Louisville has long had a reputation as a manufacturing town. Fourteen hundred manufacturers employ more than 80,000 in our region, and manufacturing makes up 12% of the annual GDP. We’ve been named twice as a manufacturing “boomtown” by Forbes magazine. And we are not about to sit on our laurels—companies (and universities) in Louisville are embracing advanced manufacturing technologies.
Louisville Forward is the city’s economic and community development entity that is taking an integrated approach to combine business attraction, expansion and retention activities. Louisville Future spoke with Alex Mercer, advanced manufacturing & logistics/eCommerce economic development manager at Louisville Forward, about the state of advanced manufacturing in Louisville.
Why is it important for the city to stay current with the latest manufacturing technology?
Mercer: At a basic level, our location is tremendously important to manufacturing. Being right on the river means we can ship up and down, all the way to the Gulf and the Atlantic.
Manufacturing innovation is what really keeps us from being one of those legacy cities that is super reliant on just a couple of manufacturers. With those cities, if the market crashed or there is some issue, they would be ticked down a number of steps.
The variety and the levels of innovation happening across different industry sectors in the Louisville area is really what keeps it interesting and keeps us pushing our university to become better and better.
Such tech not only boosts innovation by allowing manufacturers to create new kinds of products that can’t be made cost effectively with conventional processes but it also permits manufacturers to produce high-quality goods made to buyers’ exact specifications.
UofL is also contributing to the effort.
Mercer: UofL has a really awesome partnership going on with the engineering school, the dental school and the medical school, in which they have a heavy focus on additive manufacturing. The board of UofL’s engineering school helps form the curriculum for the future of manufacturing. Students have to meet additive-related competencies in order to graduate.
Can you provide some examples of advanced manufacturing tech created in the Louisville area?
Mercer: First of all, we are home to the North American headquarters for GE Appliances. The company has eight separate buildings on its appliance park campus, one of which is dedicated to rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing for washers, dryers and refrigerators. GE Appliances also backs a co-creation community at UofL called FirstBuild, which is a coworking space for anyone interested in innovating home appliances.
Whip Mix Corporation is local and uses its 3D manufacturing technology to create retainers, aligners and sleep appliances for dental practices. It has developed a 3D printer that can be shipped to a dentist’s office to create, for example, Invisalign braces right after a scan has been taken so there’s no wait.
MEMStim is an early-stage startup dedicated to enhancing the lives of people with Parkinson’s tremors, chronic pain or hearing loss. It uses microfabrication to enable low-cost, high-performance neurostimulators.
There are also a number of global companies who have their R&D centers located in Louisville. Chinese company Midea is another major appliance maker who located its U.S. research and development operation in Louisville and is doing prototyping here. Fives Smart Automation Solutions (which is based in France) has its North American headquarters here in Louisville.
Fast Radius, a digital manufacturing platform, is out of Chicago but has a relationship here with UPS. The company has a facility on UPS’s supply chain campus. [Therefore] every part that Fast Radius prints for a company is printed directly at UPS and ships the same day. That can [apply to] anything from a small aerospace replacement to 1,000 injection molded pieces for an appliance manufacturer.
How do people from the outside view Louisville in terms of manufacturing tech?
Mercer: We have companies come here for site visits. We show them around, showcase some of our assets, and introduce them to other companies. At some point in every visit, somebody always says, ‘Wow. I didn’t know this was happening in Louisville.’ Every time. We’ve got some really cool assets here.