Stratasys, an industry leader in the additive manufacturing space, announced a tour through major American tour through the industrial midwest to promote its products and AM more generally. The tour is a socially distanced way to engage with AM. Participants at each of six stops will view Stratasys printers operating in the Stratasys mobile showroom: a trailer that comes equipped with an example of the company’s technology. Stratasys’s tour through midwest cities helps sensitize business owners, the public, unions and union members.
The tour begins in Saint Louis, Missouri, on November 6, 2020. Saint Louis lies at the economic territory’s southwestern border. The tour takes a week to proceed along the midwest’s western edge to Minneapolis, where it stops on November 16, 2020. Stratasys then enters the industrial midwest proper with stops in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Chicago and Grand Rapids, Michigan during the week of November 30, 2020. The tour passes through Detroit in the week of December 7, 2020 and makes its final stops in Cleveland and Cincinnati, Ohio.
These stops work through an area that was radically changed by the third industrial revolution, which enhanced factory automation. Companies along the great lakes waterways laid off employees. The American balance-of-trade changed somewhat in lockstep with the rise of automation through the 1980s, which obviously affected the region. Americans began importing cheaper foreign manufactured goods. This movement led to the demise of much of the midwest’s manufacturing business. It also led Walter Mondale to coin the term ‘Rust Belt’, which refers to the demise of industry in the region. The area is still prosperous in absolute terms; it has undoubtedly lost some manufacturing capacity. In 1950, the region employed forty-three percent of aggregate employment in the United States. That number fell to twenty-seven percent in 2000. Manufacturing employment fell from one-half of the American total in 1950 to one-third in 2000.
These figures account for a wider outflow of manufacturing from the United States as a whole. The number of private sector manufacturing employees in the United States declined from about twenty-one million in 1988 to a little over thirteen million in 2010.
Stratasys’s tour through the region might aim to capitalize on the light bounce-back in American manufacturing jobs as the twenty first century takes root. The region’s relative dearth of manufacturing jobs, yet dense infrastructure has drawn some AM companies, like ExOne (based in North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania) and MakerGear (originating in Beechwood, Ohio) into the mix. The presence of a high concentration of research-intensive universities further assists technological development.
AM also speaks to the labor movement, and labor is a central concern in the in the industrial midwest, home to parts of the American labor movement like the Chicago-born Industrial Workers of the World. Union membership rates in Illinois, Ohio and Michigan are above the national average according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; Wisconsin’s unionization rate is at par with the United States’ midwest average. Bringing unions onside with AM is as important as educating companies. Stratasys’s tour helps expose employees and unions to new technologies that have the potential to disrupt labor. These inventions have equal potential to promote local manufacturing.
For those who are interested in linking up with the tour, Stratasys offers online registration.
*This article was updated on October 23, 2020, in response to comments from readers regarding the use of the term ‘Rust Belt’ to refer to the industrial midwest. My apologies for using this term for the region.*