Manufacturing tied to innovation, industry leader notes

January 31, 2012

The conventional wisdom concerning manufacturing favors a move by companies to overseas markets where plentiful cheap labor exists, but Eric D. Isaacs, the director of the Argonne National Laboratory, noted that this thinking is a thing of past for the sector.

Writing in the Huffington Post, Isaacs noted that this type of thinking represents old-fashioned notions of assembly-line manufacturing that rely on human labor to "insert tab A into slot B," and the type of rinse and repeat mentality that was true for the industry many years ago.

The article noted that manufacturers are now reliant on high-tech automation that does these menial jobs and there is a move within the sector to more high-skilled labor positions. This has left American companies with a dearth of talent, however, as there is a shortage of workers in the U.S. that have the skills for these opportunities.

Isaacs explained how the American workforce is smart enough to fill these positions, but often lacks the technical training because of a focus on the wrong subjects and areas in schools. An investment by the government and companies in programs that are tightly aligned with the needs of manufacturing could help to fix this problem.

"We need to 'reshore' American manufacturing to create the kinds of productive innovation ecosystems that are powering our overseas competitors," Isaacs noted in the article. "U.S. companies cannot expect to prosper with an 'Invent it here, make it there' business model. We need to invest in new hubs of industrial innovation that will bring together researchers, inventors, investors, manufacturers — and factory workers."

He noted that the communication between workers in manufacturing and those in the R & D department will help the U.S. position itself as a leader in the sector.

The Detroit News reported that the key to the American manufacturing future is to increase the emphasis on innovation in the sector, along with providing scholarships for the next generation of students so that they have the proper skills to make a difference in the industry.

This push for innovation is helping the sector position itself against foreign competition, especially due to the gains that were made in employment and production of the past several months. Coupled with the drop in Chinese manufacturing activity, as it entered into contraction for the month of January, according to estimates cited by Business Live, the U.S. may be positioned for a resurgence in industry.