Back in the 1920s, someone with a great product idea could often just walk into the local barbershop and make a business connection. “But we don’t have that kind of social interaction anymore. So to create a bricks-and-mortar place where OEMs, inventors, suppliers, manufacturing engineers, and the like can meet, we started an entity called The Manufacturing Mart,” says President and founder Mary Kaye Denning.
The Mart could serve as a template for a new approach to manufacturing: that of a permanent trade show housed in a downtown mall. Besides offering a space to collaborate, the Cleveland, Ohio, facility provides a ready market for all sorts of manufacturing services under one roof.
Denning likens what is currently happening to manufacturing to the evolution of the high-end fashion industry over the last 30 years. “In 1976, to get a special item you had no other choice but to shop on Madison Ave. in New York City,” she says. “Then consumers could purchase high-end couture clothing in high-end malls like Tyson City, Va., and Beachwood, Ohio. Next, Madison Ave. designers like Isaac Mizrahi started selling clothing in shops such as Target. Suddenly, ordinary, everyday people could buy designer fashions.”
“This is what is now with manufacturing,” continues Denning. “Within an hour’s drive of the current site, there are enough job shops and engineers to make practically anything. The Mart gives people a place to find a part, partner, or service. Innovators don’t even need to be designers — just apt computer users. It is pushing manufacturing in the right direction — towards becoming a service industry.”
Denning says inventors or manufacturers who walk into the Mart are often drawn immediately to the materials section where they can pick up samples of superelastic plastics, gel magnet, or aluminum foam. And they frequently find something useful. “Unless they had actually seen, touched, used, and even smelled the material, they probably never would have realized it would fit the bill, let alone that it even existed,” she says.
The Manufacturing Mart also provides an introduction to job shops and OEMs. “Many job shops began as garage inventors,” says Denning. “They soon discovered that manufacturing their own product was the quickest way to get it to market.” Featured are shops and companies such as injection-molder Sare Plastics, Alliance, Ohio; high-tolerance grinder Richard’s Grinding, Cleveland; metal fabricator Rose Metal Industries, Cleveland; Fargo Machine, Ashtabula, Ohio, a full machine shop that specializes in water-jet cutting; and power-conversion specialist Darrah Electric Co., Cleveland
Also featured are larger companies such as Formica, Cincinnati, which produces materials for more than countertops. Approaching its 100th anniversary, the company decided to invent the “new” Formica. In the past, laminate patterns repeated every 18 in. Now, the company photographs a natural pattern, such as a slab of granite mountain, and imprints Formica sheet with a 5-ft nonrepeating pattern of that granite.
The mart provides entry to companies that service manufacturers. “ New Wave Plastics, Cleveland, for instance, is a full-service industrial wastemanagement company,” says Denning. It processes PVC into a material used to make gift cards and credit cards. New Wave, with the help of The Manufacturing Mart, offers employee training. For example, showing employees how washing certain containers and reattaching the lids preserves the recycle value is one way to get employee buy-in. “Many New Wave customers give the money earned to employees or a charity. Ninety-nine percent of the materials New Wave collects does not go to a landfill. New Wave treats a company’s recycled materials as if it’s titanium,” says Denning.
The mart also includes other product-development services such as patent attorneys, marketing, and manufacturability analyses.