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WESTEC 2023 & AeroDef Manufacturing Support West Coast Industry, Especially Aerospace and Defense Sectors

The manufacturing industry convened in Long Beach, California, in November to discover new technologies, learn innovative production methods, and understand industry trends and business strategy from thought leaders from around the world at SME’s AeroDef Manufacturing and WESTEC 2023 events.

From Nov. 7-9, 2023, the West Coast’s manufacturing industry participated in California’s industry-leading trade show exposition and technical conference for aerospace and defense manufacturing. Featuring over 350 exhibitors and diverse technical sessions that offered a practical look at issues encountered at multiple levels, the two events represented a wide spectrum of manufacturing technologies.

Manufacturing is a major component of the California economy, with a total output from manufacturing of more than $394B in 2021, according to data from the National Association of Manufacturers. Employees in the manufacturing industry made up 7.55% of California’s workforce, with about 1.275M workers making an average of $134,355.

Exhibitors at WESTEC 2023 included top names such as FUJI Machine America Corp., Marubeni Citizen Cincom Inc., MSC Industrial Supply and Trinity Robotics Automation. Beyond AeroDef exhibitors like Aerobotix, Greenleaf Corp. and Siemens Industry Inc., the conference’s keynote speakers from Northrop Grumman, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Microsoft Corp. were featured over the three-day event. WESTEC has been conducted for more than 40 years, and AeroDef for 12 years, by SME, the nonprofit committed to accelerating new manufacturing technology adoption and building North America's talent. Together the two events drew more than 9,500 manufacturing professionals to the Long Beach Convention Center.

Keynote Speakers at AeroDef Manufacturing 2023

Attendees at AeroDef Manufacturing 2023 had the chance to hear from leaders in the field addressing some of the most important challenges and opportunities the industry faces. The leadoff speaker for the event was Vincent Aguilar, sector vice president, global supply chain, Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems.

Aguilar delivered a presentation on “Supply Base Challenges as a Tier 1 Supplier,” offering advice to suppliers and manufacturers on partnering with larger companies and universities including proactive tips for success. In his presentation, Aguilar highlighted some of the primary challenges suppliers and manufacturers are facing right now, such as materials costs because of inflation, the Ukraine conflict and distribution costs, as well as encouraging suppliers to stay ahead of trends in the industry like the growing use of additive manufacturing and smart factories.

Day two featured a keynote presentation by Jeffrey Hoffman, PhD, professor of the Practice of Aerospace Engineering, director, Human Systems Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a retired NASA astronaut.

Hoffman’s presentation, “Using Local Resources for Exploring Other Planets – Two Years of Producing Oxygen on Mars by the MOXIE Experiment on the Perseverance Rover,” addressed the Mars2020 Perseverance mission’s implications for future human space exploration, specifically focusing on how the Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE) has leveraged solid-oxide electrolysis of CO2 directly from the Martian atmosphere to produce oxygen, a key component of future manned missions to Mars.

The final keynote speaker was Andrew Gendreau, senior director of business strategy for aerospace and defense, Microsoft Corp. His presentation, “Manufacturing Transformation: How Technology, People and Community are Reshaping the Aerospace Industry,” explored emerging technologies that will reshape the industry and lessons learned from addressing key challenges. Attendees also had the opportunity to hear from thought leaders in the industry through eight panel discussions focusing on technology adoption, workforce and a look toward the industry’s future.

2023 Composites Awards Announced

As part of the event, two awards were also presented. The Jud Hall Composites Manufacturing Award, given to an individual who has contributed to the composites manufacturing or tooling technology through leadership, technical developments, patents or educational activities, was awarded to Michael “Mick” Maher, president, Maher and Associates.

Maher was selected for his advancement of the understanding of composite-bonded structures and defects reduction through process control as part of DARPA’s Open Manufacturing Transition Reliable Unitized Structure (TRUST) project.

A new award, the Composite Manufacturing Emerging Innovator Award, recognizes an individual that has led or actively supported and participated in advancing manufacturing technology into or near production or a significant impact on composite part manufacturing. Maarten Logtenberg, chief technology officer of CEAD B.V., was selected as this year’s awardee.

Logtenberg was recognized for creating a process that reduces the coefficient of thermal expansion in both X and Y directions in 3D-thermoplastic tools using long and short fibers. The novel innovation is very disruptive and will change the tooling market permanently because it reduces cost and time to market by 70%.

Digital Solutions Showcase

This year, WESTEC and AeroDef, in partnership with MSC, also presented a Digital Solution Showcase to expose attendees to the latest technological innovations designed to improve year-over-year profitability.

The showcase was designed to help small-to-medium-sized manufacturers close the digital tech gap and improve the productivity of both their workforce and equipment. Digital solutions such as predictive milling, in-situ monitoring, artificial intelligence/machine learning and an all-in-one solution that uses machining dynamics to stabilize and optimize milling performance were exhibited.

Bright Minds Program Offerings Encourage Manufacturing Knowledge, Experience 

One of the programs present at most SME events in 2023 that engage high school students is the SME Education Foundation’s Bright Minds Student Summit. The summits are designed to reveal cutting-edge manufacturing technology and introduce students to leading companies and individuals driving transformational change within the industry.

WESTEC’s Bright Minds Student Summit hosted more than 300 Long Beach-area students learning from manufacturing leaders and experiencing technology on the exhibit floor from leading companies. Using gamification, the summit helped the students learn in a fun environment, with the winning team of five each winning a 3D printer, courtesy of the Foundation.

WESTEC is one of four events comprising SME’s Manufacturing Technology Series, which connects decision-makers from diverse industries with leading suppliers of advanced manufacturing technology, equipment and tooling. The regional events, conducted in odd-numbered years, bring together more than 18,000 participants with 975 exhibitors.