Fast approaching its fiftieth anniversary, the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International (FMA) advocates for the growth and sustainability of North America’s metal processing, forming, and fabricating industries.
“We are a non-profit association who has a soon-to-be history of fifty years of working very hard to make sure the metal fabricating industry is growing and sustainable in the long run,” states President and Chief Executive Officer Edward Youdell. “We work very hard to be good stewards, elevating the profile and importance of jobs to the local communities, as well as the overall U.S. economy.”
The FMA was founded in 1970 and continues to expand under the leadership of Youdell who has been head of the association for almost six years and an integral part of it for almost a dozen years. Youdell holds a degree in business administration from Central Michigan University, majoring in economics and minoring in marketing. His previous experience working for well-known event organization Reed Exhibitions and years working on various trade publications helped prepare him for his current role.
The FMA was based in Rockford for decades but relocated its headquarters to Elgin, Illinois in 2016, providing greater access for many of its members, stakeholders, and suppliers. The new facility is also closer to O’Hare International Airport and about forty miles from downtown Chicago. This move signalled another step towards the future for the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, which has come a long way since it was created by businessman and entrepreneur Milo J. Pitkin, Jr. back in 1970.
Pitkin lived and worked in Rockford and had colleagues who were active in the metal fabricating industry. “That group got together and formed the trade association for the practical reasons of sharing best practices, to elevate the status of the industry, get better at performing metal fabricating practices, and provide education and information about the industry to others of like minds and work environments,” says Youdell. “It was a garage organization at the start and created out of very humble beginnings.”
The association has now grown to over 2,500 members, both small companies and large multinational metal fabricators and equipment manufacturers. The average member is a job shop with about fifty employees or fewer and approximately $10 million in annual revenue.
The FMA and its staff of seventy-seven work develop networking events, technology councils, numerous educational programs, and the industry’s best-known trade show, Fabtech. Fabtech was created in 1981 and has become North America’s biggest metal forming, welding, fabricating, and finishing event. The gathering allows the industry to experience everything from cutting-edge exhibits to education and plenty of valuable networking opportunities. Fabtech 2018 is coming up in Atlanta, from November 6 to 8 at the Georgia World Congress Center.
“Fifty percent of the audience is generally new each year the show is held, so we bring our supplier partners access to new customers, and new markets,” says Youdell.
The Fabricators & Manufacturers Association co-sponsors the show along with SME – formerly known as the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, the Precision Metalforming Association (PMA), the Chemical Coaters Association International (CCAI), and the American Welding Society (AWS). The upcoming Fabtech will feature dozens of exciting technologies, such as additive manufacturing or 3D printing, lasers, coil processing, plate and structural fabricating, robotics, and many others.
2019’s Fabtech will be held in Chicago, while 2020’s event will be staged in Las Vegas, coinciding with the fiftieth anniversary of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, and there are plans to highlight the significant milestone.
In addition to Fabtech, the association promotes itself through official publications, online, various media channels, and by hosting educational events. Among its publications are Stamping Journal, The Welder, The Tube & Pipe Journal, Canadian Metalworking, Canadian Fabricating & Welding, and The Fabricator. Often, people recognize the brands of the association even more than the fact the FMA is behind them. “The great compliment is, we’ve created really excellent brands for our market,” says Youdell. “The challenge for us is to make sure people understand it comes from the trade association.”
Charitable foundation Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs was created by FMA in 2004. It provides grants to community and technical colleges, to develop teen summer camps to introduce youngsters to the many careers available in manufacturing. Additionally, the foundation provides manufacturing scholarships to qualifying students.
The FMA states that two-year programs are a benefit for several reasons. The cost to students is lower than for a four-year program; the impact of the scholarship is greater, and two-year graduates enter the workforce faster, which is exactly what job shops and manufacturers need now.
“You see the great disparity in job openings versus job applicants, especially in manufacturing,” states Youdell. “You need a special skill base to pursue those jobs, and frankly, manufacturing has done a bad job over the last forty years of promoting the fact that we have good jobs to offer. It’s not the three D’s anymore – dirty, dark, and dangerous – and manufacturing is thriving. It is high-tech, challenging, and has good career family-supporting wages. And I don’t call it a skills gap; I call it a perception gap.”
Although manufacturing is perhaps not as alluring as working for high tech firms like Google or Yahoo, Youdell uses Apple as a prime example. “Everyone thinks Apple is this awesome company, and they are, but at the end of the day, Apple is a manufacturer. They are the greatest example of what modern manufacturing is, and we just need to do a better job of recognizing that and using that example to help recruit people into the industry.”
The FMA is also a co-founder of Manufacturing Day which was created by Youdell and introduced in 2012. The event is supported by the FMA and run by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). Manufacturing Day takes place on the first Friday in October and is tackles the false impressions that people have about the manufacturing sector.
“We support it, promote it to our members, and believe in the concept,” comments Youdell. “I created it, got all the partners together, and we launched it.” It hosted 224 events in the first year but today has over 3,000 events across America and has a number of foreign countries participating.
“It’s really all about opening the doors of manufacturing locations and getting people inside, including teachers, educators, counsellors, and students. So they can recognize what’s available in their community for careers and, hopefully, change the perception of what modern manufacturing is and what it isn’t. It’s a lot of fun.”
As the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association approaches its half-century mark, it looks forward to continuing to serve the needs of its many members in the metal processing, forming, and fabricating industries with information about the industry, educational events, access to the latest technologies, businesses services, and more.