Several huge and almost scandalous American manufacturing expansion plans erupted in 2021.
In March, Intel Corp. announced that it would build two new computer chip factories for an investment of $ 20 billion. Six months later, the manufacturer broke new ground on this promise.
In April, Nacero Inc. announced it would build a low-carbon gasoline manufacturing plant in Penwell, Texas: an estimated $ 6.5 billion to $ 7 billion in spending.
And one of the biggest announcements came in September, when Ford Motor Co. announced BlueOval City and BlueOval SK Battery Park, two mega complexes slated for Tennessee and Kentucky to support the automaker’s electric vehicle growth plans. automobile. In partnership with SK Innovation, the $ 11.4 billion investment should ultimately create some 11,000 new jobs. Itâs big. If plans stay on schedule, production will begin in 2025.
These announcements build on several known challenges facing the manufacturing industry: the growth of electric vehicles, the lack of semiconductor supply (as well as the geographic imbalance of chip factory locations) and the focus on on a low carbon life. Still, as significant as these announcements are, they represent only a fraction of the new manufacturing facilities, existing refurbished facilities, and expansions that have been reported or are underway in 2021 across the United States.
As has become a year-end tradition at IndustryWeek, it is once again time to review manufacturing expansion across the United States. We took a look at some numbers, met two manufacturers who recently broke new ground – fitness company Peloton Interactive Inc. and solar module maker First Solar Inc. – and shared a small menu of manufacturers who, in 2021, announced their intention to build new sites (plus a recent opening). Our conclusion: There is much to be excited about manufacturing in the United States, even as the industry struggles with significant headwinds.
The data say
First, let’s discuss some numbers to help define the manufacturing landscape. Housing starts were hit hard in 2020, according to data shared by the Dodge Construction Network, which tracks the commercial construction industry. The drop is probably not surprising, given the devastating second-half manufacturing industry collapse due to COVID. Petrochemical plant starts fell 72% in dollar terms from the previous year, and manufacturing fell 33%.
This year’s data tells a different story, with manufacturing plant starts of 82% year-over-year and petrochemical plant starts of 153%.
âManufacturing construction is advancing in 2021 thanks to several notable projects, including petrochemical plants. Outside of the petroleum business, manufacturing construction related to motor vehicles and parts (such as battery factories for electric vehicles), food production and chip making factories are advancing, âsaid Richard Branch, Chief Economist of Dodge Construction Network.
The advance of manufacturing construction keeps pace with the improvement of the fortunes of industry. Manufacturing activity rose for 17 straight months in October, according to data from the Institute for Supply Management, rebounding strongly. Despite the rebound, however, manufacturers continue to struggle to find people and obtain materials to make products.
Branch noted the challenge and the opportunity: âThe supply chain issues facing the economy will continue to put positive pressure on manufacturing construction in the years to come in the sense that domestic producers will want more. control over their supply chain and more options for sourcing other than international sources. This, of course, is a huge plus for manufacturing construction starts. This potential is not without challenges, however. The manufacturing sector is facing a serious shortage of skilled labor which will hamper growth. “
It is in this landscape that many builders have their roots in the United States. Two of these manufacturers shared their progress.
Peloton exit park
On a hot August day in the township of Troy, Peloton inaugurated its first dedicated US factory. The new facility represents an investment of $ 400 million and will occupy more than 1 million square feet. When completed, Peloton Output Park, as it’s called, will be one of the largest connected fitness manufacturing factories in the world, according to the company. In early November, the walls were rising and Brad St. Louis of Peloton said the company expects to have a building closed by February.
St. Louis, senior director of automation and controls, recently took time away from the preparations for the new plant to discuss the company’s vision for the site. âIf I had to show you a map, I like to describe it as a pre-planned little town,â he says. And it’s a city where flexibility is a key feature, deliberately built in to help the business cope quickly with changing demand.
In practice, this means that big dollars will not be spent on specially designed massive assembly lines that may look good in the short term, but which can become monuments of inactivity if the demand for this product changes. Instead, think about smaller, more agile processes, with room for growth. This same thinking translates into technologies like the paint system, where product mix changes should not require major system modifications, but may simply require tooling changes. In addition, the space is well thought out to always preserve the flow of material from the raw steel to the assembly, explains St. Louis.
âWe’re really going into this area with flexibility and agility,â he says. Interestingly, despite his tech title, the senior automation and controls manager takes a measured approach to technology implementations. âI’ve done projects where it looked like automation for automation, and these never went well. Automation to resolve known issues is much more of a victory, âhe says.
âThe philosophy is to deal with problems as they arise; we have a lot of time to become that factory, and there’s no reason to do a million things the day we open the doors.
That said, the new Peloton site, which St. Louis describes as [Industry] Ready for 4.0, no shortage of automation. The robots will take care of welding tasks as well as other tasks where precision is required. And “I’m all for automation … where it could be harmful to humans for ergonomic reasons,” he says. In addition, “I like to say that I empower people through technology.”
Ultimately, Peloton wants employees to embrace this facility for the long haul, and such thinking helps guide decision-making around automation and other aspects. âWe want this to be a great place to work. I want to see some of the lowest turnover rates in the job field. When we take the time to train someone, I want them here forever, âsays St. Louis.
Production at the site is expected to begin in 2023.
A first solar boost
Like Peloton, First Solar Inc. opened a new manufacturing facility in August, and like Peloton, the facility is located in northwest Ohio. However, for First Solar, Ohio is a known quantity. This new facility will be the third in Northwest Ohio, where it has been present since 2002.
The manufacturing plant, which represents an investment of $ 680 million, will be huge with 1.8 million square feet and is expected to create 700 permanent jobs. Here’s an interesting piece of information: First Solar believes that once this latest facility is fully operational, the company’s footprint in Northwest Ohio will make it the largest fully vertically integrated solar power manufacturing complex. outside of China. If all goes well, operations will begin in 2023.
As First Solar builds its new site, the focus is on optimization, says Mike Koralewski, director of manufacturing operations. âYou think about site optimization, building optimization, optimal process optimization,â he says. And don’t forget about optimizing the supply chain that powers the plant. âAnd in all of that, you are sort of optimizing your staff,â he adds.
A key to this optimization will be automation. Koralewski cited Industry 4.0 architecture, machine-to-machine learning, artificial intelligence, and Internet of Things connectivity among the technologies that will help the factory be successful.
âOur automation is absolutely going to ramp up dramatically,â he says. âHow machines react and recover between themselves; how the materials are delivered to the line; the interface of a person to an asset, everything will be different.
Koralewski says these technologies are a game changer for First Solar. In addition, he adds, they will also allow the workforce to develop, “which allows them to grow and evolve as our factories and our processes evolve.”
When asked what excites him most about First Solar’s new plant, the Director of Manufacturing Operations takes a look at the big picture. âThere are some things that are very exciting for me. Number 1 is that this is the continued growth of manufacturing in the United States â
Continued American growth. Increase the competitiveness of manufacturing. A growing domestic supply. What not to like?