US Manufacturing Could be Brought Back Using These Technology Trends

Joe Weinlick
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A major two-year study from MIT came out in June 2016, examining the state of U.S. manufacturing as it compares to Germany and China. Authors of the study turned their interviews, questions and visits of more than 250 firms into a book titled "Making in America." The book outlines ways American companies can bring back manufacturing to U.S. soil, especially as the sector follows technology trends.

The key takeaway is that innovation drives production in U.S. manufacturing. When companies find better and faster ways to innovate, products reach the hands of consumers sooner. The difficulty is that startups decide to offshore their products from the start rather than keeping the manufacturing process in the United States. That's why a lot of policymakers, business leaders and academics focus on funding to keep startups and their products in America rather than sending that production overseas.

The idea behind the startup push is to save U.S. manufacturing for future generations and not just propping up economic data every quarter. To that end, the MIT study outlines four major technology trends that can keep companies from sending manufacturing talents to foreign countries.

1. Investments

Startups used to need hundreds of thousands of dollars to create production lines that spit out prototypes. Now, U.S. manufacturing firms can buy a 3-D printer that creates initial product runs for much less money. Firms can now design distributed manufacturing to customize their needs to the customers they serve. The trick is keeping these manufacturers from moving their production overseas once the initial batches come out. The speed of 3-D printing comes into play when companies need to bring custom-made items to market quickly.

2. Robotics

The latest automation technology isn't about robots that do one specialized job. Adaptive and collaborative robots, similar to the model named Baxter from Rethink Robotics, work alongside humans on production lines to do repetitive tasks more efficiently. These machines can do many jobs along the line instead of just one specialized task. The difficulty with robots is that they tend to reduce human labor costs and eliminate jobs, but as labor costs rise in China, U.S. manufacturing may use robotics to keep expenses down while keeping a competitive edge.

3. Energy

Cheap oil from shale gas is great, but companies must come up with more efficient ways to create products to reduce energy costs. In some areas of manufacturing, biological processes, rather than mechanical processes, can save money. Drug manufacturers and energy producers could see benefits of biology over technology as they reduce energy needs.

4. Speed

All of this technology leads to accelerating the manufacturing process. When companies make something faster, products get to market more quickly and the company can start making money. Firms must reduce the time from invention to production to remain at the forefront of the sector.

Researchers noted that U.S. manufacturing lags behind both China and Germany in terms of a supportive environment for growing the manufacturing sector. Business leaders and the federal government must continue to help companies innovate, collaborate and keep high-paying jobs in America for the manufacturing renaissance to continue.

Photo courtesy of suphakit73 at


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