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America and a good part of the world are redefining the role that manufacturing plays in a healthy economic ecosystem and what it takes to remain competitive in a connected world. The wrenching changes that eliminated a significant portion of our manufacturing base during the recession are also driving angst and introspection among our companies, academic leaders and politicians.

A 21st century model

What’s become clear is that manufacturing matters, and high-value manufacturing industries will increasingly drive national prosperity. The times of competition on pure cost are behind us, and a new paradigm of creating manufacturing value is ahead. Advanced manufacturing spurs innovation and investment, strengthens economies and creates higher-income jobs. However, this new paradigm requires a highly skilled and innovative workforce, from the shop floor to the executive suite.

The current definition of advanced manufacturing covers a number of technologies, including smart factories, smart or connected products, advanced materials, additive manufacturing, advanced robotics, predictive analytics and many more. Fortunately, the United States remains highly competitive in advanced industries like commercial aerospace, military aerospace, composites and advanced materials, information and communications, motor vehicles and energy technology. However, relentless innovation is required.

America’s new role

The United States continues to drive innovation and holds many powerful tools to retain its position and gain ground. One of the best, but least-understood, assets in this global competition is the important role that the U.S. research-based universities play in the manufacturing ecosystem. New models for collaboration between companies, universities and government are emerging to support this ecosystem.

On the national level, one example of an “innovation club” is a $140 million coalition announced in June to drive technological advances in manufacturing. Nearly 200 partners from more than 30 states form the new Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute, part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. Coalition partners span industry, nonprofits and universities, including the University of Virginia, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of California, Berkeley.  

Such partnerships between industry, universities and government hold great promise where members share resources and remain focused on translational value while developing and training the engineers, researchers and workforce for today and the future.