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Advanced Manufacturing Gears Up in Greater Philadelphia

Advanced manufacturing in Greater Philadelphia runs the gamut from toys to military aircraft, all made possible with a robust transportation system and a tech-savvy workforce.

By Kim Madlom on January 29, 2014

From helicopters you can hold in your hand to helicopters that carry soldiers into battle, Greater Philadelphia is home to an array of technologically advanced manufacturing.

The palm-sized copters are courtesy of K’NEX Brands, makers of the only U.S.-made construction toy. The life-size birds come from Boeing and AgustaWestland, both of which have production facilities in the region.

Manufacturers large and small take advantage of all that the region has to offer. Philadelphia-based Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center provides a range of services, including training and consulting to assist small and mid-size manufacturers in the region.

“DVIRC is committed to providing U.S. manufacturing leaders with the resources necessary to compete and grow,” says Mark Basla, DVIRC’s vice president, marketing and business development. “Our vision is to see our region become an internationally recognized leader in manufacturing competitiveness.”

Flying High

The region’s advanced manufacturing sector is as wide as it is deep, with major clusters in aerospace, pharmaceutical production, medical instruments, chemicals, plastics and petroleum, navigation systems and value-added food production.

Some of the world’s largest manufacturers have operations in the region, including Lockheed Martin, DuPont, WL Gore and Siemens Medical. Overall, about 65,000 people work in the region’s advanced manufacturing sector, which benefits from a highly skilled and educated workforce and a deep bench of scientific and technical expertise.

Military contractors are a key part of the region’s manufacturing base.

Boeing was awarded a $4 billion contract to supply 177 CH-47H Chinook helicopters to the U.S. Army. The tandem-rotor heavy lift helicopters are produced at Boeing’s factory in Delaware County, Pa. The company also produces the V-22 Osprey at the same factory.

Additional helicopters will be produced at the AgustaWestland plant in northeast Philadelphia, which makes the new AW169 and popular AW139 helicopters, many of which are exported. The facility also performs maintenance and customization work for helicopter operators.

AgustaWestland Philadelphia CEO William Hunt says that the growth in the company’s service business, in addition to the new production line, will secure and create jobs in the city.

As supplier to military contractors such as Boeing, Ehmke Manufacturing produces high-performance fabrics used in aerospace and ground-based weapon systems and uniforms. Fabrics made by Ehmke, an ISO 9001 certified company, protect aircraft engines from damage on the ground, protect equipment onboard and strap in people and cargo.

Making an Impression

Christini Technologies is another company in the region that does business with the government. After several years of development, including startup funding from Ben Franklin Technology Partners and local investors, founder and President Steve Christini launched his all-wheel-drive technology for bicycles into the consumer market in 2001. Later, he adapted the all-wheel-drive system to motorcycles. These go-anywhere machines have been adopted by the U.S. Border Patrol and the military, as well as performing well in off-road racing.

The region’s integrated transportation infrastructure, including a trio of major ports, plays a major role in efficient movement of materials and products.

“Logistics is by far the most expensive part of what we do, so it’s important to keep a handle on that,” Christini says.

Transportation played a major role in the on-shoring of manufacturing for privately held K’NEX Brands. For years, the company’s manufacturing line extended from Philadelphia to China and back. In 2009, the company began consolidating manufacturing in Greater Philadelphia. K’NEX now makes about 95 percent of its plastic construction toys at its plant in Hatfield, and uses other factories in the region for kitting and printing. In fact, the company has plans to sell toys in China.

“From an infrastructure standpoint, we like this region because it’s easy to ship by rail, sea and trucks, being on the I-95 corridor,” says CEO Michael Araten. “We ship toy products and non-toy products nationally and internationally, and being here allows us to have a global footprint.”

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