In May, Pennsylvania political leaders gathered with Re:Build Manufacturing and the state’s Regional Industrial Development Corporation (RIDC) to celebrate a new $81 million investment at the New Kensington Advanced Manufacturing Park in Westmorland County.
The new manufacturing park will create 300 jobs, add $14.6 billion to the Pittsburgh manufacturing sector, and builds on Re:Build’s mission: to revitalize the U.S. manufacturing base through cutting-edge technologies and operational excellence, including a focus on technology that supports predictive maintenance and real-time monitoring initiatives.
Re:Build Manufacturing owns and supports manufacturing facilities across the country, focusing on state-of-the-art technology and innovation-focused manufacturing operations. It currently owns and operates engineering firms and manufacturers, primarily focused on innovative industries and technologies.
Re:Build focuses on precision manufacturing, which it defines as the process of manufacturing high-quality products with extremely light tolerances and accurate specifications. “Automation, robotics, and advanced machining systems can significantly improve manufacturing efficiency. These technologies enable faster production cycles, reduce human error, increase throughput, and optimize resource utilization, leading to higher productivity and cost savings,” Victor Mroczkowski, executive vice president of operations at Re:Build says.
He adds that precision manufacturing supports innovation, which is the catalyst for new technologies: “Eventually our use of AI algorithms and machine-learning models—along with digital twins and simulation that can optimize processes, automate decision-making, and enable predictive analytics—will likely increase within our business.”
COVID-19 crisis revealed opportunity
In November 2020, former MIT classmates Jeff Wilke and Miles Arnone founded Re:Build Manufacturing, as the industry was struggling to cope with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Serious vulnerabilities in the U.S. economy and U.S. manufacturing were exposed, reflecting concerns that Wilke and Arnone already had about U.S. offshoring and the decline of U.S. manufacturing..
They started Re:Build Manufacturing to help revitalize industry, growing its six original employees to 850 and acquiring 11 companies (see sidebar). The firm has facilities in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, and South Carolina.
“The company’s goal over the coming decades is to rekindle the U.S. manufacturing base in areas that have been deindustrialized and to build a better future for Re:Build’s customers, employees, partners, communities, and shareholders through a new model of industrialization,” Mroczkowski says.
“We plan to achieve that by building America’s next great industrial company—growing a family of businesses that combine cutting-edge enabling technologies with operational superiority in aerospace and defense, cleantech, health, industrial equipment, lifestyle, and mobility. We’re focused on product innovation, advanced components, systems production, and industrial automation, while being very thoughtful about using proprietary software to improve our operating model,” he added.
For now Re:Build is focused on three main technology areas:
- Automation and robotics—to handle dangerous or repetitive tasks;
- Sensors and connectivity solutions—to enable real-time monitoring, predictive maintenance and data-driven decision-making;
- Innovative materials—to improve material properties, such as strength, durability, weight reduction and energy efficiency.
In all its businesses, cutting-edge technologies drive quality improvement and data-driven decision-making. “The integration of sensors, IoT connectivity, and data analytics software in our manufacturing processes enable real-time monitoring, data collection, and analysis. This offers valuable insights into process optimization, predictive maintenance, supply chain management, and product performance, enabling continuous improvement,” Mroczkowski says.
Innovation-focused manufacturing center from the ground up
The operations at New Kensington will focus on state-of-the-art fabrication, manufacturing, and integration and assembly projects in high-growth, innovation-driven industries, such as energy, life sciences, robotics, and aerospace.
As part of the new Pennsylvania project, RIDC and the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corporation (WCIDC) entered into a purchase agreement with the park’s current owner, the Redevelopment Authority of the City of New Kensington, to acquire and redevelop the entire site. The Redevelopment Authority took ownership of this site in 2018 as part of its overall focus on reinvigorating economic growth in the community.
This also will be Re:Build’s first ground up manufacturing facility. It was the original home of the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) New Kensington Works manufacturing plant. It will be completely renovated from the foundation, with only the steel structure to remain intact. The large-scale advanced manufacturing facility will get new infrastructure, including utilities (electrical water and HVAC systems), specialized spaces for specific manufacturing processes, and offices. The facility will include five existing buildings and a total of 175,000 square feet once completed.
In a serious state of disrepair, the facility will require $31 million in renovations, funded by grants and loans from the state, county and the Richard King Mellon Foundation, as well as equity investments from RIDC and WCIDC. Re:Build will be investing $50 million in the project and creating approximately 300 new, full-time jobs within the next three years. More than 100 construction jobs will also be created to help renovate the new facility.
Re:Build and RIDC received a funding proposal from the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) for a $1.5 million Pennsylvania First grant and a $7 million grant through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program. The Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority also has loans available for rejuvenating the New Kensington Advanced Manufacturing Park.
“The RIDC has a track record of turning around former industrial sites like this one,” Mroczkowski says. In addition, in recent years the city of New Kensington has taken several positive steps to revitalize the area, including investing in its downtown. “Local, county, and state government officials saw the tremendous opportunity Re:Build Manufacturing presented. Their priority was to help make it possible for Re:Build to locate there and create hundreds of advanced manufacturing jobs, once again making the site an important center of economic activity,” he adds.
The Pittsburgh region already has a robust technology and innovation ecosystem of research institutions, universities and other companies working with innovative manufacturing technologies, Mroczkowski says. The region also has a skilled workforce with legacy expertise in manufacturing: “Being here allows us to tap into the local talent pool and benefit from their knowledge and experience. With a presence in the region, we can leverage these resources and collaborate with local partners to drive innovation and thus stay at the forefront of industry advancements.”
Revitalizing manufacturing long-term
Re:Build Manufacturing’s family of businesses is focused on revitalizing U.S. manufacturing. It developed what it calls the Brain-to-Box approach, which defines the many steps to manufacture a product, from conceptualization to a finished product on the market and in customers’ hands. The process consists of six phases: planning and alignment; discovery and concept; design and development; process verification and validation; product verification and validation; and manufacturing and support. Customers can engage with Re:Build at all six levels or tailor a smaller plan.
“Generally speaking, revitalizing U.S. manufacturing requires improving the competitiveness and efficiency of our manufacturing sector and the Brain-to-Box approach helps achieve that by supporting operational excellence and innovation,” Mroczkowski says. “I’ll drill down a bit here. To achieve operational excellence and innovation, companies in the U.S. will need help with many of the steps in a product value stream. We identify those companies and show them how they can gain long-term strategic value by improving their competitiveness and efficiency through our experience, knowledge, and expertise.”
Improved efficiency often begins with supply chain optimization, Mroczkowski says. An optimized supply chain can also reduce lead times and increase flexibility through lean manufacturing principles, implementing just-in-time inventory management, and leveraging data analytics. “Vertical integration may also make sense in this phase,” he adds.
Revitalizing U.S. manufacturing for Re:Build also means embracing technology adoption. “Embracing advanced technologies such as automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, software, and the Internet of Things (IoT), can enhance productivity, reduce costs, and improve overall efficiency in manufacturing processes,” Mroczkowski says.
The last piece of the puzzle for Re:Build Manufacturing is workforce development. “That means investing in training and development programs to upskill the existing and up-and-coming workforce and prepare them for the demands of modern manufacturing. This includes promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education and providing vocational training opportunities,” Mroczkowski says.
Finally, because excellence requires considering the broader local, regional, and national manufacturing ecosystem, Re:Build Manufacturing advances collaboration and partnerships. In Pittsburgh, for example, the company is engaging with local universities to help drive advancements in manufacturing techniques, materials, and processes.
“Innovation is not born in a vacuum,” Mroczkowski says. It begins with talented skilled professionals who are drawn to organizations that are focused on innovation, growth and development, and new technologies. “Building an innovation-focused manufacturing operation that develops and produces groundbreaking products seems a smart way to help the U.S. achieve and maintain a competitive advantage,” he adds.
The focus on innovation will help the company capture new market opportunities as they emerge. “This relates to our work in, for example, eVTOL aircraft and EV markets. New technologies and advancements in areas such as automation, robotics, additive manufacturing (3D printing), and digitization have transformed manufacturing and can generate even greater efficiencies, improved quality, and reduced costs,” Mroczkowski says.
The innovation focus will also help the U.S. address sustainability and environmental concerns. “For example, our work with high-speed automated processes with advanced thermoplastic (recyclable) composites is helping foster widespread, cost-effective adoption of these materials,” he adds.
Critical to national security
Core to Re:Build Manufacturing’s business philosophy is that reshoring manufacturing is not only good for U.S. manufacturing, but it is also critical the U.S. national security. “Heavy reliance on foreign manufacturing makes the U.S. vulnerable to geopolitical tensions, natural disasters, pandemics, and other unforeseen events. Supply chain disruptions can impact the availability of essential goods, which can be particularly important for critical technologies. Bringing manufacturing back to the U.S. helps diversify and strengthen supply chains, which reduces dependence on foreign sources and enhances resilience,” Mroczkowski says.
Driving technological innovation in manufacturing supports advancements in critical areas, such as defense, aerospace, and communications. “When it resides in the U.S., we retain and build upon technical expertise, foster research and development, and maintain our competitive edge in emerging technologies,” he adds.
Re:Build considers certain industries strategically important to national security, such as healthcare, defense, aerospace, energy and telecommunications. With U.S.-based manufacturing in critical industries, the country maintains control over supply chains and production capabilities, and U.S. companies can better protect their proprietary technologies and innovations.