Manufacturing for the future

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M’s Machine and Manufacturing co-owner Candace Drahn explains some of the work done at the Monona company during a tour of the facility Oct. 2. Staff gave tours as part of an open house in recognition of National Manufacturing Day, which works to stimulate interest in the industry. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

Chris Howe demonstrates how the coordinating measurement machine (CMM), which checks part quality, works.

Drahn shows off the drill vending machine, which dispenses drills rather than chips or candy bars.

M’s Machine manufactures several parts for John Deere tractors.

M’s Machine holds open house to stimulate industry interest

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Manufacturing is a thriving business in Iowa, with exports growing 165 percent in the last 10 years. In 2014 alone, Iowa exported $15.1 billion worth of manufactured and value-added goods. Advanced manufacturing contributes $28 billion annually to Iowa’s economy—three times more than farming—making it the state’s largest industry. 

That’s a lot to celebrate. On Oct. 2, M’s Machine and Manufacturing in Monona held its first open house in recognition of Manufacturing Day, a national effort started four years ago to address common misconceptions about manufacturing and connect with future generations to ensure the ongoing prosperity of the industry.

Ensuring the future of the industry is important, as 3.4 million manufacturing jobs are anticipated to be needed in the next 10 years. However, due to a skills gap, only 1.4 million are likely to be filled.

In Iowa, nearly 4,000 manufacturers currently employ over 210,000 people.

In order to train new workers, community and technical colleges in Iowa, and throughout the country, have developed Career Pathways curriculums. These offer an integrated collection of programs and services intended to develop students’ core academic, technical and employability skills; provide them with continuous education and training; and place them in high-demand and high-opportunity jobs.

Manufacturers are also doing their part.

A small, woman-owned business, M’s Machine has been part of the Monona community for over 30 years. It currently employs around 20 people, said co-owner Candace Drahn, who helped lead tours of the facility during Friday afternoon’s open house.

That morning, she said M’s Machine also welcomed 70 students from MFL MarMac and Postville for a tour. In addition, students visited other Monona manufacturers, Art’s Way Scientific and Commercial Vehicle Group (CVG).

The companies hoped to put a different face on manufacturing for students preparing for life after high school, Drahn said.

“We wanted to let kids know that [manufacturing] is not so dirty, that there’s technology and expertise behind it,” she said.

Technology has assisted M’s Machine in a variety of ways. Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software tells machines the parts to develop, providing simulations to make sure everything will run OK. Information can be transferred from a computer via a memory card or flash drive directly to the machine.

“We’ve really come a long way,” noted production manager Jeff Houg. “We used to have to program right at the machine.”

A drill vending machine, which dispenses drills rather than chips or candy bars, electronically manages the company’s tooling and keeps track of inventory.

The coordinating measurement machine (CMM) that checks part quality also uses special software. Every time a probe touches down on a section of a part, it triggers the computer, which determines values, sizes and positions of the part components.

Although computer software makes it easier, Drahn said operator Chris Howe, who was providing a demonstration, “does have to know the math behind it to know how it functions.”

Of Iowa’s manufactured exports, tractors are number one, at $1.068 billion. Bulldozers, graders and loaders are second, followed by insecticides and herbicides, then tractor parts.

M’s Machine’s workers currently create parts—like hitches, spindles and fender brackets—for John Deere tractors, explained Drahn.

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