5 Ways the Internet of Things Will Transform Manufacturing

From Plymouth to TeslaIf you think the rise of the Internet over the past 45 years has been awe-inspiring… buckle up and keep your eyes on the road ahead. The Internet is now merging together with the real world at a meteoric pace and grand scale.

You are no doubt familiar with this “marriage” between the Internet and real world.  It’s the Internet of Things, or IoT.  It’s a whole new revolution that is changing entire industries in countless ways.

IoT is not a revolutionary breakthrough that just popped up yesterday, of course. Take IoT in transportation and home automation, for example.  For years now, we’ve been checking traffic online in real-time before we leave the office… then summoning Uber and Lyft cars via our smartphones… and telling our smart thermostats to dial our homes to a comfy 75 degrees by the time the Uber drops us off at our front door.

Regardless of the many great IoT breakthroughs we’ve seen to date, we have definitely seen nothing yet.  In fact, IoT appears to be not just in the first inning of the ballgame, but perhaps the first pitch.

For our 49 years in manufacturing, our world has been defined by geometries, tolerances, materials, finishes and many other physical constraints.  Much different, of course, from my friends in software whose world is defined by code, data, algorithms and “soft” constraints.

With the rapid evolution of sensors, artificial intelligence, robotics and more, we are seeing our two worlds collide.  The software world and the real world.  The computer-networked Internet with the emerging Internet of physical devices, vehicles, buildings, factories, and anything made of atoms. One day, we’ll even have the Internet of the human body (but let’s digress and stick to the Internet of THINGS for now).

Our physical “things” will be more and more embedded, out-of-the-box, with sensors, electronics, actuators, software, and Internet connectivity all built-in.  The “things” will sense and collect data, and communicate with other “things” and computers.

The benefits and efficiencies that IoT will offer will extend far beyond the consumer products sector, of course. The impact that IoT will have on the manufacturing world, specifically, will be extraordinary.  In fact, it already is extraordinary.

Here at Specialty Design, we have our eyes on the road ahead in terms of Industrial IoT.  I want to outline just 5 examples of how we anticipate IoT will improve manufacturing here at Specialty and across the globe.  Some of these benefits are already happening today, and some will surely come in the near to distant future:

1) You can already start to utilize IoT today.  Sure, you say… IoT provides great benefits and all, but how can a long-established factory justify an investment in IoT that would require re-building the entire facility from the ground up?

I’ve been following an exciting tech start-up that provides a solution — a plug-and-play IoT solution, actually.  They are n-Join, and they have installed their plug-and-play IoT systems with companies that manufacture products ranging from nylon fibers to pudding snacks — including Coca-Cola facilities on multiple continents.

The n-Join team can enter a pre-existing factory, such as a Coca-Cola bottling facility, and enable its desktop-sized device to listen to and analyze 100% of the data from the plant’s diverse machines in real-time.  n-Join’s system can then use that information to provide customized insights and tools to the plant’s management.  Engineers instantly have at their disposal: Unprecedented visibility across the entire production line, forensic and root cause analyses capabilities to detect system bottlenecks and diagnose production problems, and the ability to proactively identify opportunities for preventative maintenance. The fact that an IoT system can be plug-and-play and provide these benefits is amazing.

A self-adapting, autonomous, user-friendly, easy to install, and affordable IoT platform is available not in 5-10 years, but today.  The vision is to “transform any factory into a smart factory.”

2) We’ll continue to make worksites safer.  IoT will provide another layer of safety in dangerous industries that simply can’t have enough safety checks: Mining, oil drilling, foundries, chemical plants, hospitals.  IoT could provide the safety feedback that could prevent another BP deepwater oil drilling tragedy, or a Chilean mining disaster.

One IoT installer, for example, has developed an end-to-end miner safety program that provides real-time communication between miners, machines and operators.  Or, a marketplace of smart air-quality sensors is emerging to alert people about temperature, humidity, dust, carbon dioxide, toxic chemical, and overall air quality abnormalities.

The workers and end users from an IoT-connected factory will benefit from external data in the networked system as well.  A real-time external database could notify sensors in food processing plants to test for recently reported bacterial or viral strains.  E. Coli could be caught in a distribution plant well before being served to a Chipotle customer.  Or weather services and/or ocean sensors could communicate detailed data to shipping captains, and help prevent maritime disaster from storms.

3) We (humans) will be free to work on more value-added projects.  My brother works for IBM Watson, who is on the vanguard of IoT and cognitive computing (or AI) in the medical field.  As he can attest, Watson is already assisting doctors and helping patients in incredible ways.  One way, for example, is to have Watson scan patient data and present anomalies to doctors up-front.  Watson can read the data with lightning speed and compare a patient’s labs to patterns from thousands of other patients’ labs uploaded to the platform. Doctors can then devote time instead to more value-added projects, save hours of time in the process, and patients receive more focused and informed care plans.

If we can utilize IoT and AI to help the complex human body, we will surely utilize these technologies to help improve our equipment and factories as well.  Pharmaceutical researchers, for example, will use IoT, AI and robotics to more efficiently automate the formulation of new drugs.  The net gain of productivity from the automation will reduce time-to-market for drugs, and allow researchers to focus on the most complex and/or urgent medical needs.

At one of their installation sites, n-Join’s system discovered opportunities for significant cost and time savings on critical cleaning operations.  Before their IoT implementation, fluctuating soda concentrations would compromise the cleaning process and lead to overuse of the expensive material, release of contaminated water, and investment of significant time to track down the source and frequency of the problem.  n-Join’s IoT solution provided all the necessary visual data to pinpoint the source of the problem, monitor the problem going forward, eliminate waste, save money, lessen the environmental impact, and allow the engineers to focus on other critical plant improvements.  All thanks to IoT… all in a days work!

4) IoT will monitor the supply chain and provide immense cost savings.  With the proliferation of low-cost, accurate and connected sensors, automated factories will become more and more efficient.  Assembly lines may soon tap into IoT to self-diagnose and repair themselves.  When perishable tooling such as cutters, inserts and drill bits become worn-down, equipment will not only swap out the tooling itself, but connect to its supplier via the network to order replacements.

Tomorrow, the machines themselves will surely interface with commercial parts suppliers, such as McMaster-Carr and Fastenal, through the IoT to order replacement parts.

This all means less down time.  Better asset utilization.  Lower total cost of ownership.  More focused and efficient workforce.  More accurate and actionable performance metrics.  More focused expenditures.  Proactive part replacements and repairs.  And, ultimately – if planned right – a better bottom line.

Factories that leverage IoT AND AI, machine learning, robotics, and/or advanced analytics will realize even greater breathtaking gains in efficiency and output.

One such case study worth checking out is the US $7.6mm annual savings that IBM’s IoT and Analytics groups helped return to oil/gas producer Santos.  Their IoT system records and utilizes both structured and unstructured data to improve their operation and bottom line.

Another interesting IoT application is King’s Hawaiian Bread’s recent investment in 11 specialized, Rockwell programmed, IoT-connected machines, which help them create an automated, connected, efficient facility.  Since installation, the IoT has helped double their bread production.

These are amazing automation breakthroughs, and again, we’re arguably just in Inning 1 in this new era of IoT in manufacturing.

5) IoT will connect us logistically too.  As I noted before, we’re already most familiar with IoT through consumer-centric companies such as Uber and Lyft that have leveraged IoT to redefine how we can efficiently get from A to B.

Fittingly, IoT logistics will ultimately evolve further to seamlessly connect our interconnected factories (whoa, now we’re getting meta).

Add to the mix IoT-connected, self-driving vehicles, trucks, trains, planes and drones, and eventually the entire supply chain will be a fully interconnected system.  Consider how far along UPS’s IoT-connected trucks already are today. UPS’s trucks can each make 150 to 200 stops per day because of their monster-size, globally-connected IoT system. The trucks’ sensors and UPS database work together to minimize left turns, monitor and reduce braking, minimize driving in reverse, and maintain information about every property they ever visit.  UPS saves tens of millions each year on these incremental, logistical improvements.

IoT isn’t just for outdoor logistics either.  Tech start-ups like Indoor Atlas are emerging to address indoor geopositioning.  Raw material, moveable equipment and more will move autonomously throughout factories. IoT connected machines will communicate with IoT connected trucks, and deliver the products out into the sunset (although the sun probably won’t be IoT-connectable, by the way).

It will be one big IoT-connected circle of life. The supply chain will be connected from raw product, to manufacturing, and all the way to the consumer’s doorstep.  Just as the Internet alone has redefined almost every type of human activity, be prepared to adapt to how IoT will redefine the manufacturing process and overall economics in ways we haven’t even conceived yet.

Buckle up!

As the automated machines and driverless cars continue to steer the wheels of industry, this revolution will have a greater and greater impact on society as we know it.  Along with the economic benefits, there will surely be economic consequences as well.

We’d all be wise to keep our eyes focused intently on the IoT-paved road ahead.


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Remembering Our Founder, Albert S. Knabb

Al Knabb in Wyoming, 1973

Al Knabb in Wyoming, 1973


By Justin Knabb, Vice President

Albert S. Knabb, founder of Specialty Design & Manufacturing, passed away on December 19, 2014.  He resided in Fleetwood, PA, and was born on February 24, 1937.

Albert was a young, talented and ambitious toolmaker in 1967, the year he started Specialty.  With not much more than a $7,000 bank loan, his toolmaker papers and rolodex, Al began his entrepreneurial journey.

Two generations later, I am proud to say Al’s business continues to thrive and stand the test of time.  I am Al’s grandson, and along with my father, Craig (Al’s son), we manage Specialty today– which has now grown into 2 successful businesses, both serving manufacturers and home builders around the country.

Albert loved Specialty Design.  He was active and influential up until his passing.  He was a true visionary in his field — being among the first in our state to provide CNC machining services in the 1970s, selling the groundbreaking Costimator software in the 1980s, starting a gutter manufacturing and supply business from scratch, and attracting top manufacturing talent to join our company.  Albert was truly one of a kind, and will be greatly missed.

I would like to share my eulogy to Albert that I gave at the service to celebrate his life at Zion Spies Evangelical Reformed Church in Oley, PA on December 27:

* * * *

I’m deeply honored to have my time to talk about Al. My Pop Pop, and my friend.

My brother and father also have much to share about Al’s extraordinary life. I’ll focus in on one key thing he was great at: Connecting with people and bringing them together.

Al KnabbI’ll first take us back to a cold February night in 2007. It became dark early, and the roads were icy, and it was one of those nights my grandparents would prefer to just stay in and watch “So You Think You Can Dance.”

But Al couldn’t stay in that night! He had to meet us at the Berkshire Country Club for dinner – me, Tyler, Dad and Fay. The four of us… oh, and also about 75-100 of his friends. As we know, Al loved socializing, but this time it was Shirley pulling him out the door. And meanwhile we were all at the club, anxiously waiting to surprise him.

As you may have guessed, the occasion I’m referring to was Al’s 70th birthday. We were all there to celebrate his life. And all of us were willing to embark on a mini Iditarod adventure to make it happen.

Yes, Pop Pop, only you could bring people together, even under the most extreme of conditions. We came because you were fun, and charming, and unique, and genuine, and caring, and funny.

Oh man, was my grandfather funny. Albert was magnetic. Just think of all the laughs that Albert has given all of us in this room.

Now Pop Pop would interrupt me here and clarify that the clear and undisputed hero of this night was not he, nor us adventurous partygoers, but rather Shirley Knabb. She and only she could achieve the impossible task of convincing him to suit up for a casual dinner on the town, on the coldest, nastiest night of the year.

And succeed she did, as Al’s town car eventually pulled up to the club’s entrance. He dropped Mom Mom off at the door, like the gentleman he was. He parked and then walked up and into the lobby….. SURPRISE!! Al's70th 016

And there it was: that delightful look on his face. A look I have loved my entire life.

His eyes warmed up, a slight and humble smile drew across his lips, and a subtle quiver from his chin… he was getting emotional, or maybe he just bit into a sour lemon.

He revealed that look of appreciation not just that night, but so often. A look that communicates his genuine feelings of happiness, love and gratitude all in one.

There were so many moments like that in that man’s life, weren’t there?

I will picture this image of him forever.

So you may be wondering – was Al truly surprised? Did Shirley pull it off? Did we actually fool this brilliant and clever man?

Well, after Al’s large crowd of friends calmed down, and hugs were exchanged, Al paused. He raised his hand and then pulled a small note from his suit coat.

He thanked us all for coming, and read this aloud:

I figured you were tricking me tonight, when I was sitting on the toilet. [Here are my top 5 reasons why:]

#1. [Shirley,] you never want to go out on a Friday night.

#2. You never want to go out when there’s a chance the driveway will be icy.

#3. The Berkshire never cancels any parties.

#4. Craig wasn’t at work all day. Probably [at home] working on pictures.

And the kicker, #5. “Elsie finishing our call on speaker phone saying ‘[Well], we’ll see you tonight!’”

So was Al surprised? Turns out Al turned the surprise back on all of us.

* * * *

We all knew Al Knabb as a great man, a special man, but I also knew him as the coolest grandfather. He had a palpable presence when he entered a room, yet a profound gentleness that soothed in the best of the times, and the toughest of times. He never took himself too seriously, but he also had more self-respect than anyone. He loved roasting all of us, and he accepted the teasing in return.

Al Knabb and Justin KnabbHe delivered his wit and friendship to us through various means, of course—through colorful emails, through phone calls, through butt dials, through texts, through dinners, drinks, and also through class reunions, which he would work so hard to organize.

Al listened intently, but also led boldly. He was the builder of 2 successful businesses. Al was a salesman extraordinaire, a talented toolmaker, an inspiring leader, a super-connector.

Al was a frequent flyer – at the Riveredge Bar & Lounge, at the Berkshire tap room, the YR Club, and the Fish Pond – all places where he would spend time with his dear friends.

Every other Thursday each summer at the Fish Pond, he would hold court at his favorite table on the patio. Now, maybe this just happened on the nights I joined him, but it seemed that before lobster was served, every single member would make sure to stop and pay Al a visit. Frankly there were nights Tyler and I legitimately wondered: Is our grandfather Don Corleone?

And always the salesman, Al also sold my grandmother on marrying him over 60 years ago.

And while Pop Pop’s trademark humble smile will stick with me forever, so will this other unforgettable image: my grandfather sitting at the head of the dinner table for a holiday meal, in the home that he and Shirley had once designed and built, surrounded by the dogs, cats, family and bounty that he brought together.

Throughout his great life, Albert brought people together wherever he went. I think one of his proudest achievements is that he and Mom Mom built our loving family together too.

* * * *

Al’s social and business gifts became abundantly clear to me soon after I started full-time at Specialty Design, the business he founded 2 miles from this church in 1967. Al Knabb at trade show

He told me it was a proud day for him to live and see the start of 3 active generations of Knabb’s at the business he started. He also told me then—and told me often—the Al Knabb not-so-secret-nor-earthshattering formula for success, “I built this business by building friendships.”

It sure sounded nice. After all, who doesn’t want to make a business justification to meet pals for Tia Marias, right Butch?

But it wasn’t until weeks and months later until I better appreciated his wisdom, appreciated the cost of building those relationships, or appreciated the less glamorous, behind the scenes of the entrepreneurial journey Pop Pop had taken to this point.

Out of nowhere, he began emailing me pages about Specialty’s beginnings. He’s always believed you have to know where you came from in order to know where you’re going.

He wrote about the garage he started in: “It was a strange feeling standing in that old crusty shop, realizing you now had what you always wanted, even though in other people’s eyes, it sure couldn’t have looked promising.”

Original shop, Specialty Design

Original shop, Specialty Design

His words brought to life how others also began to understand the potential in that once-crusty shop. He told me about all the key mentors along the way. The initial banker who took a risk on giving him that first loan. The employees who trusted him for steady work and pay. His son who was inspired to join Specialty the day after he graduated college. The wild stories from the road, from trade shows, from small initial customers, to the large global ones that would expand the business beyond what he thought possible.

The pages kept coming. First he sent me 2 installments. Then 3. Then 6. Pages and pages filled with names, stories, lessons learned, hard decisions made, lives touched, adventures had, dreams built.

I realized 2 things. One, that Al did not just build his business by making friends. Rather, making friends and earning others’ trust was Al’s calling and it was his life. We’re all a part of that story.

And second, I realized that whether Pop Pop knew it or not, he basically became an author that summer.

Later that year, I secretly took Al’s pages, and worked with an online publisher to craft his story into a real hardcopy book.

I titled it “On My Own: The Autobiography of Albert S. Knabb.” I would deliver it to him on Christmas Day 2008. The epic story of a life well lived.

* * * *

And so, there we were again. My grandfather sitting at the head of the dinner table for a Christmas meal, in the home that he and Shirley had once built, surrounded by the dogs, cats, family and bounty that he brought together.

After that dinner and under the Christmas tree, he took my gift and opened the wrapping slowly. I could barely contain my anticipation.

And again, there it was. He held the book, took a pause and looked up. His look said a thousand words all at once. His look took the air from the room.

His eyes warmed, a slight and humble smile drew across his lips, and a subtle quiver from his chin.

Yes, Pop Pop, I am grateful too. Merry Christmas.

Al Knabb 70th birthday

Specialty Design Team Member to Cycle 900 miles in 8 days

Tyler Knabb on his bicycle

Photo courtesy of Penn State

As I write this, Tyler Knabb — a Specialty Design team member and my brother — is cycling up the Appalachian Mountains of central Pennsylvania.

He’s on day 3 of an 8 day, 900 mile journey on a “Tour de Pennsylvania” that will take him on a heart-shaped loop around the state. Along the way he’s stopping at 11 Penn State campuses, and it’s all to raise awareness and funds towards conquering childhood cancer.

It’s a frigid 44 degrees F in the mountains today, and who knows how much colder it is when adding in the wind factor. And it’s not like Tyler is dressed in a wool coat. He’s wearing thin athletic gear and carrying a heavy backpack with enough supplies for 8 days.

Oh, and don’t forget the other inevitable complexities of the trip — bike mechanics, diet, hydration, and logistics to name a few. Tyler planned a 900+ mile route on his own, carefully mapping out back roads that are safe for cyclists. He also got his 1st flat tire on Day 2, fixed it on his own, and made time for requisite ice baths at night.

He’s also been managing the PR side of it along the way too, getting press coverage from news stations and newspapers in towns along the route.

We’re not sure how he does it. He truly is a sort of human powered machine.  But I do know what motivates Tyler, and that’s his sincere desire to help others and honor those who have been affected by cancer.

Our mother, Carol, passed away 10 years ago from a very rare form of childhood cancer (even though she was 52) called rhabdomyosarcoma. Tyler’s friend Michael also died from leukemia at age 26 this year.

Ever since our mother’s death, my dad, Tyler and I have resolved to do Carol proud, support causes like Penn State’s THON and Four Diamonds Fund (whom Tyler is fundraising for), and carry her mission and legacy forward.  With this epic ride, Tyler is doing all of that and more.

Please consider joining Tyler in supporting The Hope Express – a Penn State THON organization.  You can learn more and make donations by visiting his site: Cycling for the Kids.

Press Coverage on Cycling for the Kids

[Video] Scranton/Wilkes-Barre 16 WNEP News: Pushing Pedals to Raise Cash for Cancer

Penn State News: Penn State World Campus student raises funds to fight childhood cancer

Penn State’s Daily Collegian: Penn State World Campus student bikes 920-miles for cancer awareness

The Thon Blog: Cycling for the Kids

Onward State blog: Cyclist Embarking on Statewide Ride to Raise Money for THON

Reading Eagle: Exeter High grad taking cancer fundraiser on the road

Pottsville Republican Herald: PSU cyclist raises funds for THON

Hazelton Standard Speaker: Penn State student stops on 920-mile trek to fight cancer

Chambersburg Public Opinion: Mont Alto stop planned in cyclist’s tour to fight cancer










How a Craft Brewery Uses SolidWorks to Make Better Beer

If there was ever a rock solid reason to play hooky from the office, today was the day.

Enter: Prism Engineering’s SolidWorks 2014 launch event. Keynote speaker? Jordan Sunseri, a head brewer at Victory Brewing Co.Victory Brewing uses Solidworks CAD

Upon receiving Prism’s invite last month, I instantly said “Yes” (aka “Cheers!”) to attending. I always want to stay on top of the latest advances in our engineering software. But, I also LOVE craft beer. Especially local Victory beer, like Golden Monkey and Storm King.

Hey, what can I say? Definitely a great reason to step away from the office and enjoy delicious beer attend a conference!

Prism has been our SolidWorks vendor and 3D CAD training partner for nearly 10 years now. They sure caught my attention by having Victory present at this year’s SolidWorks launch event, but honestly, I wasn’t sure how Victory would fit into the mix.

Silly me.  Once Jordan started his talk, I found myself reflecting back on engineering and business 101: Always think outside the box!

It turns out that SolidWorks software has served Victory very well. And by “very well,” Victory says SolidWorks has saved them at least $1.2 million in costs to-date. Victory now runs product and packaging design through SolidWorks, as well as brewery systems design, including design for their new 212,000 sq. ft. plant currently under construction in Parkesburg, PA.

The more Jordan described the role SolidWorks has played at Victory, the more I sensed how much science and good engineering is behind their beer making. No surprise that they are now the 26th largest craft brewer in the US.

Think of the value of an internal employee like Jordan not just understanding the craft of beer making, but also understanding how their internal equipment was built. It’s a holistic approach. It’s also a smart, vertically integrated and cost-effective approach.

Jordan described how he and his team have used SolidWorks to map out Victory’s new Parkesburg plant, as well as their new Kennett Square facility. They use SolidWorks to quickly lay out dimensional info and identify constraints. They’ve built virtual layouts and prototypes on their laptops before incurring any manufacturing or construction costs. They have internally designed equipment in fun, user-friendly ways – for example, a hop freezer that allows visitors to hit a button to unleash the aromatic hop smells while brewing.

SolidWorks has also helped Victory identify brewing system interferences in advance of ordering the equipment. With a budget set at $30 million for the new plant, it is certainly much better for Victory to learn that pipes won’t match up prior to shipping in those new multi-story grain silos from Germany.

“It’s all to help us make better beer,” Jordan said.

Victory's new Parkesburg brewery

Rendering of Victory’s new Parkesburg, PA brewery. Image courtesy of Victory Brewing Co.

Here are some more details on Victory’s huge expansion:

Parkesburg At-A-Glance

  • 212,000 square foot building on 42 acres in West Sadsbury Township
  • German-built Rolec brewhouse with initial production of approximately 225,000 bbls per year; Brewhouse production is 10 brews per day at 200 bbls per brew (2,000 bbls/day)
  • Total capacity of up to 200 bbl (6,200 gallon) batch, and 500,000+ bbls per year
  • Excellent and reliable water source from a reservoir fed by the West Branch of the Brandywine (similar chemistry to our current source, the East Branch)
  • Best-in-class brewing systems and installations, with efficient use of energy and maximal hygiene throughout the process
  • State of the art yeast handling system for ultimate flexibility in yeast growing and handling
  • Full bottling line production, shifted from Downingtown, with some upgrades; kegging will remain in Downingtown until 2014-2015

Kudos to Jordan and his team at Victory for their very informative presentation today. I definitely look forward to following Victory’s expansion.

From an “engineering” perspective, of course.

Why America’s Skills Gap Matters to YOU


The skills gap matters to you, whether you realize it yet or not.

The “gap” is very real here, in our state, and around the country. It’s the year 2013, and the truth is: Finding skilled talent is hard.

Rosie the Riveter is dead. For many people outside the manufacturing world today, it’s just not sexy and interesting anymore to work in a factory, make parts, to build a career in manufacturing. And especially so for the demographic that matters — the youth who are about to lead our country into the next few decades.

The stats are still abundantly clear that bits and bytes (not atoms) define the zeitgeist of this era. The majority of 18 to 24 year olds still prefer “professional” careers in law, accounting, education, and computer programming. Major blogs on the web cover every possible angle on the new iOS 7, the latest gadgets and memes. America’s youth still don’t see the allure in physically making the objects that fill our everyday world. Manufacturing isn’t a national movement like the WWII era; it’s still widely perceived as a dirty, uncool business best left for other people.

So, what happens when the skills gap grows wider? When manufacturing professionals (average age = 56) retire in 10 years?  Here’s a sampling of what can happen:

  • Higher youth unemployment. There are only so many professional jobs to go around, and when there is an oversupply of skills and low demand, the unemployment rate will rise. Just ask Europe, where manufacturing activity shrank for 11 straight months.
  • There will be more overseas manufacturing. With no toolmakers and machinists to make parts in the US, workers in China will gladly step up. Here’s an alarming infographic on the proportion of goods that China makes today. As the skills gap grows, so will US imports. Almost everything you buy will be FedEx’d from China.
  • Technical schools will begin to close. Apprenticeship programs will fade away. Educators will pursue other fields for income, instead of teach vocational classes. Without youth interested in manufacturing careers, why teach skilled trades to empty classrooms?
  • More vacant factories. More towns will lose manufacturers as tax-payers. There will be more towns like Detroit and Reading, PA – staring at fiscal budget that bleed red.

All of this definitely matters for manufacturers like Specialty Design. We have run our contract manufacturing business since 1967. We are proud to have a talented and dedicated team on board today — a group of experienced and passionate manufacturing professionals. Yet we’ve certainly experienced the ebbs and flows of the manufacturing climate first hand over that tenure. We see the country’s skills gap as an almost inevitable economic certainty, and we’re doing everything we can to prepare.

The skills gap IS very real. The incoming talent is clearly growing thin. For us, it’s important to consistently train our younger employees on a wide range of manufacturing methods. It’s important that we educate incoming, young inventors on the importance of keeping their production in the US. It’s all a work in progress, but the spirit of Rosie the Riveter is very much alive in here.

America's Skills Gap

 Credit to WorkBoots.com for this infographic.

No Roof Left Behind: Supporting a Local Family

no roof left behind

What does having a safe roof mean to you?

For many, a roof is simply another part of your home or apartment. It’s there to protect us from bad weather. It’s there to keep us dry and to keep us safe. But most of the time it seems, it’s just… there.

For one Temple, PA woman, however, a fully protected roof is a luxury she can’t currently afford while caring for her disabled spouse, and making ends meet with a growing pile of healthcare bills.

For a West Lawn, PA family, a new roof would a much-welcomed gift after layoffs, a house fire and burglary.

A disabled woman living in Boyertown, PA believes a safe roof is key to preserving the home she’s lived in since childhood.

And a safe roof would be a huge relief for one Reading, PA woman who is taking care of her mother and 3 struggling family members, all while undergoing her own treatment for liver cancer.

A safe roof is a gift for all of us, and it means something different for all of us. For Kerwin Mast and his team at Mast Roofing & Construction, Inc., a safe roof was a gift they could actually give and install.

At the end of this month, September 2013, they’re going to start installation for one of the individuals or families described above. A great gift indeed.

Mast Roofing & Construction, Inc. –an Oley Township, PA-based residential roofing contractor — is participating in a nationwide program called “No Roof Left Behind,” which was established with the mission of giving community members an opportunity to help their neighbors who have fallen on hard times.

Here’s how the program works:

  • Community members can nominate themselves or others in need of a roof. The nominees must own and reside in their home, and be current on their mortgage.
  • Volunteers review the nominees and select 4 finalists.
  • The finalists have an opportunity to tell their story over the course of one month.
  • Friends, family and community members can vote for a finalist on the NRLB website.
  • Finally, 1 finalist emerges as a recipient of the new roof.

While one home ultimately receives a new roof, I think the project is a great way to rally many communities here in Berks County, PA and around the country. It’s a way to bring awareness to the real challenges that people face during these continued tough economic times. And companies like Mast Roofing & Construction, Inc. and its supporters are giving so much of their time, materials and labor to make a difference for a family in a unique way, one shingle at a time.

I took some time to talk with Kerwin Mast, who is the company owner.

“This is something we’ve wanted to do for a long while,” Kerwin said. “We see this project as a way to give back to the community, to help someone in need.”

Over 2,000 votes have been submitted to the No Roof Left Behind website for Berks County thus far. Voting ends today, Sept. 6, and the winner will be revealed on Sept. 9.

“Everyone is deserving, and we want to help someone out more than anything,” Kerwin told me. “We felt it was up to the public to pick the family to support. We’re excited to help.”

Stay posted on our blog for details on the installation and the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new roof. We love community construction projects like this here at Specialty, too. We helped contribute gutter to the Extreme Makeover build that came to our area in 2010. And it’s our pleasure to help contribute awareness and support for the No Roof Left Behind project as well.