Advanced Manufacturing: The Key to America's Innovation Advantage

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Advanced Manufacturing: The Key to America

Several important factors contributed to the U.S. becoming the world's economic powerhouse in the 19th and 20th centuries, including: 

  • A wealth of natural resources
  • Citizens and companies that were unfettered by government restrictions
  • An undying spirit of innovation

With the promise of being rewarded for finding new and better ways of meeting needs and wants, innovators not only developed new products, but also better ways to make existing products.  As a result, the country took the lead as the "manufacturer to the world." 

But then, toward the end of the last century, the soaring costs of regulatory compliance (along with high labor costs and a diminished advantage in materials costs) pushed prices for goods made in America past the breaking point, and companies were simply unable to compete.  U.S. companies began to lose market share to overseas manufacturers, and factories began to close.  This trend continued into the 21st century, with 6 million manufacturing jobs lost between 2001 and 2009.

What many find surprising is that, despite the loss of these jobs and the decimation of some industries, 75 percent of the products purchased in America are still made in America.1  This provides little solace to the many who have lost manufacturing jobs to off-shore competition, but this high percentage reveals that many American companies have been able to rise above foreign competition by working smarter.  Evidence of this is the 40 percent increase in high-skilled manufacturing employment opportunities since 1980.

Today, the innovative spirit is once again beginning to have an effect, as American manufacturing is reemerging in the form of "advanced manufacturing."  Advanced manufacturing is the umbrella concept applied to a set of practices that coordinate information, automation, computation, software, sensing, and networking in the manufacturing context. 

This new breed of manufacturing often exploits cutting-edge materials and emerging capabilities enabled by the physical and biological sciences; these enabling technologies include molecular biology, nanotechnology, micro-electromechanical systems, embedded computing, and expert systems.  It produces new products born of advanced technologies, and it provides new methods for manufacturing existing products.

It is not an overstatement to say that the future growth of American manufacturing will be dependent on advanced manufacturing.  Coupled with America's increasing advantage in terms of raw material costs, advanced manufacturing technologies virtually eliminate the advantage conferred by low-cost foreign labor...

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