During the pandemic Winnipeg’s Precision ADM became one of the best examples of a resurgent Canadian supply chain for personal protective equipment and medical device products that have been in great demand to care for the frightening numbers of people who were — and still are — getting sick.
Martin Petrak, the CEO of Precision ADM and others worry that if those gains in the manufacturing sector are not nurtured it will be a massive opportunity lost.
Not only has Canadian industry been successful in rapidly springing to action to replace the previous reliance on foreign imports, but cutting-edge technology has been deployed in a way that could make that kind of domestic production sustainable for the future.
"We hope this "made in Canada" solution is here to stay,"’ said Petrak.
His company was making super sophisticated spinal implants and knee replacements and then utilized its expertise in processes like 3-D printing to make more than one million 3-D printed testing swabs and re-usable and recyclable N95-style respirators.
But Petrak and others understand that there is a risk of losing this new capability.
It will take a rethink of the status quo when it comes to public sector procurement especially on the PPE front, but for the broader manufacturing sector there are many more complex issues at play.
Not the least of them is the demographic reality of an aging workforce. The manufacturing sector is going to lose 25 per cent of its workforce in the next 10 years. Currently only six per cent of that workforce are 25 years old or younger.
Those are some of the realities that the advanced manufacturing supercluster, NGen, is using to frame a new initiative called Careers of the Future, to raise awareness in the general public of the attractive employment possibilities that exist in advanced manufacturing and to prod industry players to get on that advanced manufacturing bandwagon.
Jayson Myers, the CEO of NGen — who previously was the chief economist and then CEO of Canadian Manufactures and Exporters for many years — said the industry is going to change enormously over the next five to 10 years.
There has been plenty of talk for many years about the Canadian industry’s productivity gap. Now that digital technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, digital twinning simulation and additive manufacturing are creating exponential improvement in processes, there is an even greater imperative that Canadian companies adapt and make the investments, the way Precision ADM has done.
"If we are looking at re-shoring manufacturing (establishing domestic manufacturing to replace the reliance on foreign imports) innovation has to be key to that," Myers said. "We are not going to re-shore production from China by simply saying come to Canada. Companies need to become much more automated, much more digital in order to survive and grow."
That investment dynamic will generate all sorts of new requirements for digital skills in the sector, which leads to the next challenge — ensuring there are enough people with the right skills and encouraging them to consider careers in manufacturing.
Part of the Careers of the Future initiative is to highlight how all of the sexiest of new digital technologies from gaming to design, to engineering have applications that are in demand in the advanced manufacturing space, not to mention finance and management and all the skilled trades.
"We need to make sure we have a pipeline of well-qualified people coming of the school systems," said Myers.
It was not easy for Petrak’s business, which grew 10-fold in the past 14 months, to find all the people it needed.
"It was a huge challenge," he said. "We had to bring in experts to help us ramp up. We found people all over the place to come help us."
-Winnipeg Free Press