Report on the Subject of Manufacturers
America's first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton's, Report on the Subject of Manufacturers (1791) revealed the full range of his plan for industrializing the United States. Rejecting the common assumption that America could prosper with an agricultural base, Hamilton argued that the new Republic should concentrate on developing industry. Hamilton sought more than the alteration of America's economic base, however. He hoped to change the very nature of the people — to to instill in them a new spirit of industriousness, energy, and innovation.
Fast forward to 2003 — PCAST panel on "Information Technology, Manufacturing and Competitiveness" recommended the creation of a "Bell Labs" type of government/industry/university research partnership aimed at keeping the US at the forefront of high tech electronics manufacturing. PCAST panelists expressed concern that the US innovation system was being compromised by the loss of manufacturing. They believed that "as manufacturing goes, so too will design and R&D."
No such Bell Labs type of organization was created or even considered.
Now a recent new PCAST study on manufacturing has drawn the same conclusions. It determined that "We have been losing ground not just overall but in the production of high-tech products including those that have resulted in many cases from US innovation and innovations and associated R&D linked to manufacturing." In addition, the report resolved that a very strong advanced manufacturing sector is essential to national security."
So is anything different going to happen this time around or will be left with recommendations that are not enacted due to lack of political will or other high priority legislative items?
The recommendations are outlined in the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP) announced by President Obama this summer. He characterized the partnership this way: "it is designed to renew the promise of American manufacturing and to help make sure America remains in this century what we were in the last — a country that makes things." While we see a $500 million figure attached to this plan, it really doesn't recommend an increase in federal spending to fund the partnerships, but rather to use existing funds for these efforts.
Specifically, the AMP recommends an inter-agency effort to build domestic manufacturing capabilities in critical national security industries with a goal of $300 million, to co-invest with industry in innovative technologies such as small high-powered batteries, advanced composites, metal fabrication, bio-manufacturing, and alternative energy, among others.
In addition, AMP focuses on reducing the time to develop and deploy advanced materials through the Materials Genome Initiative, which would invest more than $100M in research, training and infrastructure to enable US companies to discover, develop, manufacture, and deploy advanced materials at twice the speed than is possible today, at a fraction of the cost.
Further, the announcement focused on investments in next generation robotics. The National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Institutes of Health and the Department of Agriculture will coordinate to make available today $70 million to support research in next generation robots.
The Department of Energy will also launch an effort to leverage their existing funds and future budgets, with the initial goal of $120 million to develop innovative manufacturing processes and materials to enable companies to cut the costs of manufacturing, while using less energy.
Other efforts are also recommended including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) exploration of new approaches that have potential to dramatically reduce — by up to a factor of five — the time required to design, build, and test manufactured goods while enabling entrepreneurs to meet Defense Department needs; a multi-university collaboration around advanced manufacturing a Department of Commerce development of an advanced manufacturing technology consortium; training efforts coordinated by DoE with the private sector to educate and train a new generation of manufacturers and an effort to get digital design, modeling and simulation tools into the hands of the thousands of small and medium sized companies who currently do not use these critical tools.
The strengthening of US manufacturing is also a subject of intense interest in Congress. The 112th Congress is considering hundreds of pieces of legislation intended to revive the manufacturing sector. The pending bills take extremely diverse approaches, ranging from establishing tax-exempt manufacturing reinvestment accounts (H.R. 110, Manufacturing Reinvestment Account Act of 2011) to encouraging "repatriation" of manufacturing (H.R. 516, Bring Jobs Back to America Act) to creating an Innovation Technology Loan Guarantee Program (S. 239, Innovate America Act) to increasing domestic content requirements for federally supported transportation projects (H.R. 613, Airports, Highways, High-Speed Rails and Transit: Make it in America Act) to creating a federal registry of skill credentials for manufacturing occupations (H.R. 1325, The America Works Act), to name just a few of the many efforts underway in Congress.
So where does all of this discussion of manufacturing and its importance to the economy and our national defense leave us? Does it mean that we will see serious efforts and resources committed to important activities like digital manufacturing? The picture is not clear but given the current budget environment and the announcement of new programs with no new money — it doesn't look good. We need to leverage our available resources through collaboration and shared use infrastructure to achieve the necessary advances in technology and implementation. Simply talking about the problem and introducing legislation that will never be enacted or funded is not enough.
We need to see a real commitment to the problems and the appropriate resources behind them.
About the Author
Rebecca R. Taylor is currently the senior vice president for the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS), a not for profit research and development consortium with more than 300 North American member corporations working toward the goal of improving the manufacturing competitiveness of the nation. In this capacity she is responsible for the operation of the organization's government efforts, for liaison with Members of Congress and the Administration, oversight of all government programs, as well as overall management of the Washington, DC and Bremerton, Wash., offices.
Until August 1991, Ms. Taylor served as an International Trade Analyst for the US Department of Commerce. In this position she served as a principal in the machine tool trade negotiations with the governments of Japan and Taiwan, representing the Bureau of Export Administration during the trade talks. In addition, she was the Bureau’s representative to the interagency working group on the Intelligent Manufacturing Systems program for multi-lateral R&D cooperation.