By Ken Sturtz
In this issue of Oswego County Business, Randy Wolken, president of the Manufacturers Association of Central New York, discusses how manufacturing is changing and provides a glimpse of what the industry might be like in 20 or 30 years.
While flying cars are still a way off, the manufacturer of the future will operate a state-of-the-art facility with more automation, but will also be dependent on highly-skilled workers.
Wolken highlighted Novelis as an example of a local manufacturer that is preparing for the future today, through investments in new technology and equipment as well as developing the pool of skilled labor.
Novelis is Oswego County’s largest manufacturer, employing 1,200 workers at its Scriba aluminum plant (the company refers to it as Novelis Oswego due to its proximity to the city). We asked plant manager Jeff Cruse about the company’s efforts to adapt for the future.
His responses have been edited for length.
How is Novelis preparing for the future? What steps is it taking to remain competitive in the manufacturing environment of tomorrow?
Novelis recently announced new sustainability targets and goals as a part of our ongoing commitment to becoming a net carbon-neutral company by 2050 or sooner and reducing our carbon footprint 30% by 2026. Novelis as a whole has also committed to becoming a fully circular business and a more diverse and inclusive workplace. By working towards and meeting these goals, we remain competitive and maintain our position as a premier provider in the supply chain.
Novelis aluminum can be found in the aerospace, automotive, beverage can and specialty industries so we recognize the vital role aluminum plays in our regional and global infrastructure. At Oswego, we will hone in on investments to not only maintain and sustain our operational and physical infrastructure but invest in growth and innovation to improve our capacity, and whether that is through automation and robotics or through energy efficient machine centers, it will require top talent to build, maintain and operate our facility.
Furthermore, we are seeing the value of aluminum and the role it will play in increasing sustainability within the supply chain and for our valued customers, Novelis intends to lead in this regard. Remaining competitive requires us to collaborate and partner with our customers and provide solutions for them. The most recent examples include our recently announced partnership with Ford to supply aluminum for the new electric F-150, “Lightning.”
It is incredible to see the impact high-strength, lightweight aluminum has had on reducing environmental footprint, and now taking it to the next level with the electric vehicles is truly exciting progress.
What have been some of the key investments?
In 2018, Novelis worked to establish a global network of Customer Solution Centers to accelerate collaborative innovation between Novelis and automakers for the next generation of vehicle design. Novelis has worked closely with original equipment manufacturers to determine how to maximize lightweight, high-strength aluminum to design the best solutions for specific applications at the right cost to better compete against steel and other materials. We have a number of the industry-leading researchers, designers and engineers located right here in Oswego collaborating with our regional CSC in Novi, Michigan, which is in close proximity to automakers’ manufacturing sites in the U.S.
We have made investments in research and technical platforms, operations and commercial development to increase collaboration and innovation to best support our auto customers. Our global and regional investments include high-tech development from computer-aided design software to virtual collaboration capabilities and visualization technologies.
Novelis has further invested and continues to invest in the use of more alloys with higher recycled content to help curb CO2 emissions and establish more secure supply chains. Another notable advancement as a result of investment in innovation includes new automotive alloys that offer greater bendability for increased light weighting as well as improved safety.
Why invest in manufacturing in Central New York versus somewhere else?
Established in 1963 [formerly known as Alcan], Oswego represents Novelis’ first U.S. operation and stands today as the company’s largest, wholly owned facility in North America. Our innovative closed loop manufacturing model reduces energy, water and landfill waste associated with operations, and lowers the carbon footprint of products made using our aluminum—minimizing environmental impact and establishing a secure supply chain. Our proximity to Ford’s facility in Dearborn, Michigan, also helps position us to be efficient in the supply chain for OEMs.
Equipped for aluminum scrap remelting, ingot casting, hot and cold rolling, and aluminum finishing, Oswego generates premium aluminum products used by the automotive and beverage can markets. We have a longstanding tradition of subject matter expertise here in Oswego. As such, having served as a trusted and knowledgeable partner for various industries, including but not limited to auto and beverage can, we have made significant investments in programs like P-Tech and in higher education to support the developing pipeline of future STEM professionals and industry experts. We see a significant return on such investments — allowing us to recruit and retain top talent right here in Central New York.
How has the company been working to ensure it has a skilled pool of workers to meet its labor needs in the future?
None of what we do is possible without our people. We make it a priority to identify the very best talent and provide them with the right growth and development opportunities. We offer training, access to professional development and continued education to ensure our skilled workforce builds and strengthens its expertise and remains at the forefront of industry standards. We also have an entire world class manufacturing pillar dedicated to education and training for our people. Manufacturing is truly powered by people. From the machine centers to automation, every innovation is designed by, maintained and run by our talented workforce.
Novelis has an ongoing partnership with the CiTi BOCES P-Tech program for work-based learning. Through mentorship and collaboration, we aim to support the development and learning opportunities for bright students who make up a strong pipeline of future STEM and manufacturing professionals.
With a retiring workforce (30% in the next five to seven years) it is now more imperative than ever that we participate and invest in programs like P-Tech (and educational institutions such as the MOST, CMOO, SUNY Oswego, local school districts, etc.) to foster development of the next generation of skilled problem solvers, innovators and skilled technicians and craftsmen. By providing these opportunities we are not only empowering students to pursue advanced education, career opportunities and to be contributing members in the local economy but also fulfilling a major need in the manufacturing industry here in New York.