By Ms. Audra Calloway (AMC)September 9, 2013
PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. -- Actor John Ratzenberger, best known for his iconic role as postal worker Cliff Clavin on the TV show "Cheers," is promoting manufacturing in the U.S.
His interest led him to visit Picatinny Arsenal Sept. 4, where he saw first-hand a number of the advanced manufacturing techniques the installation uses to equip the nation's warfighters.
Ratzenberger's interest in manufacturing previously inspired him to produce and host shows like "Made in America," a Travel Channel TV production highlighting manufacturing companies that produce interesting products across the nation.
"I grew up with manufacturing in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where I was born," Ratzenberger said during a brief.
"My mother was in manufacturing, as were my uncles and most of my neighbors. As a matter fact, my uncles helped build the Bridgeport machines that you use right here (at Picatinny)."
"Like any child you think the world is the environment that you grow up in as a child," he said. "I just assumed that everyone knew how to make things. And lo and behold, over the years realized there are less and less people that actually know how to make things."
This awareness concerns Ratzenberger who thinks America's youth isn't being encouraged to build items and work with their hands.
"I was a carpenter before I became an actor - that's how I made my living. When I was 14, I remember specifically the time that I said 'I want to learn how to build a house and everything in it.'"
"And I did. So by the time I was in my early 20s I could do that. It may not be pretty, but it was functional."
During Ratzenberger's tour, Picatinny military scientists and engineers demonstrated research they are doing with 3D printing, remote weapon systems and rapid prototyping.
The tour was organized by Picatinny employee James Zunino, Materials Engineer and Printed Electronics, Energetic, Materials, & Sensors (PEEMS) Co-Chair.
Zunino said that he was introduced to Ratzenberger by a mutual acquaintance.
"He was interested in what I was doing in additive manufacturing because we're cutting edge in that area," Zunino said.
Additive manufacturing, which includes 3D printing, lets engineers create three-dimensional solid objects based off of digital models.
After talking with Ratzenberger, Zunino suggested a tour of Picatinny.
"I told him about our Prototype Integration Facility and the machine shops, and how we have summer hires and interns, and almost have an apprentice system where the younger guys learn from the older ones -- and that's something he's interested in."
The Prototype Integration Facility offers modern production techniques as laser cutting and automated forming.
"We pass our knowledge on to the next group of engineers coming through Picatinny, and we also do outreach as well, such as working with the universities and small businesses," Zunino said.
The tour also allowed Ratzenberger to see how a military product goes from drawings, to a prototype, through testing and finally production.
Ratzenberger said he liked seeing younger Picatinny employees building things, manufacturing, and fabricating.
"That's really what our civilization is based on. It's not based on actors, sports celebrities or media. It's based on someone's ability to make something," Ratzenberger said.
He also said he's concerned that there may not be an adequate supply of younger individuals knowledgeable enough to fill the shoes of America's maual laborers near retirement, noting the nation's 600,000 vacant manufacturing jobs.
If America doesn't have enough workers to maintain its infrastructure, water, or power lines, he said, it could lose its status as a first-world nation.