Ohio Manufacturing: Building a Bright Future on a Rich Legacy
Karthik Avadhanula•Published: Thu Oct 05 2023
The notion of making things has deep roots in Ohio, with a rich legacy of manufacturing goods across the state. And while that tradition forges ahead, a fresh breed of next-generation manufacturers adds a new element to Ohio’s heritage. Manufacturing companies in Ohio are innovating in areas like the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), 3-D printing, automation, advanced materials (including carbon composites), and advanced metal alloys.
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Ohio’s History of Manufacturing Innovation
Human progress has always been defined by the innovation and mass adoption of manufactured products that make life more efficient and improve the quality of life. Ohio has always been home to the creation of products and an epicenter for manufacturing innovation of these products for mass adoption.
Here are just a few examples of that history in Ohio:
- Glass was invented in Mesopotamia more than 5,000 years ago. Still, mass adoption to make glass for perishable food was only possible because of the invention of the automated glass mold-opening device, which lowered the cost of glass bottle making by 90%. It was invented in Toledo by Michael Owens, the founder of Owens Bottle Machine Company, which is still operational today as Owens-Illinois Glass Company in Northwest Ohio.
- Cleveland-based Materion Brush was the first company to use Beryllium for applications to make everything from radio tubes to heat shields for spacecraft. In fact, Materion Brush is the world’s only fully integrated beryllium manufacturer, even to this day.
- The rubber tire industry also has a long history in Ohio. While natural rubber has been in use since the 1700s and synthetic (vulcanized) rubber was invented in the mid-1800s, it was not until the invention of the quick, detachable, straight-side tire at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Akron that rubber became synonymous with tires. This invention led to the first automobile tire used in Ford’s Model T. Akron has since become the rubber & plastics capital of the world with the Western Hemisphere’s most extensive polymer science program at the University of Akron.
Manufacturing in Ohio Today
Today, Ohio is home to institutions where some of the world’s cutting-edge innovation in manufacturing continues to forge ahead. Examples include thin-film solar panels, world-changing consumer products, additive manufacturing, automation in welding, and material handling.
- Thin-film solar panels: Ohio has the world’s most extensive integrated thin-film solar panel manufacturing facilities with First Solar in Toledo. Based in Arizona, access to low-cost glass panel manufacturing made Ohio the ideal choice for its largest manufacturing operation. Now, with their state-of-the-art in Ohio, the future of thin-film solar is very bright.
- Other solar supply-chain projects in Ohio position Ohio as the country’s epicenter for solar panel manufacturing.
- Announced investment by Illuminate USA to manufacture silicon-based solar panels in central Ohio, Ohio.
- Solar FlexRack, P.M Electro Auto, and APA Solar announced the expansion of solar racking systems.
- Innovative consumer products: From electric vacuum cleaners to P&G’s Swiffer sweep + vac – Ohio is home to consumer product innovation that makes life easier for countless Americans. Such innovation is only possible because of world-renowned consumer brands such as P&G, Gojo Industries, and L Brands. Also, Ohio innovators like Nottingham Spirk Innovation Hub make rapid innovation in consumer products happen at lightning speed.
- Additive Manufacturing (3D printing): Ohio is the Silicon Valley of the 3D printing industry. We’re home to the first 3D printed FAA Certified aircraft fuel nozzle, the first 3D-printed pizza, the first 3D-printed FDA-approved drug, and the machine that 3D printed the car.
- Innovation in Automation: As the country experiences record-low unemployment rates, along with the younger generation demanding more meaningful work, automation in manufacturing is replacing many historically basic tasks. Ohio’s companies are the leading automation innovators in some of the most complex manufacturing tasks, such as welding, high-speed material handling, and other robotic operations.
- Automated welding: Ohio companies such as Lincoln Electric are leading the innovation in this area, driven by a severe shortage of welding technicians in the country. Welding is traditionally considered a dangerous skilled trade. But with the innovation of automation in welding – and creating weldments with a mobile ‘App’ – Lincoln and Path are attracting a younger workforce to this industry.
- Automated Material Handling: Warehouses and fulfillment centers have become the backbone of the logistics industry due to e-commerce growth. The ability of these giant warehouses to process millions of packages is primarily due to the innovations in the material handling industry to pack and sort packages at lightning speed. Ohio company Intelligrated is credited with this automation innovation in the warehouse industry. Today, another Ohio company, Trew Automation, ensures this innovation in the material handling industry continues in Ohio.
- Automation robots and components: Ohio is home to several of the world’s most extensive robotic manufacturing operations, such as United Grinding, Fanuc, Universal Robotics, and Yaskawa Motoman. Ohio was also prosperous in attracting some of the most significant investments of automation components manufacturers such as Festo and Makino.
Innovation for the Future of Manufacturing
Future: Finally, the future of manufacturing innovation is bright in Ohio, with several innovation institutes and universities with a strong focus on developing technologies for Industry 4.0 and beyond. Some examples of these institutes are:
- AmericaMakes in Youngstown, Ohio: As the first federally funded Manufacturing USA innovation institute focused on Additive manufacturing, America Makes is located in Youngstown, Ohio. The institute is focused on ensuring that US and Ohio maintain leadership in the innovation and application of 3D printing.
- University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI): With proximity to Wright-Patt Air Force Base and innovative materials technology infrastructure, UDRI is home to cutting-edge innovation in carbon composites, polymer additives, and metal printing technologies.
- Sinclair UAS Center: Focuses on unmanned aerial vehicle innovation, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) pilot training and offers a bachelor’s degree in UAS
- Edison Welding Institute: EWI in Columbus, Ohio, is one of the original entrepreneurial institutes focused on developing and commercializing metal joining technologies. Example: Fabrisonic (Sonic welding tech) is a start-up company that grew out of commercializing sonic welding technology developed at EWI.
- Center For Design & Manufacturing Excellence (CDME): CDME is a manufacturing innovation center tied with Ohio State University and focuses efforts in many manufacturing areas, including 3D printing, automation, material testing, etc.
- University of Cincinnati 1819 Hub: The 1819 innovation hub at UC is focused on several manufacturing technologies and cross-pollinate innovations across manufacturing and healthcare sectors.
- Case Western University ThinkBox: Think Box is a unique innovation asset at Case Western University that focuses on bringing community imagination with cutting-edge technology access.
- Bounce Innovation Hub in Akron: Bounce Innovation Hub was founded in January 2018 and serves northeast Ohio entrepreneurs, startups, and small businesses. With more than 50 tenant organizations, Bounce accounts for more than 250 people working and creating.
- Center for Innovative Food Technology, Toledo: CIFT, an Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) affiliate, helps food packing innovations such as the R&D center with a Columbian packaging company Plastilene, to happen in Ohio.
The past, present, and future of manufacturing are rooted in Ohio, and the opportunities for success are everywhere you look. The innovation ecosystem continues to grow, providing the perfect environment for next-generation manufacturing.
Director, Advanced Manufacturing