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The Future of U.S. Competitiveness and Reshoring

Harry Moser
By Harry Moser Founder/President, Reshoring Initiative

Advanced Manufacturing is the future of U.S. competitiveness and reshoring. Enhancing capabilities through the adoption of innovative technologies will increase efficiency and narrow the manufacturing cost gap with foreign competitors, thus boosting global competitiveness and enabling reshoring. Let’s look at a few vital areas in which advanced manufacturing is providing significant gains:

Apprenticeships are a key tool in developing an advanced manufacturing workforce.
  • Essential products: The COVID-19 pandemic revealed serious vulnerabilities in the U.S. pharmaceutical supply chain with shortages affecting active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and finished pharmaceutical products. The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) advanced manufacturing initiatives are strengthening the domestic drug manufacturing supply chain, providing quality pharmaceuticals for patients.

  • The FDA has long maintained the importance of advanced manufacturing technologies. In 2015, the FDA approved the first regulatory submission for a human drug produced by continuous manufacturing and the first produced by 3D printing. The FDA is working to form the regulatory framework required for these advanced technologies.

  • End-to-end continuous manufacturing, a process that integrates API and drug product manufacturing in one process.

  • Portable and modular distributed manufacturing platforms, or pharmacy-on-demand.

  • Artificial intelligence or advanced modeling approaches in manufacturing.

  • Today, 80 percent of the drugs made using advanced manufacturing technologies are produced in the U.S.

  • In May, Apple awarded precision glass supplier Corning Inc. $45 million from its $5 billion Advanced Manufacturing Fund. The funding will expand Corning’s U.S. manufacturing capacity and drive R&D into innovative new technologies. Corning had previously received $450 million from Apple’s Advanced Manufacturing Fund, which led to the development of a new glass ceramic called Ceramic Shield, which is more durable than any other smartphone glass. Apple established the fund in 2017 to support innovation and skilled manufacturing jobs across the U.S. Apple’s investments in Corning help support 1,000 U.S. jobs.

  • Amazon’s new innovation and manufacturing hub will house R&D labs and robotic manufacturing operations. The site will focus on the R&D and manufacturing of mobile drive robots that work in fulfillment facilities, directly with employees, using AI to chart the robots’ routes. The facility will create 200 new advanced manufacturing jobs.

Workforce Development

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0, is transforming work at an unparalleled pace due to rapidly changing technologies like AI, advanced robotics and cognitive automation, advanced analytics and the Internet of Things. These innovations require a highly trained workforce to bring to fruition. As manufacturers implement advanced manufacturing technologies, they will gain new levels of efficiency, quality control and visibility. To realize the full potential of these investments, they will need skilled workers.

New-collar workers must develop technical and soft skills through nontraditional educational paths including community colleges, vocational schools, software boot camps, technical certification programs, high-school technical education and on-the-job apprenticeships and internships as opposed to a four-year university degree. Manufacturers must incorporate lifelong learning into their business plans to develop the future workforce needed for advanced manufacturing. Here are some successful learning programs:

  • Rockford, Ill.-based manufacturer PBC Linear found that the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the skilled labor shortage. “The biggest problem was finding new people and getting them up to speed fast enough and then keeping them,” says Beau Wileman, a design engineer at PBC Linear. “It’s inefficient and expensive to have a manager step away from whatever he or she was doing and train.” Wileman turned to augmented reality to reduce training time and manager supervision during training. “We have since refined the process to where 70 percent of training occurs through the headset,” said Wileman.

  • The National Tooling & Machining Association (NTMA) is working to help fill the manufacturing skills gap through a suite of programs targeted at students and their families, schools, the current workforce and support organizations. The suite includes: the National Robotics League, which through robotic competition helps students forge partnerships with manufacturers; NTMA-U, an online training platform that removes the obstacles of traditional classroom-based learning; apprentice training, an ongoing best-practices program at regional and national levels; and aptitude testing that assesses the understanding of basic mechanical principles and applications of those principles to shop situations.

  • SME—through Tooling U-SME, webinars, SME Education Foundation, SME PRIME schools initiative and morecreates opportunities to advance today’s workforce and develop next-gen professionals.

Ultimately, we have unlimited control over our domestic competitiveness initiatives and our ability to achieve our ambitions. Let’s collaborate to support advanced manufacturing technologies and skilled workforce development and rebuild the U.S. manufacturing base.

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