Tag Archives: manufacturing

Advanced manufacturing: Here, there, and everywhere

Little did I know that I am a pawn in a giant winner-takes-all chess match that has been playing out between the U.S. and China over the last decade or so. If you are a Berkeley grad student in engineering or science, there’s a pretty good chance you are, too.

At least, that’s one of the impressions I came away with after attending yesterday’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP) Regional Meeting here on campus. The public workshop — organized by both Berkeley and Stanford — served as a brainstorming session for ways to shape the recently announced AMP program, a $500 million initiative created to revitalize America’s manufacturing sector. The lineup of speakers and panelists included numerous VIP’s from industry, government, and academia who expressed their commitment to implementing solutions to the decline of manufacturing in the U.S. through AMP.

Should Americans make stuff? Do we really need to ask?

John Henry. Paul Bunyan. Rosie the Riveter. Many of the American icons of the past have something in common: they made things. And for a long time, the rest of the country followed suit, becoming the world’s leading producer of manufactured goods throughout the 20th century.

Rosie the RiveterToday, the story has changed. Manufacturing jobs are increasingly being outsourced—and not just because other countries offer cheaper labor. Positions requiring both high and low skilled workers have flowed steadily out of the country for the last few decades, to the point that China and Germany have recently surpassed the U.S. as the world’s top exporters.

An argument can be made that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with having less domestic manufacturing. Indeed, American corporations like IBM are often applauded for transitioning from manufacturing to services because of the opportunity to earn higher profit margins. This sentiment is even more visible at the level of individuals: doctors, lawyers and movie stars are among the wealthiest members of society, even though they don’t make anything tangible. If providing services works for individuals and corporations, it would seem that the U.S. could likewise pay its bills (and then some) as a global service provider in return for manufactured goods.