Manufacturing is still a viable industry in the United States. As thousands of jobs have been shipped offshore, the face of manufacturing has changed. America’s answer is undoubtedly advanced manufacturing.
Advanced manufacturing doesn’t look like the manufacturing many of us know from yesteryear. Employees no longer work in production lines repeating the same process over and over again. These same employees have excellent careers, well-paying positions with room for advancement. Employees have a range of education backgrounds, but more and more companies are requiring highly skilled works to continue operations. Facilities are clean, safer, and incorporate incredible technology. Often, full products leave the facilty, not just bits and pieces to be shipped off to be incorporated as an insignificant part in a larger product.
“Advanced manufacturing is a term that’s been used loosely to explain any number of methods that take manufacturing operations to another level not easily replicated by competitors, “says Jonathan Katz in his article Advanced Manufacturing: Where is America Today?, “Economic departments, politicians and manufacturing leaders use the phrase to describe where U.S. manufacturers need to be in the future if they’re going to remain globally competitive” (Katz 2010).
This global competitiveness often includes nanotechnology, direct digital fabrication, micro manufacturing, and precision metal working, among many more technologies. “Advanced manufacturing is most commonly referenced as the use of high-tech processes, often involving factory automation, or the development of innovative products,” says Katz. Rusty Patterson, president and CEO of the National Council of Advanced Manufacturing makes this distinction, “It’s not just robotics. It can encompass new manufacturing technologies that we’ve developed that other people don’t have; it can be processing technologies that we’ve developed that others don’t have, including automation; it even can be areas where the education level is such that it can’t be readily duplicated in Third World countries,” (Katz 2010).
Some of the processes or concepts that have offered a competitive edge in the past have included Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma and Total Quality Management (Katz 2010). To stay ahead of that edge, to define that edge, United States manufacturers will have to implement more innovative, knowledge based processes and concepts. The concept of teaming is often incorporated into the advanced manufacturing facility; management teams are dissolved and the team becomes those on the floor who will decide which orders to fill and how they will approach that goal. They are also responsible for disciplining each other. Manufacturers have seen great success in their facilities where this has been implemented including productivity increases. But all of this requires strong educational programs. The strongest programs also required the work of a team.
“The lack of skilled workers could be one of the greatest hindrances to pushing U.S. manufacturers ahead of foreign competitors in the advanced-manufacturing race,” writes Katz. The best answer to supporting a system that fills these positions quickly, is a program where economic development groups, public policy organizations, and educators from middle and high schools, community colleges, and colleges and universities collaborate.
“The trick for American manufacturing is to identify what needs to be here and raise the bar on how we do it and how we train our workforce,” Steven Dwyer, a former Rolls-Royce Corp. president and chief operating officer, “If we don’t, we’re a nation without manufacturing, and we’re in for a long economic decline (Katz 2010).
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Katz, Jonathan. “ADVANCED MANUFACTURING: WHERE IS AMERICA TODAY?.” Industry Week/IW 259.10 (2010): 26-30. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 6 May 2011.