Much of what we buy in the U.S. is not made here, and hasn’t been for decades.
If 2013 is any indication this could be changing, although the next generation of American manufacturing will differ greatly from its predecessor thanks to advanced technologies that rely on information rather than brawn.
Early in the year, President Obama alluded to a manufacturing revival in his 2013 State of the Union Address and backed up this reference with a $1.5 billion fiscal 2014 budget request to help the U.S. Department of Commerce spur the development of new approaches to manufacturing. (pdf) The administration had already committed $1 billion in fiscal 2013 to launch the National Network of Manufacturing Innovation, a group of up to 15 manufacturing research facilities across the country.
U.S. industry has likewise begun to reinvigorate its domestic manufacturing processes in recent years, after long outsourcing the work to cheaper labor in developing countries. But is the revival too late to allow the U.S. to compete effectively with emerging manufacturing powerhouses in Europe and Asia, which in many cases enjoy trade surpluses despite paying their workers higher wages and investing more in new technologies? William Bonvillian, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Washington office, poses this question and several others in a Policy Forum to be published Friday in Science.
A big problem, Bonvillian notes, is that U.S. innovation since World War II and the Cold War has focused mostly on early-stage research and development at the expense of investment in prototyping, demonstration, testing and production. The solution, he says, can be found in a number of new technologies and inventive approaches to making things. Some of these include: