August 2011 / Volume 63 / Issue 8|
Will plan amp up manufacturing?
By Alan Rooks, Editorial Director
In late June, President Obama unveiled a plan for the latest U.S. manufacturing initiative in a speech at Carnegie Mellon University. Obama spoke about the need for U.S. manufacturing to remain competitive, and how the new “Advanced Manufacturing Partnership” would do that. The partnership is an effort to bring corporations, universities and the federal government together to invest in emerging technologies that will create manufacturing jobs.
The AMP will be supported by $500 million from existing federal programs, existing federal funding and pending appropriations, according to Ron Bloom, assistant to the president for manufacturing policy.
The president noted that scientists and entrepreneurs generate lots of ideas, but many companies don’t invest in them because they don’t have quick payback. Helping commercialize those ideas is the AMP’s focus.
Another goal is to ensure that advanced technology reaches smaller manufacturers. To help make this happen, the Council on Competitiveness, a nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization based in Washington, D.C., is piloting a program with federal funding from the Economic Development Administration. Under the program, a group of 30 companies will work together to determine the best way to disseminate technology and best practices. The group plans to work with Manufacturing Extension Partnerships around the country to reach small manufacturers.
The AMP has support from manufacturing leaders, including Carlos Cardoso, chairman, president and CEO of Kennametal Inc., and John Surma, chairman, president and CEO of United States Steel Corp., who were on hand for the speech. Douglas Woods, president of AMT – The Association for Manufacturing Technology, also supports it. “AMT is encouraged by the administration’s continued focus on the manufacturing sector,” Woods said. “The Advanced Manufacturing Partnership is the second initiative announced in June that emphasizes recommendations set forth in AMT’s Manufacturing Mandate.”
The AMP is backed by a new report, “Implementing 21st Century Smart Manufacturing,” from The Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition, a group of leaders from business and academia. The report sets the top 10 priorities for modernizing 20th century factories with 21st century digital information, the group stated.
According to the report, U.S. industry needs infrastructure that will enable customers to tell flexible factories what products they want made, reduce time-to-market, increase exports, minimize energy usage and create opportunities for highly skilled workers.
To accomplish this, the report said the U.S. will need:
The AMP has an ambitious goal and, of course, one question is how much the government should be involved in directing technology development. It’s a legitimate concern, given budget pressures. And it’s clear that, with a presidential election looming, part of the reason for the AMP is President Obama wants to be seen developing jobs in an era of stubbornly high unemployment.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney suggested that the president is “out of touch” for saying that young Americans should seek jobs in the sector, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. “Last month, 5,000 people lost their jobs in manufacturing,” Romney said during an appearance in Detroit. “The president seems to be out of touch with what’s happening in his own economy.”
But there is and has been a legitimate role for government in encouraging development of new technology. From the Department of Defense to the system of national laboratories to NASA, the government has often been a catalyst for precommercial research that plays a crucial role in the development of new products and new manufacturing methods. Not only is the funding for development of advanced manufacturing important, the public acknowledgement that manufacturing is still vital—and the source of new jobs—is a crucial message to the public in these perilous economic times. CTE
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