Living so close to the D.C. beltway, one can't help but sense the government's presence.  Many businesses in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia have strong ties to federal and state agencies (and their spending).  While we might argue about the advantages, disadvantages and appropriateness of these relationships, there are times when government support can make a difference...

In Maryland, RapidMade belongs to an additive manufacturing community, 3D MD, that was initiated by state and county officials anxious to ensure that Maryland was poised to ride the 3D printing wave to a manufacturing renaissance. 

"3D Maryland is a state-wide leadership initiative to increase engagement between 3D printing and additive manufacturing and regional businesses, industry, and entrepreneurs. By building on our regional strengths and growing a local advanced manufacturing ecosystem, the program will collectively move to strengthen Maryland’s economy.

We also look to increase the awareness of 3D printing and additive manufacturing technologies and the competitive advantages these technologies offer. Through the increased awareness we hope to drive business growth, facilitate engagement and implementation, transform existing companies, and create new start-ups."

3D MD practices what it preaches.  An innovation and prototyping lab was created for business and public use.  A host of educational and networking events are held regularly, and Jan Baum, 3D MD's director, evangelizes statewide and in D.C., trying to convert anyone willing to listen.

Why should folks in the Pacific North West take note?  Here are a couple of reasons:

We need to make sure that we don't get left behind.  Sometimes the independent, pioneering spirit that made our region so strong can isolate us.  Because we are so far removed from the political epicenter, we miss out on some of its opportunities.  Is it a coincidence that none of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation's regional centers are west of the Mississippi?

Networks like 3D MD create strong communities that promote awareness and collaboration. I've only been here a year, and I probably know as many, if not more, additive manufacturing professionals in Maryland than I do in Oregon.  Yes, the Maker Movement might encourage smaller-scale ecosystems to evolve, but will they be as vibrant and sustainable?  And given what is at stake, can we rely on organic growth to ensure the Pacific North West emerges as a leader in Additive Manufacturing?

 

The Atlantic released this fantastic article about reshoring manufacturing back into the United States. 

The article focuses mainly on the dichotomy of Chinese and American manufacturing and how global and domestic economic, cultural and technological changes are bringing manufacturers back to the United States for a variety of reasons.

The first half of the article is about the changing trends in Chinese manufacturing. Wages are rising because high turnover is making their manufacturing costs higher and output less reliable, but also because there is a very Henry Ford-like version of "Benefactor Capitalism" taking place. Just as the famous Gilded Age Entrepreneur started paying a $5 living wage to deal with his own turnover, he also wanted to expand the market for his own product. In the very same mold do Chinese manufacturers like Foxconn see growth in the expansion of domestic markets, even if it negatively effects exports.

As imports from China are less attractive due to price, they were already even less attractive due to the greatly increased lead times of communicating concepts, developing products and supply chains, and shipping finished goods back home. Couple this with quality and intellectual property risks often recounted in manufacturing horror stories and the costs of moving production overseas are starting to outweigh the benefits.

The other half of the article talks about how American manufacturers are seeing how technological advances, decreased time to market, increased agility, and growing consumer receptiveness to domestic (read: Made in USA) products is adding value to their businesses at home.

Domestic manufacturing has taken a depressing turn over the past three decades, but this article makes a clear case based on global trends that we have bottomed out and have nowhere to go but up.