By Robert Tuomi
(WINDSOR, ON) – Will Windsor taxpayers pay the ultimate price for the ineffectiveness of the Francis Council on economic development and the lacklustre performance of the local economic development outfit which spent $2.4 million last year to generate an adjusted 64 jobs? Could the future of Windsor hang in the balance of what is known as 3D printing and how fast the technology will catch on and decimate local tool and die makers?
When it does, the city’s tool and mould industry could bite the dust in a surprisingly quick and all-encompassing fall that will be about as fast as the companies that made harnesses for the horse buggy suffered so many years ago.
Despite all the grandiose announcements of the city diversifying and setting itself up as a hub for software development, that would be its insurance goal when the tool and die makers leave, nothing has really happened on that front. This includes the foundation-less announcements of such software development companies as Team My Mobile, Wizie, and Arada supposedly bringing their expertise and need for high technology employees to the city.
None of them really ever arrived, although the city’s mayor was quick to stage press conference after press conference of what now seem to have all the characteristics of faux announcements, although he might have been mistaken or confused much like his months of negotiating to have well-known logistic company Landstar set up shop at the airport.
It turns out he wasn’t even negotiating directly with the company and it certainly isn’t coming. Because of the inability of the mayor, and the non-effort of the Francis Council, which even shut down its economic development standing committee, the city appears to be ill-prepared for the future.
It has seen its once grand auto sector turn into a much loved memory with General Motors departing and Ford demolishing its casting plant and leaving behind skeleton engine making operations, and the future of the Fiat Chrysler minivan plant a mystery. While some in the city may have felt that the tool and die component, which is right now flourishing, would keep the city’s economy humming they could be seriously wrong.
This is particularly so with the news of the successes of researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Knoxville, TN. There, cars built with 3D printing technology are starting to emerge.
Detroit’s Free Press reported July 14 that what is happening there will be transformative. In fact, the paper quotes Jay Baron, president of the Centre for Automotive Research, predicting that the experiment will bring economically destructive change to the auto industry.
“They’re going after manufacturing flexibility, low vehicle weight and reducing tooling costs. It would be a disruptive technology that could be the launching pad for other technologies and more consumer choice,” he is quoted as saying.
What separates 3D printed cars from today’s milling and drilling, the standard in making automobiles and their parts ever since the first car was manufactured, is that costs are lower and there is no waste.
Car parts are made in the same fashion as hot ink jet printers print a letter except that the process is cumulative, layers weld themselves together to create a whole with no raw material waste.
The result has been two versions so far of the Strati, the first 3D printed cars, made not in an auto . The Free Press reports that its chassis generates no noise because it is one piece.
This September in Chicago the Knoxville engineers will be at the International Manufacturing Technology Show to print what will be their third Strati and with it the possible end of the Windsor economy as we know it.
The inactivity of the current Francis Council on economic development might be its greatest legacy, well beyond the buildings it has erected as homage to the mayor, and another reason that all members of the council need to be shown the door on October 27.
Inactivity should not be praised by re-election.
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