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June 2019

Mobile’s Economy is on the Move

Past meets present in downtown Mobile where the RSA-towered skyline lofts above the Fort of Colonial Mobile, with roots some 300 years old. Photo courtesy of Alabama Tourism Department/Chris Granger

For centuries, Mobile County has been Alabama’s connection with world commerce. Increasingly, its economy is based on moving things in and out.

Airplanes arrive in pieces and fly out as fully assembled jets. Lately, aerospace developments involving Airbus have been making the most business news, but shipbuilding remains strong as does manufacturing.

Items that will line the shelves of some 800 Walmart stores are shipped to a new regional distribution center to go on to other distribution centers. Cargo of all kinds comes and goes via water, railroad and truck. Jobs multiply to keep everything moving. From steel mills to beaches, the Mobile County economy is diverse, and it’s international.

The Mobile County Public School System remains the county’s largest employer, with 7,500 workers. The University of South Alabama, with its medical school and expanding health care system, is in second place with 6,000 workers. And Infirmary Health — with its flagship Mobile Infirmary in the city — remains the largest non-governmental health system in Alabama.

The single biggest economic development has to be Airbus, not only because of a second final assembly plant for the A220 jet that is under construction next door to the original A320 series plant, but because even more suppliers and other associated business are coming in, creating even more new jobs. It’s all happening even faster than Bill Sisson, president and CEO of the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, had hoped.

“The main thing is that in aviation aerospace in particular, that sector is probably going to grow faster, fill out more quickly than we had anticipated,” Sisson says. “What’s also good news is that both of those aircraft, the 320 line and the 220, are very hot-selling aircraft. For them to be here in Mobile, that just bodes well.”

The county also is seeing growth in shipping, shipbuilding, steel manufacturing, distribution facilities, construction, business incubation and health care, among other sectors.

“That’s the beauty of our economy here, it’s so diverse,” says Mobile County Commission President Connie Hudson. “We’re seeing some steady growth across the board in all sectors of our economy. Even when one should dip, the others aren’t.”

Local and state governments, along with the Chamber of Commerce, have established a record of working together in economic development over the last 20 years, regardless of politics or who occupied what public office.

“I think we are all like-minded when it comes to successfully recruiting business and industry to the state and particularly here in Mobile,” Hudson says.

Sisson says Mobile is the right size to present a united front in recruiting new businesses, and the considerably lower cost of living is a major factor. “When a business prospect is looking at this area, all the partners are at the table extending help,” he says.

What happens next? More aerospace, more transportation, more port-related development and more business incubation, Sisson says. “We’re seeing more and more distribution activity related to the container terminal. That’s certainly very promising and that’s happening simultaneously with what’s going on in the aviation-aerospace sector.”

The chamber will be moving into talent development and recruiting for the labor force, as well as for new business, he says. A recent chamber-commissioned study of the labor force revealed that 5,000 new, high-paying jobs had been created in the area in the last four years.

Mobile City Council Vice President Levon Manzie cites Airbus, Austal USA’s contracts for the U.S. Navy and Continental Aerospace’s new facility in saying, “The sky’s the limit.” But he’s especially excited about the new Mobile Downtown Airport at the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley, where Frontier Airlines has begun passenger jet service to Chicago and Denver.

“The eventual movement of the airport to Brookley Field Complex is going to be big for the city of Mobile,” Manzie says. “Eventually you’ll see all the airlines follow suit, and they’ll build out the total complex.

“I believe the next 10 years will be game-changing years for the city of Mobile.”

Jane Nicholes is a Daphne-based freelance contributor to Business Alabama.

Inside the Battle to Build Warships

Photos by Mike Kittrell

Inside the cavernous Module Manufacturing Facility at Austal USA, a thick sheet of uncut aluminum enters the production line. Fourteen months later, that same piece of metal will exit the 700,000-square-foot facility as part of a module, or a building block, of one of the world’s most sophisticated military vessels.

From there, the module will be shuttled to an assembly bay down the road by multi-axle transporters, capable of moving modules weighing more than 400 tons. It’s in the assembly bay that these building blocks, lifted into place by crane and welded to an existing framework, will slowly begin to resemble a Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).

The speedy, shallow-water LCS has been a familiar sight on the Mobile River for almost a decade. At the end of 2010, the U.S. Navy awarded Austal a block-buy contract for the construction of 10 LCS Independence-class ships. Over the intervening years, they have ordered an additional nine.

Standing beside LCS-22, the recently christened USS Kansas City, Austal USA President Craig Perciavalle reflects on the LCS program.

“We’re delivering ships on budget and on schedule,” Perciavalle says. “We’re putting them out fast and furious.”

Of the 19 LCS ships Austal is contracted to construct for the U.S. Navy, nine have been delivered and another six — LCS 20, 22, 24, 26, 28 and 30 — are in various stages of construction. Lockheed Martin is building an almost equal number of LCSs under a different design — Freedom-class — at a shipyard in Wisconsin.

Founded in 1999, Austal USA is a subsidiary of Australian-based Austal Limited. Its shipbuilding facility has become a staple of the Mobile waterfront, occupying 164 acres on the eastern shore of the Mobile River.

With 4,000 employees, Austal is the sixth largest industrial employer in the state, a standing owing, in large part, to the company’s ability to land high-profile contracts with the U.S. Navy. Following the procurement of a contract in 2008 to build 10 Joint High Speed Vessel ships (now known as Expeditionary Fast Transport vessels) and the LCS contract in 2010, Austal was able to make $160 million in capital investments to its facility along the Mobile River, while adding 3,100 employees.

But the LCS program hasn’t been without controversy. When cost increases, schedule delays and concerns about the vessel’s survivability in combat cast a shadow of doubt in the early years of the contract, Perciavalle remained determined to adhere to any changes the Navy deemed necessary.

“As the requirements were maturing with the Navy and, quite frankly, as we were going through the design maturity process, there were a lot of challenges,” Perciavalle says. “We’ve certainly overcome them now.”

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, whose district includes the massive shipbuilder, says he’s proud of the way Austal has coordinated with the Navy on LCS.

“The LCS program has truly been a team effort between the Navy and Austal. As with any new program, there have been challenges, but the Navy and industry have worked together on tackling setbacks and evolving the ship’s capabilities to best serve the Navy’s requirements.”

Austal USA President Craig Perciavalle says his firm has “the best workforce in the country” to build warships at a “fast and furious” pace.

LCS Woes

In 2014, cuts in military expenditures and concerns about the vessel’s combat power put the LCS program in the spotlight. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel directed the establishment of the Small Surface Combatant Task Force to review the viability of LCS and to explore possible design modifications.

In 2016, following a spate of LCS breakdowns, two of which were owing to sailor error, the Navy ordered a handful of changes to the vessel, aiming to improve its combat punch. The Navy also set out to reevaluate sailor training.

Designed for speed and flexibility, one of the signature traits of the LCS design was its modularity — the ability to swap out weapons and sensors to suit a particular mission. Critics, citing the sailor error breakdowns, accuse the Navy of wanting the ship to be more versatile than was practical.

The LCS program illustrates several of the challenges associated with fulfilling a contract for the Department of Defense.

“They’re the most demanding customer on the planet, and they should be, quite frankly,” Perciavalle says. “The vessels that we build do pretty important stuff in support of our nation’s defense, and the number one priority is having ships that are very capable to do that and also understanding that we have sailors that are sailing on these ships. So there’s a lot of demand put on us or any defense contractor.”

It’s important to recognize, Perciavalle says, that a client like the U.S. Navy has evolving needs.

“There’s no doubt that, as years go by, the Navy requirements change because the threat could change,” he says. “The beauty about our ships is that we have the adaptability to actually flex the capabilities of the ships and to adapt them to increases or changes in requirements. That’s the beauty of a multi-hull vessel.”

Of course, unexpected modifications required by the Navy can affect cost estimates for government contractors. In 2016, following Navy shock trials on the USS Jackson (LCS-6), Austal entered into a trading halt and issued an earnings announcement warning about an increase in its cost estimate for future hulls “due to design changes required to achieve shock certification and US Naval Vessel Rules.” The modifications required on the USS Jackson and 10 other ships under construction resulted in a full-year loss for fiscal 2016.

Furthermore, in January of this year, Austal confirmed in a release filed through the Australian Stock Exchange that it was “assisting an investigation by ASIC into market announcements by the Company with respect to earnings from its Littoral Combat Ship program.” The investigation is said to be focused on statements Austal issued in 2015 relating to cost increases during the construction of the USS Jackson. In regards to the investigation, Perciavalle says that Austal is “supporting the process.”

Looking ahead to 2020

In February 2018, Austal was one of five companies awarded a $15 million contract for conceptual design of the Navy’s new guided-missile frigate. The FFG(X) program, which the Navy is developing as it phases out LCS, seeks the construction of 20 frigates with more lethality. The multi-billion-dollar contract is slated to be awarded in 2020. Austal is proposing a variation of its aluminum Independence-class LCS, leveraging the ability of the multi-hull vessel to accommodate new frigate requirements without drastically changing the existing production process.

“We’ve got a whole team internally here in Mobile that is working on the concept design for frigate,” Perciavalle says. “That collaborative environment has been very, very good. So there’s been a lot of good dialogue making sure we understand the requirements the Navy has and making sure the Navy understands things that can be leveraged in our parent design, so that they can leverage that and help develop a cost-effective solution.”

The impact of winning the 2020 contract, which could guarantee years of production following the conclusion of the LCS program, can hardly be overstated. The Navy is considering awarding the contract to a single builder. The ramifications of not winning the contract would be felt in Mobile and across the state, which is home to almost 400 of Austal’s suppliers.

“To us, it’s a competition,” Perciavalle says, “and you know what, we’ve been in competitions since, certainly, the first day I got here.

“We have the best team in the country here working on these ships,” he continues. “The work ethic, the pride, the ownership in what’s happening has really enabled us to improve performance dramatically over the years and really enabled us to provide a cost-effective solution to the Navy.”

Perciavalle points out four areas of focus when looking at the future of Austal USA. “Expeditionary ships, small surface combatants, unmanned autonomous [vessels] and the service business,” he says. “All of which have plenty of opportunity and all of which we’re in a very good position to excel in.

“We have to continue to mature and continue to build. That’s our culture, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do going forward.”

Breck Pappas and Mike Kittrell are Mobile-based freelance contributors to Business Alabama.

Manufacturer of the Year Award Winners Named

ZF Chassis Systems / Photos by Bob Farley

ZF Chassis Systems, Milo’s Tea Co. and OnPoint Manufacturing have captured 2019 Manufacturer of the Year awards presented by Alabama Technology Network and the Business Council of Alabama.

ZF Chassis, of Tuscaloosa, won in the large category; Milo’s, based in Bessemer, in the medium category, and OnPoint, based in Florence, in the small category.

Winners of the 20th anniversary MOTY awards, selected by an independent panel of judges, were announced May 1 during a luncheon at the Alabama Activity Center in Montgomery.

Since 2000, the awards have honored the state’s top manufacturers for their accomplishments. By applying for the award, manufacturers convey their story of financial growth, manufacturing leadership, market leadership, leadership development and workforce enhancement.

“Our state’s economy is powered in large part by our manufacturers from the Shoals to Gulf Shores,” said Katie Boyd Britt, president and CEO of the BCA. “Our annual Manufacturer of the Year Awards honor Alabama manufacturers from the largest industries to small businesses for displaying efficiency, safety and excellence in their products, and the process for making them, and for employing hundreds of thousands of Alabamians.”

ATN Executive Director Keith Phillips said, “The Alabama Technology Network and the Business Council of Alabama are honored to salute Alabama’s best. Companies acknowledged today represent the best in Alabama manufacturing and the use of technology.”

MOTY awards are selected in three categories: 1 to 99 employees in the Small Manufacturer of the Year category; 100 to 399 employees in the Medium Manufacturer of the Year category, and 400 or more employees in the Large Manufacturer of the Year category.

ZF Chassis Systems, the 2019 Large Manufacturer of the Year, has achieved significant accomplishments, including excellent customer satisfaction performance, employee community involvement and company-wide efforts in developing and growing the workforce in West Alabama.

ZF Chassis Systems is a Tier 1 supplier of chassis modules to Mercedes-Benz U.S. International in Vance. ZF produces its modules in the exact variation and order sequence as the vehicles being produced on MBUSI’s production line and delivers them usually within four to six hours of receiving an order. ZF has provided chassis modules for MBUSI since Mercedes SUVs were first produced in 1997.

ZF team members regularly engage in extensive initiatives in the West Alabama region, including a prison ministry to help inmates re-enter the workforce. They support charities and schools here and abroad.

Milo’s Tea Co.

Milo’s Tea Co., the 2019 Medium Manufacturer of the Year, is famous nationwide for its tea, lemonade, tea and lemonade, peach tea and a new frozen slushy.

Founded shortly after World War II, the company traces its roots to returning veteran Milo Carlton and his wife, Bea, who began serving tea in their hamburger shop in Bessemer. Milo’s is in its third generation of family ownership and is a certified Women’s Business Enterprise. CEO and Chair Tricia Wallwork is a granddaughter of the founders.

Milo’s enjoys a culture of innovation, continuous improvement and a strong commitment to providing an outstanding product across the United States. Milo’s focuses on inclusion and diversity, donates at least 1 percent of its profits to charity and is a leader in environmental and waste reduction manufacturing.

OnPoint Manufacturing

OnPoint Manufacturing, the 2019 Small Manufacturer of the Year, is an apparel manufacturing and distribution company that provides a social, business and technology benefit worldwide. Opened in 2014, OnPoint’s highly skilled and specialized seamstresses, cutter operators, engineers, software developers, and sales and marketing staff partner with more than 40 designers and brands across the globe, with products ranging from business dresses to skirts and gowns.

Brands are attracted to OnPoint because of the ability to sell direct-to-consumers online. A company goal is to bring jobs back to America and open a series of plants in the United States. OnPoint’s automated manufacturing technology delivers cut fabric to the correct sewer in the correct sequence, reducing inventory and enabling the production of unique products.

OPM perfected this automated manufacturing technology using software-driven, proprietary workflows that allow customers to reduce or eliminate their inventory as stock can be replenished overnight. This concept is revolutionizing apparel manufacturing here in Alabama and is bringing cut-and-sew jobs back to the United States.

Sponsored by

   

    

Dana Beyerle and Bob Farley are freelance contributors to Business Alabama.

Alabama’s Safest Manufacturers Award Winners

United States Gypsum Co. received the Overall Safety Standout award. Accepting the award were (left to right) Marty Tharp, Terri Smith and Matt Taylor. Photos by Bob Farley

Three Alabama companies were recognized for the inaugural Alabama Safest Manufacturers Awards presented by Business Alabama magazine at the Business Council of Alabama’s Manufacturer of the Year Awards event May 1 at the Alabama Activity Center in Montgomery.

Business Alabama created the Alabama Safest Manufacturers Awards to recognize safety best practices in manufacturing, a business sector that is responsible for the livelihoods of more than 260,000 Alabamians.

In creating the award, Business Alabama worked with Matt Hollub, of Alabama Safe State, to create the criteria for the award application. In addition, the Alabama Technology Network and the Alabama Society of Safety Professionals provided judges to review the applications and choose the winners.

Alabama’s Safest Manufacturers for 2019 are United States Gypsum Co. in Bridgeport, which received the Overall Safety Standout award, shipbuilder Austal USA in Mobile and Specification Rubber Products Inc. in Alabaster.

United States Gypsum Co.’s first and most important core value is safety. The company is committed to the safety of its employees, customers and the communities where they live and do business. The company’s first safety rules were documented more than 100 years ago, and United States Gypsum was a founding member of the National Safety Council.

United States Gypsum has been in Alabama for 20 years. The Bridgeport facility employs about 142 men and women who make wallboard and other gypsum products, joint compounds, and surfaces, and support the overall operation.

In 2016, the company earned the National Safety Council’s Robert W. Campbell award, a respected celebration of a safety-first culture, for excellence in environmental, health and safety management. The company also received the 2015 EH&S Today Safest Companies Award, 15 Sentinels of Safety Awards and 17 OSHA VPP Star sites.

The company emphasizes that safety performance is closely tied to employee engagement and behavior and that daily safety best practice is fundamental to success.

Austal USA received the Alabama Safest Manufacturers award. Accepting the award is Craig Savage, director of communications and external affairs.

Austal USA is a winner of the Alabama’s Safest Manufacturers Award for 2019. A premiere military and civilian shipbuilder, Austal USA employs about 4,000 men and women mostly in Mobile where its shipyard was established 20 years ago. It’s the center of manufacturing for the Littoral Combat Ship and Expeditionary Fast Transport programs for the U.S. Navy.

With a work-hour loss ratio at half the maritime industry average, Austal USA has received awards from the Shipbuilders Council of America for Excellence in Safety and SCA awards for safety improvement from the American Long Shore Mutual Association for Best Large Shipyard.

The company emphasizes that safety is the responsibility and goal of everyone, from the newest employee to top management, and that an unsafe work environment is not acceptable. Company officials say that each year, the goal is to reduce the overall recordable rate by 15 percent.

Specification Rubber Products Inc., in Alabaster, also is a winner of the Alabama’s Safest Manufacturers Award for 2019. Founded in 1968 as a maker of molded rubber components for the waterworks industry with a specialty in rubber gaskets, today its 62 employees also supply engineered rubber products to ductile iron pipe, valve and hydrant producers, and provide specialty mechanical molded goods for industrial applications.

The company’s safety training schedule involves all levels of employees including new hires, established employees and management. The company’s recordable three injuries for 2018 was 70 percent fewer than in 2017 and there were no lost-time accidents for 2018.

The company lists “zero accidents” as a goal for 2019, noting that the goal can be attained through training and awareness.

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Dana Beyerle and Bob Farley are freelance contributors to Business Alabama.

Meet the Master of Logistics

CEO Tom McLeod says McLeod Software is prepared to capitalize on new regulations requiring electronic logging devices. Photos by Cary Norton

The government-mandated use of electronic logging devices (ELD) by the nation’s trucking industry is another step forward for technology adoption and the use of data in trucking. And McLeod Software, based in Hoover, is a major player in the field.

While the ELD rule was aimed at improving compliance with driver hours-of-service limits, the result also means there is now an onboard technology platform in the cab of nearly every long-haul truck on the road.

Tom McLeod is president and CEO of McLeod Software, which recently bought a 140,000-square-foot office building in Hoover for its new corporate headquarters. The company moved into the new facility last summer, consolidating two locations to the Hoover area. McLeod also has offices in Salt Lake City and Downers Grove, Illinois.

“Last year there was a federal mandate that all trucking companies had to have an electronic logging device in the truck,” McLeod says. “Many of the front runners in the two-way communication and tracking industry have all had similar units installed for the past 20 years, so it is not something new. Some of the better-managed companies were already there, but with the mandate there came kind of a rush of new tracking providers to the space, and we have a sizable market share if they want to interface with us.”

The increase in on-board trucking technology falls squarely in the McLeod Software wheelhouse.

“It’s been a good market for us,” McLeod says. “And we have been able to gradually expand the footprint of what our product will do. We extended from operations to the accounting area, we have an electronic data interchange module, which automates the transfer of information to and from our customer and their customer, which is typically the shipper. We interface with 30 different companies that provide mobile communications systems that go in the truck.”

McLeod Software moved into a new, 140,000-square-foot headquarters in Meadow Brook Corporate Park, in Hoover, in the summer of 2018.

McLeod attended Samford University, went into sales after college but says that after a few years, felt like he was more technically oriented.

“I went to work with a friend who had an idea for transportation rates. Entry into transportation was deregulated in 1980, and, so, for most of the ’80s, there was a lot of activity with new companies being formed. My friend had an idea on how to restructure the truck load freight rates, and we worked on his idea, and he had some initial success. But when his idea stalled, I was reading all the computer and trucking industry publications, and the truck load carriers were opening up by the hundreds, and I developed the idea for an operations, dispatch, freight billing and driver payroll system to serve the needs of the smaller carriers.

“I got some traction there, and my partner wanted to go work on his idea, so he pulled out and turned it over to me. So I didn’t set out to go into business for myself, but I obviously didn’t back away. So the opportunity was presented, and I began hiring people to see if we could develop this idea. Thankfully, we have had great customers over the years that led us in the right direction.”

In addition to mobile communications, McLeod says the software can track a number of trucking elements, such as fuel transaction service providers, over-the-road purchases being made, and fuel tax reporting, a requirement in the industry on a real-time basis. “We also have interfaces with several different mileage vendors that provide commercial routing and point-to-point mileages that trucking companies and shippers use for billing and for payroll purposes,” he says, and “we interface with several different vehicle maintenance systems where companies keep track of the maintenance that is being done on the trucks.”

It’s a specialized field. Truckers even have their own map apps, to steer them away from routes where an 18-wheeler could get bogged down or crumple against a low bridge.

“Prospective companies that are interested in our product tend to start at about 25 or 30 trucks and up,” McLeod says. “Some customers have several thousand trucks. But when you get to a thousand trucks, the class A, over-the-road truck line carriers, there are only about a hundred companies in the U.S. and a number of those run our product. In the 30 to 100 trucks category, there are about 3,000 companies, and our customer base reflects a slice of that.

“They pay the drivers every week, every trucking company in existence, I believe. So that is a lot of activity,” says McLeod. In addition, if drivers are producing freight bills in a short haul situation, a truck may be hauling two or three loads a day. “In a long haul situation, a truck may be hauling one load a day or maybe a load every two or three days, so our system helps to automate all that activity and the planning. The biggest payoff from our system is being able to see the plan, which helps to minimize empty miles and helps solicit freight for the next load,” says McLeod.

If a truck is running late, the dispatcher gets an alert that it won’t be on time and the dispatcher can call the receiver and reschedule the delivery or pickup.

According to McLeod, his biggest challenge is finding enough skilled people to develop the software — programmers, designers, people to implement the programs and trainers to teach customers how to use the software.

“Trucking people are extremely inventive and they have all kinds of things they want to do with computer systems,” he says.

“We say, ‘Here is what our system requires to run,’ and then they will connect to the internet and we will download our software. Companies have somebody else, and often times we are the somebody else, host the application. At this point, we are hosting about 20 percent of our customers. We have a third party that has a 24-hour operation and automatically does the backups for customers. And we do some things with security that many small or mid-size companies couldn’t do.”

Robert Brothers, McLeod manager of product development, says he thinks the trucking industry will continue looking for ways to increase automation and logistics.

The industry is very fragmented, Brothers says. “Freight is different. People talk about the ‘Uberization’ of freight. Uber picks up people in cars, but that is not the case with freight. Freight has lots of characteristics. It is moved in different ways.”

According to Brothers, McLeod Software’s role “is to take that diverse landscape and build something common so that our users can facilitate their business. Now, that presents challenges because things that are important to one user are not important to another user.”

Brothers says the company provides drivers with an application and “We sit with a driver in their cab and go through their day.”

“The drivers use their phone usually. If it is a driver-operator, he brings his own device. If it is a company, the company will usually supply a tablet.”

Brothers says the increasing population and traffic makes it increasingly more difficult to move goods and that drivers drive fewer miles than they did in the past.

“One factor can be traffic congestion, one factor could be laws have changed in the regulation of how much they can drive,” he says, but “there is the same or more capital investment in a truck. Companies have to change, and we have to change with that. It means they have to be more efficient, and also work with their suppliers. We have to change. We can’t just receive and pick up and deliver freight from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.”

McLeod has about 450 employees on staff, serving about 950 customers, which includes training customers in how to use the software. The training takes place at the company sites and at customer bases. Brothers says it takes the firm’s internal training department about six to nine months to get a trainer ready to go into the field.

Brothers says McLeod’s products are about efficiency and how drivers can make the best decisions in the planning and execution of moving goods. “It is easier today to integrate lots of data sources than it has been in the past.”

Bill Gerdes and Cary Norton are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Both are based in Birmingham.

$4.6 Million Center for Real-World Med Teaching

Deb Tauber, left, and Julie Hughes conduct a training session March 25 at the University of Mobile. They’re observing nursing students in a simulated maternity exercise, with a robotic patient simulator playing the role of pregnant mother.

In the documentary “To Err is Human,” which tells the sometimes-terrifying story of how medical errors impact everyday lives, one doctor discusses the first time he ever inserted a chest tube into a patient.

The physician, now near retirement, says he was in his 20s, fresh out of medical school, at a rural hospital, trying to do a tricky and traumatic procedure — for the very first time — on a very real human being.

One-the-job medical training is far from optimal, he says. An estimated 44,000 people, and perhaps as many as 98,000 people, die each year in hospitals due to medical errors that could have been prevented, according to studies cited by the film.

The University of Mobile held several showings of the documentary in April at its campus to engage healthcare professionals and students on patient safety and introduce its new $4.6 million Center for Excellence in Healthcare Practice. A central piece of the new center is high fidelity patient simulators that could have given the aforementioned doctor a chance to insert a chest tube incorrectly a few times, without hurting an actual person.

Modern nursing training sometimes utilizes actors to play the role of patients. A mock human patient, for instance, might express different levels of stress, anger or confusion as actual patients do, when an examination is under way. Robotic, computerized mannequins, meanwhile, can talk, breathe and bleed. They offer a learning safety net that gives specific feedback as nursing students do procedures on them.

In a recent exercise, University of Mobile nursing students clustered around a robotic simulator in a childbirth setting. CAE Healthcare trainer Deb Tauber, watching from an observation room and using a computer hookup, voiced responses through the mannequin as the students assisted in the delivery.

School officials hope such training will reduce mortality related to preventable medical errors, which currently ranks at the No. 3 leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease and cancer, according to one recent study.

Montgomery Named One of Country’s 5 Top Smart Cities

Montgomery IT Manager Savio Dias holds the city’s 2019 Smart Cities Readiness Challenge Award.

The City of Montgomery in April was named one of five Smart Cities Readiness Challenge winners, earning it global recognition, new development opportunities and access to a year-long technology program.

The team effort was accomplished by the city, county, Montgomery Public Schools, Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce and Alabama Power Co. TechMGM, Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce’s initiative to connect and leverage Montgomery’s unique technology assets, was part of the weeks-long campaign.

The Smart Cities Readiness Challenge is a grant program supported by the Smart Cities Council, the industry’s largest smart city coalition. The program offers communities interactive workshops, mentoring and digital tools that help them develop their smart cities plans, build community support and strengthen their projects to deliver more widespread and inclusive results.

Smart cities work at improving infrastructure, along with physical and intellectual resources, to lure tech investment, says TechMGM Executive Director Charisse Stokes. “Receiving this honor reinforces our strategy to make Montgomery a smarter place to live and work.”

The team that brought Montgomery its Smart Cities honor takes a moment to enjoy the win.

Besides mentoring and workshops, Montgomery will receive nationwide publicity as a great place to live and work, plus travel scholarships to Smart Cities Week twice per year to continue learning. The city and its partners get access to financiers who can structure public/private partnerships and other forms of alternative financing.

Montgomery City/County IT Manager Savio Dias accepted the honor on behalf of the team during the Smart Cities Council’s annual conference and awards ceremony in San Diego. Along with Baltimore, Maryland; Edmonton, Canada; Racine, Wisconsin and Cleantech San Diego, Montgomery was selected from more than 100 applicants throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

‘Sensual Sportiness’ Drives Sonata’s 2020 Look

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The cockpit of the 2020 Hyundai Sonata offers the driver a wealth of information and feedback.

The Hyundai 2020 Sonata, due to start rolling off the line in September at Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama in Montgomery, boasts a sleek exterior and high-tech interior, wrapped in a third-generation vehicle platform that enhances safety and performance.

The car was shown off for the first time in mid-April at the New York International Auto Show. The stakes are high, given this is Hyundai’s longest-standing and most successful model. The 2020 model is the eighth generation of the nameplate. Retail sales begin in October.

“Sonata is our signature product,” says Mike O’Brien, vice president, product, corporate and digital planning, Hyundai Motor America. “Sonata is our legacy, and it needs to be special and memorable in all attributes. Sonata signifies our vision for future Hyundai designs, great active safety systems and cutting-edge technology that is effortless.”

Among its new tech features are a digital key that allows it to be unlocked, started and driven without a physical key, using a smartphone. It also sports hidden interior lamps that turn chrome when shut off.

Outside, it’s a fully transformed vehicle showcasing a sporty four-door-coupe look. A newly designed digital pulse grill spans the front, finishing at the innermost points of new combination headlamps.

A chrome line flows from the wing mirror, right around the side passenger windows, and returns to the front of the car by running down the length of the hood and ending at a sharp right angle beneath each headlight. This chrome strip features graduated LED running lights with additional hidden lighting.

Inside, the slim dashboard spans the width of the cabin and features a first-in-class, 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, customizable to suit different driving modes and preferences. At the center of the dashboard, a 10.25-inch HD screen enables occupants to interact easily with the audio-video and navigation functions.

Auto Tech Summit Spotlights Crossroads Dilemma

Auburn University’s Greg Harris, who teaches engineering and directs the Southern Alliance for Advanced Vehicle Manufacturing, talks about rapid changes in the auto industry. Photo by Joe De Sciose

Auto manufacturing technology is speeding ahead so quickly that it risks leaving many in the industry behind. That was the theme issued by several speakers May 8 at the Automotive Advanced Technology Summit in Birmingham.

“We’re in a time of flux right now,” says Greg Harris, an associate professor in Auburn University’s College of Engineering and director of the Southern Alliance for Advanced Vehicle Manufacturing. “Vehicles aren’t going to go away, but (the industry) is changing. … And it’s changing at a rapid pace. If you have not started on your digital journey, you’re already behind.”

Indeed, the summit was filled with high-tech catch phrases such as plug-and-play functionality, integrated capabilities, data analytics and machine-to-machine communications. Tom Shoupe, executive vice president and COO at Honda of America, says that success in auto manufacturing will stand on how well manufacturers and suppliers can incorporate new technology into production.

“We are at a crossroads,” Shoupe says. The coming years will require management “with one eye on ensuring that we’re meeting the needs of our customers today, and the other eye on preparing for the needs of tomorrow.”

Harris says part of the dilemma is a lack of a consensus for how to move forward, unlike the days when Ford’s unveiling of the assembly line made the path to greater efficiency seem clear.

“Other companies could look and say, “That’s what we want to be like. Those are the things we want to do. Let’s copy that,’ ” Harris notes. “But what do you do when you start talking about cyber-visible systems and information flows?”

Technology also poses challenges at hiring time, which has already begun at the new Mazda Toyota plant under construction in Huntsville. Mark Brazeal, vice president of administration for Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, says the first workers will arrive on site in July, two years before the plant is scheduled to begin production.

Recent studies have indicated more than 500,000 jobs across all of manufacturing in the United States currently are unfilled because of a lack of qualified applicants.

Meeting the need for workers requires great training and a new mindset to regard manufacturing as a good career path, says Kevin Burgess, assistant manager general affairs for Toyota Manufacturing Mississippi. “We believe that manufacturing is the backbone of our country and the fabric of our communities.”

Key U.S. Missile Factory Redoubled in Pike County

Troy County, Alabama-made Lockheed air-launched cruise missile AGM-158 JASSM Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile on exhibition at the ILA Berlin Air Show in 2018.

Pike County is where the newest strategic missile in the U.S. arsenal is manufactured, and production will soon ramp up more than double in response to president Donald Trump’s proposed $750 billion 2020 defense budget.

Pike County is home to Lockheed Martin’s primary facility for making JASSM missiles, the most advanced air-to-ground missile.

On May 16, Lockheed breaks ground on a second Pike County JASSM manufacturing facility, a 225,000-square-foot plant that joins a 160,000-square-foot missile-making factory that completed an earlier expansion in 2014.

The original Pike County missile facility was established in 1994 “as a revolutionary production center focused on manufacturing the most advanced tactical missiles to serve the missions of the company’s domestic and international allies,” says Jason Crager, Lockheed’s site director for Pike County Operations. “We are the sole integrator of this (JASSM) weapon system,” said Crager.

The new facility that “will allow us to meet customer’s needs, the U.S. government, for increased quantity over the life of the program,” said Crager, increasing the total from “4,900 to 7,200 missiles.” The president’s 2020 budget proposal called for the increase, he added.

Missile assembly at the new factory will begin in the third quarter 2022. Employment will increase by 22 workers this year and another 55 employees in the third year, in addition to the some 500 workers Lockheed currently employs in Pike County.

According to defense analysts, the JASSM is a large, stealthy long-range cruise missile that gives the U.S. military an edge for precise surprise attacks against targets well protected by enemy air defenses. The missile can strike more than 500 miles away. Estimated cost is $1.4 million each.

The missile has been under development since 1995, but only recently has it been deployed in combat — with a few JASSMs among a barrage of U.S., British and French missiles fired in a one-off attack on Syrian government forces in April, 2018.

The U.S. — the world’s number one weapons dealer — has approved foreign sales of the JASSM to the military of Australia, Finland and Poland, but not to the number one U.S. weapons customer, Saudia Arabia.

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