Manufacturing Innovation: Getting Ahead in a Competitive Economy

December 21, 2015 11:53 am
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posted within Technology Acceleration

Written by: Mary R. Miller,

This article originally appeared on the Manufacturing Innovation Blog 

For those of us who grew up in the auto industry, you are probably all too familiar with this Henry Ford quote: “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”  

Thinking requires you to to take a step back and look at what you’re  doing and think about what’s possible. It takes a certain amount of humility, hunger to grow and desire to be a better person; a better manufacturing company. Thinking is the catalyst for innovation – new ideas, new products, new processes or new services.

Yet the idea, in it of itself, only has a certain shelf life if not acted on.  When not acted on the idea is wasted and forgotten shelved as a pet project or worse dismissed as a waste of time. But that isn’t the worst part. The worst part is when you see someone else take your idea and run with it in their facility; in their country. Here are a few examples of inventions that were birthed in the U.S. but adopted in other countries first: solar cells, industrial robots, lithium-ion batteries, lean manufacturing….

This dark part of U.S. Manufacturing history has created much damage: job loss, entire generations who see manufacturing as a dead-end job, lost opportunities that come with new inventions and a declining supply chain. The good news is that while U.S. Manufacturing can’t rewrite our past we can learn from it to change our industry. And that is what is happening! In the last five years alone U.S. manufacturers have added nearly 15,000 new jobs every month and exports have grown at an average annual rate of 10 percent which is three times quicker than the average from the preceding decade.

To keep the momentum, U.S. industry and the federal government are taking deliberate strides to seize and maintain an innovation advantage in the fiercely competitive global economy. Check out what’s been happening with NNMI.

1) National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI): NNMI was established with the inclusion of the bipartisan Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act in the government funding bill passed by Congress last December.

2)  Think Regional: The young NNMI partnership consists of regional hubs of manufacturing innovation which are devoted to the mission that if a technology is invented in the U.S., we should do our very best to make it here. Since the first NNMI institute, started in 2012, theses institutes are listed below:

  • America Makes (Youngstown, OH) –  Is turning additive manufacturing technology—or 3D printing—into a more robust, reliable, and widely useful capability for companies of all sizes.
  • Digital Manufacturing & Design (DMDII) ( Chicago, IL) – Using digital manufacturing and design technologies, so manufacturing plants can become more efficient and cost-competitive.
  • LIFT (Detroit, MI)  – Lightweight metal manufacturing.
  • Power America ( Raleigh, NC) – Will develop critical wide bandgap power electronics technologies, spark early commercialization, and nurture the U.S. wide bandgap semiconductor industry through education programs and training.
  • IACMI (Knoxville, TN) – Institute for advanced composites manufacturing innovation
  • AIM Photonics – The American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics (AIM Photonics), is an industry driven public-private partnership that focuses the nation’s premiere capabilities and expertise to capture critical global manufacturing leadership in a technology that is both essential to National security and positioned to provide a compelling return-on-investment to the U.S. economy.
  • NextFlex ( San Jose, CA) – To create and manage an American flexible hybrid electronics manufacturing facility.

3) Collaboration is Key: NNMI Institutes leverage the individual and collective knowledge, talents, capabilities, and resources of industry, university, and government partners. These collaborations will cultivate promising discoveries and ideas into new technologies and into cost-effective ways to convert these innovations into American-made products sold to customers around the world. Solo acts can no longer outperform the competition.

In today’s most advanced manufacturing industries—the manufacturers who make the highest-value goods, pay the highest wages, and export all over the world—product and process innovation are two sides of the same coin. Inventing, designing, making, and improving happen in concert. And this back-and-forth interaction draws on the strengths of varied organizations, many clustered in the same region.

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