By John B. Snyder, Watervliet ArsenalNovember 7, 2017
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (November 7, 2017) -- The arsenal has a significant challenge but it is a good challenge to have ̶ How to double its manufacturing capacity in the next four years to better support increased Soldier readiness needs.
Although the recent announcement that the U.S. Army will invest more than $40 million in new equipment at the arsenal is a good start, equipment is only part of the overall strategy the arsenal must now execute to improve its manufacturing readiness.
After several years of inconsistent defense budgets that negatively impacted the number of contracts directed to the Watervliet Arsenal, recent contracts numbers are hitting multiple year highs, and more multimillion-dollar contracts are in reach, said Commander Col. Joseph Morrow.
"With a need now to double our manufacturing capacity in the next four years to meet rising Soldier readiness requirements, simply adding new machines is not enough," Morrow said. "We also need to increase our workforce size, but do so with skilled, capable people."
Given the immediate need to increase manufacturing capacity, which is the number or volume of products that can be produced in a defined time frame, Morrow has challenged his subordinate leaders to break the paradigm of new employee development.
"We no longer have the luxury of time to welcome and train new employees before they become a viable and productive part of our workforce," Morrow said. "We need to work hard the on-boarding process so that new employees are fast tracked into our manufacturing center. They (new employees) must be productive on their first day of work."
In order to break the paradigm, however, Morrow said he understands the importance of recruiting high quality job applicants as step one. The problem, however, there is a national shortage of employees who will or want to become machine tool operators and machinists.
Nevertheless, to address this shortage, Morrow traveled this past week to the Hudson Valley Community College where he met with college President Andrew Matonak and Manufacturing Technical Systems Professor David Larkin. The college has for decades worked with the arsenal in the development of machinist apprentices who after four years of education and 8,000 hours of hands-on training become Department of Labor certified machinists.
Although Matonak and Larkin were sympathetic to Morrow's dilemma, they had little to offer in the near term.
"The challenge is that you need our graduates now, but until our Advance Manufacturing Skills center opens in 2019 there is little the college can do to increase your numbers here," Matonak said to Morrow. "But we are sympathetic to the arsenal's needs, as well as to its mission, and will work with the arsenal to offer alternatives to better support you."
Larkin added that the college is flexible, if the arsenal would be flexible, too.
"Because of the high degree of technical learning required to become a skilled machinist or machine tool operator, you can't take this course online," Larkin said to Morrow. "But what you (arsenal) can do is to be creative in how you send your employees here for education."
The arsenal's apprentices currently work full time during the day and then attend night school a couple of days a week. Larkin suggested that having students work Friday through Sunday and then attend school on their off days or having students attend school during the day and work at night might open up a few more opportunities.
But even with a modified work schedule, the arsenal will be competing for student seats against other local manufactures who also have a great demand for the college's graduates.
"Last year, every advanced manufacturing technology student had a job when they graduated," Larkin said. "There is a shortage of skilled machinists throughout our country and it will only get worse. We believe that when we open the Advanced Manufacturing Skills center in 2019 that some of the machinist shortages in the area will be met, but not all."
The arsenal currently has three apprentice classes in session with the next class graduating in 2019. The maximum number of students the college's night school can handle is 14, which the arsenal has maxed out.
As Morrow left the college, he turned to his chief of manufacturing, John Zayhowski, and apprentice program supervisor, Robert Day, and challenged them to draft initiatives and to do it now. After all, given the significant workload already on the books, the arsenal cannot wait until 2019 to solve this challenge. Which is a good challenge to have.
The Watervliet Arsenal is an Army-owned-and-operated manufacturing facility and is the oldest, continuously active arsenal in the United States having begun operations during the War of 1812. It celebrated its 200th anniversary on July 14, 2013. It is a subordinate command to U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command and the Army Materiel Command.
Today's Arsenal is relied upon by U.S. and allied armies to produce the most advanced, high-tech, high-powered weaponry for cannon, howitzer, and mortar systems. This National Historic Registered Landmark had revenue in fiscal year 2017 that exceeded $125 million and provides an annual economic benefit to the local community in excess of $90 million.