IMEC Tapped for Project to Boost Competitiveness of U.S. Supply Chains

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The Illinois Manufacturing Extension Center was awarded a federal contract to lead national efforts to help small and mid-sized manufacturers meet the requirements of key existing and emerging supply chains.

Small and mid-sized U.S. manufacturers have an opportunity to participate in current and emerging supply chains if they can demonstrate world class quality, cost, and speed of delivery.

The Illinois Manufacturing Extension Center (IMEC) led a consortium of five Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) centers to win a three-year federal contract to enhance the capability of the MEP system to improve the performance and competitiveness of U.S. supply chains.    

“In today’s global economy, the growth and profitability of all companies depends on the competitiveness of the supply chains in which they participate,” said Bob Weinstein, IMEC President, who noted that in Illinois, most small and mid-sized manufacturers support construction, aerospace, automotive equipment, and other important U.S. supply chains. “Now more than ever, suppliers at all levels of the supply chain must demonstrate world class product quality, cost, and speed of delivery in order to remain competitive.”

Under the contract from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), IMEC together with MEP Centers from California, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia, will work with a cross-section U.S. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and first-tier suppliers to expand and enhance supply chain services provided by MEP centers. The aim of the initiative is to develop suppliers in existing supply chains, and help build supply chains for emerging growth sectors.

“Think of a supply chain like dominoes: Each piece relies on the next for stability,” Weinstein said. “To remain globally competitive, companies at all tiers must be able to deliver high quality products on time and with highly efficient production systems.”

The MEP Supply Chain Development Initiative will build on experience of MEP centers that have worked with OEMs to improve supplier performance over the last 10 years. Examples include the Virginia MEP with Northrup-Grumman, IMEC with Caterpillar and John Deere, the South Carolina MEP with DuPont, Wisconsin MEP with Oshkosh Truck and Harley Davidson, and many MEPs that have worked with Boeing. As a result of these initiatives, MEP centers have helped thousands of U.S. suppliers to improve agility, reduce operating lead time, deliver supplied parts on time, achieve required quality certifications, and significantly reduce product defect rates.

MEP’s also are actively involved in helping suppliers grow and diversify the markets they serve, including efforts in Illinois and throughout the U.S. to increase the number of suppliers to the rapidly growing wind power industry and the re-emerging nuclear power industries.

“Transco Products has been a supplier to the nuclear power industry for almost 50 years,” said Ed Wolbert, Transco’s president. “Our products are used in nuclear power plants around the world. Over the past two years, we have been working with the MEP system and nuclear industry groups to help expand the supply chain for nuclear power. The MEP supply chain development initiative will further the ability of the NIST manufacturing extension system to help U.S. manufacturers find opportunities to grow and diversify into nuclear power and other expanding sectors. ”

In making the project funding announcement, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said: "A vibrant manufacturing sector drives American innovation and is central to our economic growth and global competitiveness. With the right investments, we can continue to create highly valued manufacturing jobs building great products and sell them around the world."

Background on the Award Process
NIST-MEP invited proposals for the projects earlier this year through two competitions announced in the Federal Register. Awards for both competitions were announced. In one competition (2010-MEP-BGPD-01), projects addressed the new and emerging competitive needs of manufacturers in areas consistent with the MEP program's five Strategic Growth Areas. This competition was open to existing MEP centers and groups of centers. In the second competition (2010-MEP-SDCC-01), projects focused on integrating two or more of MEP's Strategic Growth Areas into client engagement models to effectively deliver services to U.S. manufacturers. This competition was open to all nonprofit organizations including universities, community colleges, state governments and state technology programs, as well as existing MEP centers.

NIST received 68 proposals for the two competitions. The MEP Supply Chain Development Initiative proposal was one of the largest awards, providing $2,329,300 over a three year period, including $602,000 in funding for the first year. Continuation of funding for each subsequent year of a multi-year proposal will be at the discretion of NIST/MEP and contingent upon satisfactory progress and the availability of funds.

Founded in 1901, NIST is a nonregulatory agency of the Commerce Department that promotes U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life. NIST's Manufacturing Extension Partnership is America's leading resource for helping U.S. manufacturers use innovation to grow their profitability as they compete for customers in the global marketplace.

An example of these efforts is Wind Power. Over the past five years, as the demand for U.S. Wind Power has grown, MEP has developed programs in numerous states to help build the supply chain for this growth sector. While these efforts are valuable and a good start, the MEP system has the potential to be much more actively involved in helping ensure that U.S. supply chains understand changing patterns of global demand and how their products and capabilities need to adapt to remain competitive.

About IMEC
Globalization has created a fiercely competitive environment for domestic manufacturers. Firms of all sizes and smaller firms in particular, are challenged by a fast-paced market with high demands for quality, cost and delivery. Since 1996, IMEC (the Illinois Manufacturing Extension Center) has helped more than 2,000 Illinois' manufacturers meet these challenges and many more. IMEC’s team of manufacturing specialists and affiliated partners assists more than 450 Illinois manufacturers each year. Major IMEC solutions include operating cost reduction, quality improvement, continuous improvement, technology & innovation, and market diversification/growth strategies. IMEC is a non-profit organization with 10 field office locations throughout Illinois.

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