Clemson forum brings together top industry leaders to talk manufacturing

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Knudt Flor, president and CEO of BMW Manufacturing, talks to a crowd at Clemson University's forum on advanced manufacturing. Photo by Clemson University.

Skilled-labor shortage. Software programming. Artificial intelligence. Digital twins.

Some of South Carolina’s top manufacturing leaders discussed these ideas Tuesday during a forum on advanced manufacturing hosted in downtown Greenville by Clemson University.

At the table were leaders from BMW, Samsung, Michelin, Bosch North America, Siemens, and the S.C. Technical College System.

Together, the leadership represented some of the largest industries in the Southeast, and one idea reverberated among each of them — the need for more employees.

“People are in the center. This is not about operating our factories and never seeing another person,” said Mike Mansuetti, president of Robert Bosch LLC. “We’re talking about people, technology, and information, and connecting those things.”

But along with attracting more people, Mansuetti said industries also need to develop more software and study their own data for better results.

Scott Clark, chairman and president of Michelin North America, said there’s a misperception among students that all manufacturing jobs are labor-intensive, blue-collar work — which is why it’s difficult for industries to recruit high-end software programmers.

“It’s not as sexy as working for a hedge fund, unfortunately, or working for Silicon Valley,” Clark said. “One of the ways we can [dispel] that is through more internships and co-ops and exposing students to the real environment.”

Knudt Flor, president and CEO of BMW Manufacturing, said everyone at the forum conveyed the same message.

“We need people. We need talent. We need students that buy into engineering and IT,” Flor said. “Sure, we will compete about the talent, but we are all on the same strategy.”

Flor said he would like to make South Carolina the showcase for top industries and innovation, and the biggest help higher education institutions can give industries is marketing the benefits of manufacturing jobs to students.

“A lot of people think this is working with material, mechanical engineering, but now we need to combine mechanical engineering and IT,” Flor said. “This opens up a complete new curriculum, because now we are competing for the real talent with Google and Apple.”

James Clements, president of Clemson, said it’s important for universities to have these conversations with industry leaders.

“Everybody’s in a fight for great talent, and there are jobs that appear to be sexier jobs for some of our young graduates,” Clements said. “We just want to help get the message out that you can get a great salary, you can get a great job, work for a great company, and really be involved in high-tech and innovation and artificial intelligence and advanced robotics.”

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