Innovation Key to Preserving Domestic Manufacturing Strength

November 7, 2013
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America: land of the free and the home of Innovation? Yes…for now.

But according to a recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study, the United States needs to step up domestic manufacturing, or the country’s thriving innovation economy is at risk of flight.

“We think there’s no task more urgent in the United States than to rebuild the capabilities in the industrial ecosystem,” Suzanne Berger, MIT professor and author of an in-depth study on global manufacturing, told the Boston Herald during a recent interview. “What we need is the kinds of production that will allow us to get the great ideas…out into the world rapidly.”

Berger, who worked with a team of MIT professors for two years to develop the Production in the Innovation Economy report, notes that the softening of domestic manufacturing not only indicates that companies are looking overseas for production, but that they also are being lured to relocate overseas entirely.

While it might seem natural to argue the study’s findings, there is no disputing that many industries require manufacturing and research and development facilities to function within close proximity of each other.

On the face of it, this sounds like good news. With a large proportion of R&D taking place stateside, it seems that manufacturing is likely to stay. Ultimately, though, if a North American manufacturing renaissance fails to gain steam, companies could choose to relocate completely, taking more and more of their organizations oversees to be closer to their manufacturing facilities.

All is not lost, however. Big ideas can—and will—continue to come from small businesses. And while the large players are trying to figure out where to move what, the independent shop, the frontline of American manufacturing, will perpetually advance meaningful innovations, serving as the lifeblood of innovation.

“Innovation at its core is really about generating new ideas, historically, this is what helped make America competitive,” says DVIRC Vice President Mark Basla. “Innovation is often envisioning a new way of doing something, or a new product that meets a market desire never articulated by the market, or a new technology, like 3d printing that presents a competitive distinction. It’s also essential that leaders collaborate with different perspectives in the idea-generation process; suppliers, customers, engineers, business and creative talent that help see and develop the opportunity.”

Moving forward, determination and a commitment to leapfrogging the current state will be essential. During the same two years that this study was conducted, there were surely dozens of small, highly innovative manufacturing startups that made big waves in their competitive landscapes. Looking ahead at the next two years, ask yourself: what can you do to radically offset these challenges?

Those familiar with the inner workings of small to midsized enterprises (SMEs) will be the first to point out that their size makes them nimble, their resource constraints often force them to build solutions versus buying them, and their creativity is rarely stifled by burdensome corporate procedures. It’s time for SMEs to put their competencies to work. It’s time for them to be the change we need to expend our industrial economy.

For more information on how DVIRC can assist in idea generation for new products, new markets, or new processes, call 215-552-3800 or email info@dvirc.org