This was something of a big year for SME.

The Dearborn, Mich.-based organization remade itself. It has a new logo, tagline, and title – all strategic changes officials say redefines and rebrands the 81-year old, not-for-profit organization after decades of growth and expanded outreach within the professions that spearhead advanced manufacturing.

But the core of the professional society remains the same, its 2013 president and interim CEO, Dennis Bray, says. SME will remain, as always, one of the most prolific and trusted sources of knowledge and information throughout industry via events, publishing, membership, its Tooling U-SME training division, and the SME Education Foundation.

That dedication will never change.

“One of the things that we wanted to make sure is that SME as an organization was relevant to what the industry needs are, what our membership needs are, and what we can do to be a more valuable supplier of products and services to the industry,” Bray tells Leo Rommel of Industry Today.

In essence, SME – which has individual members as opposed to corporate members – wanted to ensure that it was looked upon as a supporting tool for manufacturing practitioners at all levels and professions, not just manufacturing engineers.

“As a matter of fact, a very good percentage of our members are not manufacturing engineers per say,” Bray says. “We’ve got members who are skilled workers out on the shop floor, whether they are a shop foreman, a production supervisor, or a machinist.”

Consequently, a multiyear, research-led brand development process led the organization to make some necessary fine-tuning in its branding campaign around midyear.

First, the organization will go by its monogram, not its full legal name, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

There’s a new logo, which now features a pair of interacting shapes that organization officials say better represents technological achievement and its positive impact on society.

And there’s a new tagline that represents SME’s future-focused mindset: “Making the Future. Together.”

These changes, Bray explains, will help SME better serve industry specialists and companies nationwide.

“What we know is happening in industry is that a lot of the innovations and a lot of the things that are happening are being done at all different levels and by all different types of individuals, and we wanted to effectively represent that,” he says.

Take, for instance, additive manufacturing, commonly referred to 3D printing, which Bray says is “getting the most buzz right now and the most excitement out there in the manufacturing world.”

This type of manufacturing – which, for the most part, entails using layers of materials to make three-dimensional objects of almost any shape from a digital model – is projected, according to Bray, to be the fastest growing part of manufacturing “because it can have its application in just about every industry.” Think jewelry, he says. Think dental tools and medical implants and aerospace parts. It essentially brings design closer to the manufacturing process, he explains.

“What we’re seeing is lots of companies, lots of institutions, lots of end-users looking at this as a new way and a different way of how we’re able to manufacture products,” Bray says. “It allows us to do a much greater degree of customization.

And SME is not a stranger to the phenomenon.

“We’ve been involved in this technology for the last 20 years,” Bray says. “In the last few years we’ve really seen it pop into the public arena. What it means is that it’s getting closer and closer to becoming a mainstream manufacturing process.”

Officials at SME, he adds, are ready to capitalize on this developing wave of advanced technology.

“We want to make sure that we’re providing our constituents with the knowledge and information about additive manufacturing as well as training and developing that workforce that’s going to be needed in order to interact with this technology,” he says.

A fundamental part of SME’s mission is to continue developing manufacturing’s workforce of tomorrow, especially since, according to Bray, over 50 percent of the sector’s workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next 10 years.

“From a purpose standpoint, we’re really focused on advancing manufacturing by engaging the next generation workforce,” Bray explains. “Manufacturers need to able to compete and drive innovation better by using their talent.”

That’s the problem. The talent isn’t there. Correction: it’s there, but there simply isn’t enough of it. The sector continues to be plagued by a lack of skills. Even scarier: Bray says more than half of manufacturing executives do not have a strategy in place on how they’re going to effectively address this problem.

“If you look at it from a global manufacturing competitive index, access to talented workers is the No. 1 indicator of a country’s competitiveness followed by the country’s trade financial tax system and costs of labor and materials,” Bray says. “It’s kind of interesting because we have both a skills surplus and a skills shortage. Unfortunately, the skills surplus that we have is for the low-skilled manufacturing jobs.”

A bad image is likely to blame, he adds. Manufacturing, for decades, has been mislabeled as a dirty, dangerous, and disappearing line of work. So parents, teachers, and guidance counselors discourage children from considering it as a legitimate career path.

The situation needs to stabilize – and in a hurry, Bray says. He stressed that the younger labor force needs to be better prepared to interact and work daily with sophisticated manufacturing processes, increases in automation, and vastly-advanced computer systems.

SME continues to come up with ways to help plug the gap.

Just look at its Education Foundation, which, for about 30 years, has better prepared future engineers, technologists, and various other young workers for advanced manufacturing careers by encouraging them, via various outreach programs, to study courses related to science, technology, engineering, and technology.

And then there’s its Tooling U-SME division, which offers an array of customized yet reliable training resources that, according to the organization’s website, includes:

  • Professional consultative services;
  • Online training content;
  • Instructor-led training;
  • Book and video content;
  • Industry-backed certifications.

“We probably have the largest offering of manufacturing training programs and education programs for preparing everyone from the entry-level professional to the seasoned worker who needs to be retrained and repurposed for picking up a new job or a new skill for their own career,” Bray says.

He adds that Tooling U-SME, which was acquired by SME in 2010, is used by half the Fortune 500 companies, medium and small manufacturers and by high schools and community colleges – establishing a pipeline of trained workers.

“We’re spending a considerable amount of time and effort finding better ways to prepare the workforce with new skills they’re going to need in order to be competitive going forward,” Bray says. “Innovation is a combination of an awareness of technology in manufacturing as well as the skill and capabilities of a workforce. When you combine those two, that’s what really defines what the innovative capabilities or capacity is of a manufacturing company. We look to driving this forward.”

About SME
SME connects all those who are passionate about making things that improve our world. As a nonprofit organization, SME has served practitioners, companies, educators, government and communities across the manufacturing spectrum for more than 80 years. Through its strategic areas of events, media, membership, training and development, and the SME Education Foundation, SME shares knowledge to advance manufacturing. At SME, we are making the future. Together.