October 6, 2019

Seattle manufacturer receives manufacturing award on third day of statewide tour (w/ video)

By: Brian Mittge   Comments: 0
Chris Parkhurst, senior vice president and chief financial officer for Cascade Designs, shakes the hand of AWB President Kris Johnson after Cascade Design was named the recipient of AWB’s 2019 Manufacturing Excellence Award for Operational Excellence on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. (Photo: Brian Mittge/AWB)

From the largest private-sector employer in Washington to an incubator for next-generation makers, the Manufacturing Week bus tour had a little bit of everything on Friday’s trip from Auburn to Seattle.

Boeing, Auburn

National Manufacturing Day started at The Boeing Company’s fabrication facility in Auburn, which employs 5,000 people in eight different business units.

U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier joined AWB and Boeing team members for a tour that included Boeing’s Workforce Readiness Center (WRC). Boeing’s apprenticeship program is 84 years old. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was at the first graduation ceremony in 1940 and presented certificates to the graduates.

Today there are 71 apprentices in the program.

“As times change our skills and jobs changes. Our job is looking out at what's coming in the future,” said Shelley Wilson a manager at the WRC.

Another part of the tour was in the Fabrication - Emergent Operations, where around 1,000 employees process aluminum or hard metal into finished products, ranging in size from something that can fit in the palm of a hand to products 15 feet across.

Among the items the team was working on was a Wi-Fi mounting plate that will fit like a turtle shell on top of a fuselage to retrofit planes produced before in-flight Wi-Fi had been developed.

Another tour stop was in the Production System Creation Center.

Engineers there come up with solutions to production issues, with rapid prototyping to create functional tools that will integrate in a practical way with how workers actually produce things. Brian Hughey, a manager in the center, calls it “automating with the human touch.”

Overall, the team members at Boeing’s Auburn fabrication site produce 17,000 parts for the company’s airplanes every day. In 4.2 million square feet, the site’s capabilities include metals, tooling, emergent and specialty manufacturing.

Pioneer Industries and Pioneer Human Services, Seattle

The next stop was just a few miles away at one of Boeing’s suppliers, Pioneer Industries, which is part of a broader social enterprise called Pioneer Human Services, which focuses on providing training and jobs to people who have been incarcerated.

In 2018, two-thirds of the enterprise workforce was formerly incarcerated or in recovery. Pioneer Industries’ three plants in south Seattle manufacture over two million aerospace parts. Its capabilities include comprehensive sheet metal fabrication, machining, finishing, water jet and laser cutting and assembly services for a wide range of current products in the aerospace and commercial industries.

Felicia Bower, general manager of Pioneer Industries, started at Pioneer Industries 20 years ago as a deburrer after her own run-ins with the criminal justice system.

“I didn’t grow up thinking I would be in manufacturing but I took a wrong turn and ended up here. It changed my life. Manufacturing helps us help people help themselves. I see it every day.” After coming through the program and rising up through the ranks, she is a believer in Pioneer’s mission to provide opportunities to people like herself. “You can start with being incarcerated with no experience to being in the executive level,” she said.

Jacob Day, the shipping and receiving group lead at Pioneer Industries, is about to celebrate his four-year anniversary at the company. What does working at Pioneer mean to him? “It saved my life,” said Day, who has a criminal history involving possession and distribution of cocaine. “It gave me something to live for. Getting clean is one thing, but having a reason to live is another thing.”

Cascade Designs, Seattle

The AWB bus headed to Cascade Designs next where President Kris Johnson presented the 2019 Manufacturing Excellence Award for Operational Excellence.

Cascade Designs, founded in 1972, is a family-owned maker of some of the world’s most iconic outdoor brands, including MSR, Therm-a-Rest, PackTowl, SealLine and Platypus Hydration.

Their recreational outdoor equipment ranges from snowshoes to camping sleep pads.

The company employs 190 people in Seattle and 400 company-wide, including manufacturing operations in Reno (which, with the Seattle facility, supplies customers in North America) and Cork, Ireland, which manufactures for customers in Europe.

Cascade Designs makes its own equipment and has not off-shored to China. By keeping close hold of both manufacturing and design, it has prevented copy-cats.

There’s also a special satisfaction in designing and producing within the same city block.

“Our special sauce is our ability to take a concept, an idea and to be able to see that all the way through to how do we actually manufacture our product,” said Chris Parkhurst, senior vice president and chief financial officer for Cascade Designs. “That’s very unique to our industry and is probably unique to a lot of industries — that ability to actually go to the floor, to be able to put your hand on the product you’ve designed and be able to manufacture that. There’s a special connection there.”

Seattle Makers

At Seattle Makers, a group of dedicated “Maketeers” pay $97 a month for access to a wide array of equipment, from sewing machines to 3-D printers and laser cutters.

The maker space is in four rooms on the second floor of a building just off the northern end of the new SR 99 tunnel, which made it easy to advertise — they put a giant sign in the window, visible from the first exit.

Jeremy Hanson, 36 co-founded Seattle Makers after building a hydroponic garden and realizing he liked the building of it more than the final product.

“I took a personal loan against retirement. I jumped and made it,” he said. “It was a passion thing: ‘This has to exist in Seattle so I'm going to make it happen.’”

To keep monthly subscription costs low, Seattle Makers provides corporate team-building activities where groups can etch their logo onto “just about anything,” or can make joint art projects using the space’s diverse set of equipment.

They are insured for children as young as 8 to be in the space. By age 11, after training, kids can use the equipment.

“We have 11-year-olds doing graduate level work,” Hanson said.


The Manufacturing Week bus tour continues Monday morning in Ferndale and runs through Thursday.

2019 AWB MFG Week Bus Tour: Day 3 Highlights from Association of WA Business on Vimeo.