades and the manufacturing industry, it’s important that we project the correct message about the high tech nature of today’s manufacturing environment.”
According to Garner, Haas CNC is the largest tool and machine designer and manufacturer in the U.S., designing and manufacturing precision machine tools for companies across America. He said local partners that use Haas CNC machines include Dassault Falcon Jet, which makes hardware for the interior of the company’s luxury jets at its sprawling Little Rock completion center.
Besides the French aviation giant, Garner said dozens of manufacturers in Arkansas use Haas tool-building machines. Arkansas customers range from multinational companies like Fort Smith-based Baldor Electric Co. and Dassault to smaller manufacturers such as ceramic seal-maker Coorstek in Benton and Berryville-based Wilson Combat, a customer firearms maker that has more than 30 Haas tool-building machines.
“We are able to take a part from conception to completion,” Garner said. “It can be anything from an automotive part to something for archery, a firearm or it can be a medical implant, a surgical tool – and all that type manufacturing exists in the state of Arkansas.”
Garner said there are more than 1,100 Haas CNC machines in operation in manufacturing settings in Arkansas. The company’s Little Rock office headed by Garner provides sales and service support to those industry partners and customers.
Garner, who is also chairman of the state Career Education and Workforce Development Board, said the company’s Demo Day event is also a good opportunity for Arkansas students and workers to see what today’s manufacturing sector looks like and how innovation is changing the way factories operate across the state.
The manufacturing industry ambassador said he is pleased with the efforts of Gov. Asa Hutchinson and state workforce and career education officials to retool the state’s labor pool to provide the necessary technical and computing skills to operate the hi-tech and innovative machinery that most factories now use. He said many Arkansas companies have already switched to advanced machines tools and lathes like the ones Haas makes, while others have adopted the use of robotics, high performance computing, rapid prototyping and other addictive manufacturing processes such as industrial 3D printing and imaging.
Still, Garner admitted that factories that use new innovations and advanced manufacturing technologies now need fewer employees to produce their products, but worker efficiency and output levels have improved substantially.
“So what we are seeing is more advancement in the machines, but they are not necessarily displacing them or but they are allowing for a more technically advanced worker,” he said. “But the workers are also getting an opportunity to have a higher-wage job and a more sustainable career that is now available in manufacturing.”
Arkansas’ manufacturing sector is well off peak employment set in February 1995 when an estimated 247,300 were directly employed. April employment was estimated at 153,700, down almost 38% from the peak number.
Garner said he was also excited about the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce’s recently launched “Be Pro Be Proud” initiative, the public-private partnership kicked off in early March to shrink the “skills gap” that exists between Arkansas’ growing labor pool and industry and economic development prospects.
The “Be Pro Be Proud” hi-tech mobile unit, which travels the state to visit companies, schools and events to showcase skilled trade professions and broaden awareness of their impact on our state’s workforce, was also on location at the Haas Demo-Day event.
Garner said these ongoing efforts will eventually pay off and allow the state’s manufacturing sector to once again regain a prominent place as one of the main economic drivers for hi-tech, blue collar workers in the state’s growing labor pool.
“What you see here, the cleanliness of this is today’s manufacturing environment. Manufacturing is no longer dark and dirty, so what we have got to do is change the perception,” he said. “So what we are trying to stress to educators, parents and students is there is a career field waiting for you here in manufacturing.”