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Thursday, Nov 30, 2023

Manufacturing Profiles: Chuck Alexander

Chuck Alexander Director of Product Management Stratasys Direct Manufacturing Valencia Stratasys Direct Manufacturing is the manufacturing division of Stratasys Ltd., a Minnesota-based maker of 3D printing equipment. The company uses a variety of printers to make assemblies for customers in the aerospace, medical device and industrial markets. The company was named Solid Concepts Inc. until its 2014 acquisition by Stratasys. Chuck Alexander was an early pioneer in the 1990s of 3D printing and now markets the technology to Stratasys’ clients. Question: Is it tough being a manufacturer in California? Answer: There are definitely challenges. Those challenges are really opportunities. Most of them that we see have to do with quality of life issues, environmental issues, things having to do with employees, whether it is minimum wage or giving breaks as they require. So those are good things. As a good corporate citizen, those kinds of challenges you can view as opportunities for you to improve what is generally known as manufacturing. Can you give an example of an improvement? A number of years ago, through the Southern California Air Quality Management District, they had restrictions set on volatile organic compounds being put into the air. Now most paints at that time were solvent-based. The switch was made to water-based paints. In the beginning water-based paints didn’t perform nearly as well as solvent-based paints. Unless companies like ours adopted those paints, they never would have been improved. We were the guys telling them they were not measuring up. We were giving feedback for improvement. So now water-based paints are used a lot more widely than they used to be. Is Santa Clarita a good place for manufacturing? I have been here my entire career in additive manufacturing in Valencia. One of the additive manufacturing equipment manufacturers used to be around the corner and that is where I worked. The area of Santa Clarita has an economic development district and so they do a lot of things to get you plugged into the community. Our local community college does training for manufacturing courses. In fact, we have shared our facility to host some of those training classes for our employees and other companies’ employees. A lot of those are basic manufacturing skills, like blueprint reading. The local organizations make us aware of state and federal (programs), like rebates. Does the increase in the minimum wage affect your company? It has, but it has been localized in a few of our shops. Depending on where the shops are located, the labor laws and labor pool drive all of that, the real cost of employees. It has been a minimal effect for us. Again, going back to the good corporate citizen thing, a living wage is important to us and it should be for every company. It’s just one of those things that you have to factor in and plan for. Who are your competitors? Our industry is niche and specific. The competitors are other additive equipment manufacturers that run service businesses so they have good name recognition. Proto Labs Inc. is a competitor, they are an international company as well. We are one of the biggest so there are not many others in our class in direct competition. Do you compete against low-wage manufacturers from foreign countries? No, that is not what our company is built on. We are a manufacturing services company, so it is the services that the customers pay for. It does not come down to that penny-per-pound for material or dollar-per-hour for labor kind of thing. We are driven by different constraints. Also, we are focused on those industries I mentioned. The market and the products that we fit into are high-mix, high-value, low-volume kind of applications. It is a niche. To us, it is a big niche. What are your thoughts on manufacturing in the U.S.? Back in the 1980s and 1990s, a lot of manufacturing was leaving to go overseas. Because of advances in some of the manufacturing technologies that we use – robotics, additive manufacturing, software to create designs – those kinds of things are making manufacturing change from a blue-collar operation to a white-collar operation. People who get involved and run manufacturing companies like ours are more involved with maintaining the equipment, programming the equipment, getting involved with feedback to improve the systems. We are starting to see some manufacturing come back. Like injection molding. That was something that we farmed out overseas to China because of the labor issues. But a lot of technologies are going to start to make inroads into technologies like injection molding and start to replace those and bring jobs back not just to Southern California but to America and other countries. – Mark R. Madler

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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