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Philadelphia was once known as "workshop of the world," but manufacturing has been making a long, slow exit from the region. Some businesses, however, are finding a way to make things here and make a profit. Others are not sure it's worth all the effort.
Innovation and manufacturing
Sometimes, innovation and manufacturing go hand in hand, said Michael Araten, president and CEO of K'NEX Toys in Hatfield, Pa.
"I happen to believe, and we as a company happen to believe, that in order to have a nation that controls its own destiny, you have to be able to make some stuff, Araten said. "In addition to that, if you make things in this country, you are helping to support a domestic economy that certainly now more than ever needs some support, and then you are developing your own customer base."
K'NEX Toys are part of a family-run business that molds plastic parts of any shape for companies around the country. Made of standardized pieces, like Tinker Toys, K'NEX are meant for small engineers.
"K'NEX I would say is best known for things that move, for our roller coasters, for our Ferris wheels, in fact, when we started. And we still now actually sell a 6-foot diameter Ferris wheel that has over 8,700 parts in it," Araten said.
The toys at K'NEX are designed in house. The molds for the plastic parts are also designed here. Araten says only five employees work on the factory floor, with a fleet of 100 plus robots, which don't get tired, take breaks or make mistakes. It's an innovation that keeps his products cheaper than those made in China, he said.
"If you invest in automation, you take away the people advantage, since the only advantage that overseas really has is the people advantage," Araten said. "When you take that away, you are globally competitive. As we like to say, on the injecting-molding side of the business, we're cheaper than China, and our part prices typically are."