Now that 3D printing (additive manufacturing) has become the latest media darling, it's no surprise that this attention has awakened various national, state, and local authorities to its promise.  Yes, I follow these developments because I have a vested interest as someone who owns a 3D printing, engineering and manufacturing firm.  But part of my interest comes from growing up in a rust belt town once known as the "center of the universe" for steel manufacturing.  (Very few steel plants remain today).  Up the street (interstate) sits the New Stanton plant, so every time we drive between Baltimore and Pittsburgh, we pass the site. From the late 70s - late 80s, it housed a VW factory (a great coup for the state at the time) and afterward a Sony TV plant moved in and operated from the early 90s until 2008 when it also closed.  

We are too familiar with this scenario which has played out numerous times in every state. Products have life cycles.  Companies merge and consolidate.  Production shifts to locations with better labor and material costs.  So often public officials and civic leaders feel pressured to compete with one another to land the next big thing.  Is that N-B-T additive manufacturing? Maybe...

America Makes, a collaboration of government, business, academic and non-profit representatives promotes 3D printing innovation and resides in the heart of the Rust Belt.  Similar initiatives have since been launched...

An Illinois consortium was selected to lead The Digital Manufacturing & Design Innovation Institute.

The Lightweight & Modern Metals Manufacturing Innovation (LM3I) Institute will be directed by a Michigan-based consortium.

The Next Generation Power Electronics National Manufacturing Innovation Institute is comprised of a North Carolina-based consortium.

A competition is now underway (application deadline this week) to select a consortium for the Clean Energy Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Composites Materials and Structures.

And, not to be left behind, various counties, states and regions have joined pursuit.

Notice anything all these collaborations have in common?  Any west of the Mississippi?  I'm not saying there aren't any, but a quick internet search came up with none.  Nor do I begrudge the rust belt - as someone who managed and lived through a plant closing there, I support bringing back manufacturing jobs to the region.  And I live in Maryland, so obviously I'm excited about its promotion of 3D printing.  But as someone whose AM business is headquartered in Portland, Oregon (yes, it's a long commute), I don't want the Northwest to miss out. Because, at least for now, this emerging technology should generate enough opportunities for all.  The Northwest's demographics, location and passion for sustainability, collaboration, and creativity make it an ideal innovation hub.

 

 

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.