U.S. manufacturing looks to support return of work from China

July 23, 2012

The American manufacturing industry is beginning to see a large amount of work coming back to the U.S. from China, a move that would require expansion of domestic production capacity and employment.

Forbes reported that China is currently trying to stave off the collapse of several key sectors, but the manufacturing bubble that exists in the Asian superpower may not be something that can be fixed.

According to the news outlet, the Chinese sector benefited from subsidies, cheap labor, lax regulations and rigging its currency, and American companies initially took the bait. However, as these things are exposed, through a number of outside factors, the industry in China is likely to collapse.

Companies such as Caterpillar, Dow Chemicals, GE and Ford are bringing work back to the U.S., as concerns about rising labor costs, government-sponsored intellectual property theft and production time lags hurt the reputation of the sector.

While these factors have contributed to the return of work to the U.S., other issues will expedite the change and bring American manufacturing back to a position of power.

According to Forbes, this transition is supported by a set of technologies that are advancing at exponential rates and converging. Among these advances are robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and 3D printing.

These technologies will allow U.S. firms to surpass their Chinese counterparts before many of the cost advantages come into play, but there is a growing concern that American manufacturers will not be able to find a skilled workforce to support this increased workload.

CNN Money reported that with all of the benefits of lean manufacturing and efficient production associated with the U.S. industry, it is seriously lacking qualified workers. While less intensive work will be supported by the workforce that currently exists, more developed processes will need additional candidates.

"There will always be an advantage to having service locally," one factory owner told the news outlet. "When people need something banged out quickly, they can't get it shipped in time from China. And here, they're a few blocks away if a pleat's not right."

Unlike these more traditional operations, when companies need a specific set of skills they often struggle to find qualified workers. If work picks up, there needs to be a support system provided by skilled professionals, and this adjustment needs to happen sooner rather than later to sustain growth in the industry.