In many cities a new model for industrial spaces is taking hold, one that reflects a shift in attitudes regarding human capital. In addition, advanced manufacturing, which uses high levels of technology in addition to innovative materials and processes, is replacing traditional production in many locations and creating new industrial centers in others. A panel at ULI’s Fall Meeting addressed the changes in manufacturing and how they will affect urban centers.
Chris Brewer, vice president for economics at AECOM in Chicago, gave a detailed explanation of advanced manufacturing, which he described as “a family of activities that depend on the use and coordination of information, automation, computation, software, sensing, and networking and use cutting-edge materials, advanced processes, and emerging capabilities in the physical and biological sciences [nanotechnology, chemistry, and biology].”
Increasingly, Brewer said, products often move through several assembly stages over large distances using third-party logistics providers linked by nimble supply chains. The implications of this change in process will require funding for transportation infrastructure and third-party logistics providers. Other policy implications would be zoning and land use to protect industrial areas.
Another big change he is seeing is that “manufacturers are moving toward smaller buildings, while warehousing is growing larger.”
Power and connectivity also are key to new manufacturing, and Brewer said he anticipates dramatic changes relating to energy, especially who will be providing it, how it will be generated, and how much control companies will have.
Panelists also projected a growing reliance on microgrids, which are localized grids that can disconnect from the traditional grid to operate autonomously and are able to function when the main grid is down. Microgrids integrate renewable sources of energy and facilitate synergy between users. For example, excess heat produced from one manufacturing process would be used to power another manufacturer’s process. “That’s what excites me about microgrids,” said Jason Chandler, vice president of project management at Epstein, a design and engineering firm. “With microgrids, you have complementary uses where one person’s waste can be another’s power source.”
Chandler and Epstein worked with G&W Electric, an Illinois-based manufacturer of high-voltage power equipment, to find and build a new manufacturing facility. Power was a major consideration in their search for a new site. “You really have to dig deep to ensure [that] public utilities can meet demand, reliability, and schedule requirements,” he said.
The company ended up moving about 25 miles (40 km) to Bollingbrook, Illinois, to the site of a former big-box distribution center, which Epstein and G&W redesigned. Ensuring that the new location would be accessible for G&W’s highly trained workforce was another important criterion, said Geary Smith, vice president at G&W.
In the old paradigm, the focus was making things and reducing costs. “They never really planned how things were for the employees,” and you really saw that in the architecture, shared Chandler, noting the new facility “kind of flipped” that equation. “It is very much about employees.”
The contrast between G&W’s Blue Island, Illinois, plant—state-of-the-art circa 1955, according to Smith—and the new facility illustrates some of the changes that 21st-century manufacturing requires. The most obvious is air conditioning, which Smith said was almost unheard of for a building in 1955. In the old model, a clear distinction and separation existed between administration and manufacturing. The only division between the two in the new facility is a glass wall between the two areas. Two atriums infuse the interior with natural light. Open spaces encourage office and manufacturing staff to mingle.
“In many instances, the shift in manufacturing is away from mass production and assembly [and] toward a more collaborative environment that looks like Google,” said panelist Deborah Acosta, who is the chief innovation officer for the city of San Leandro, California, located on San Francisco’s East Bay. “They bring people together to collaborate and exchange ideas.”
Acosta is the first innovation officer in the East Bay and the third in the United States. San Leandro has an industrial heritage, and her initial task was to refocus a 2,000-acre (809 ha)
industrial area as a next-generation workplace. The goal, she said, was the creation of an “advanced maker manufacturing ecosystem” to attract “value-added companies that make things” through a public/private effort. Existing San Leandro manufacturing businesses were engaged as well.
Having a fiber-optic infrastructure was a key component, as was the availability of an educated maker workface. Venues for the arts, events, and brew pubs were included in the mix at the site to appeal to prospective employees. “New workers are not as attracted to big empty barns,” said Acosta. The effort has paid off, with tenants such as Type A Machines, which offers three-dimensional (3-D) design and fabrication solutions. San Leandro is now cited as a center for innovation and 3-D printing in the Bay Area and as a model for building maker cities.
Whether the location is Illinois or California, the competition for highly skilled workers is high. “Now, you have to attract people and retain them,” observed Chandler. Creating a talent pipeline is emerging as an important role for 21st-century manufacturers. Getting students involved as early as middle school is important, according to Brewer. Acosta has created a number of programs and outreach activities to engage parents, students, and educators with the realities of new manufacturing.