Up to this point, US manufacturing – the newly discovered darling of economists and academics – has been leading the charge in this lethargic recovery. Despite other areas of our economy that remain anchors around its neck, the US industrial base – God bless us – continues to exceed expectations by out-performing almost every other sector.
And this, despite 3 straight months of contraction. Even under duress, US manufacturing continues to prove its value to a competitive economy.
That’s all impressive, but what if there was actual clarity around where to go, what to do, what not to do, and how to do it, with regard to manufacturing? Imagine the strength of the manufacturing sector – and the economy as a whole – if we weren’t so impossibly, frustratingly fractured and discombobulated.
I’m not going to get into who or what caused the housing & mortgage crisis in this country. There’s plenty of blame to go around for that.
And I’m not gonna offer any recommendations on what we could be doing to fix it. Again, you could waltz across Texas on the opinions offered up every day.
What has me curious is why we’re not seeing more concern in manufacturing about its impact on hiring and the lack of talent to grow manufacturing and accelerate reshoring & innovation in the US.
The reality is that with so many houses underwater, so many homeowners tied to them, and so many potential employers in manufacturing ready but unable to hire, the mortgage crisis must be included in any discussions about what’s causing our lack of manufacturing talent and how to help relieve that deficit.
The pendulum swings, whether we like it or not.
There’s been a lot of talk about unions lately, what with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s failed recall election.
I think we’re in an odd spot these days. And it’s getting more odd. Our dialogue has become so incensed and self-serving that I’m not sure we’re seeing clearly right now. And that’s not good – because now’s not the time for us to be distracted, or off our game. We should be paying attention and looking for solutins more now that at any time in recent memory.
I recently attended the RAPID 2012 show in Atlanta. For those that don’t know, RAPID is an annual trade show and technical exposition hosted by SME, and dedicated to the promotion & growth of Additive Manufacturing (AM)and its related technologies. RAPID 2012 marked the 9th year of the show’s existence.
AM isn’t necessarily new. Many of its parts have been ‘around’ for some time – stereolithography, 3D Printing, Laser Sintering, to name a few. But as a technology, it’s still in its early stages. And like most industrial technologies before it, we’re learning as we develop AM. Make no mistake – AM will influence legitimate applications, and will greatly alter how we design and build things.
The show floor and conferences at RAPID 2012 focused primarily on where AM is as a technology, how that technology is expanding, and sharing interesting AM examples from shop floors, from around the world.
But what struck me most about AM was its potential beyond the technical, beyond the tools, and beyond the processes. The technologists and professionals at RAPID were laser-focused (pun intended) on developing and proliferating AM as a technology, and they (and the show itself) hit a home run in that regard. And there are many in our industries that are much better at describing the details of AM’s technology than I.
But I saw things there that made me look beyond the technology, and I came away with a set of new perspectives on – and possibilities of – AM’s potential impact on business, supply chains & whole economies. And even our culture.
Here are 3 ways that I see that Additive Manufacturing may very well upend our lives and the ways we do business, and sooner than you might think:
There is no reasonable debate – as far as I’m concerned – against this country getting its ‘Buy American’ game on.
Our manufacturing base has been decimated by this 20+ year race to the bottom, eroded to the point of desperation. There are several right-thinking organizations and individuals dedicated to reversing this trend to bring sanity – along with high-paying jobs & national security – back into our country’s economic equation. And I believe that they are absolutely right. But I’d like to suggest that – in the realities of a global economy – we might want to think before approaching ‘Buy American’ as an ‘all or nothing’ goal.
In times like these, our instincts are to react quickly. We see the emergency for what it is – some would say HAVE SEEN it for some time – and understand that time is precious. We want the pendulum to swing back to the other side. Just do it. Make it stop.
But the laws of unintended consequences have a way of cutting off noses to spite faces. And I think we’d do well to consider these points before we decide that ‘Made In The USA’ is the only acceptable option, for every case.