Every nation needs a strong manufacturing base. In the United States, the issue figured prominently in the last presidential election. So it’s good timing that an initiative launched in 2014 to strengthen manufacturing—Manufacturing USA—is now bearing fruit, according to a study conducted by Deloitte.
Manufacturing USA is a national network of institutes, each one a public-private partnership with a singular technology concentration—Digital Manufacturing and Design, Photonics, Advanced Robotics, Regenerative Manufacturing, and so forth. The network brings together members of the manufacturing community to surmount technical hurdles, share technologies, and meet workforce challenges.
Deloitte said the first eight institutes (there will be 15 by the end of 2017) have reached a critical mass, connecting some 1200 participating companies, universities, and government agencies.
“Those connections are accelerating the innovation needed to develop new products and markets, helping alleviate a shortage of technically trained manufacturing workers, and building a sustainable national manufacturing research infrastructure,” according to Deloitte. “There are early signs that the institutes are reaching tipping points, where the organizations see membership as necessary to their own success, and seek out membership without being prompted,” said the study’s authors.
The Manufacturing USA network is operated by the interagency Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office, headquartered in the National Institutes of Standards and Technology in the Department of Commerce. Deloitte’s examination focused on the effectiveness of program design, assessed progress toward achieving objectives, and recommended areas for improvement.
Deloitte interviewed agency personnel, institute leadership and staff, CEOs and leaders of Fortune 500 companies, and independent manufacturing experts from research universities and industry groups. The consulting firm visited eight institutes, and used Deloitte Pixel, its enterprise crowdsourcing tool, to ascertain how participants benefitted from the network, and how it can better serve them.
The institutes have attracted the membership of companies like Boeing, GE, Johnson & Johnson, Lockheed-Martin, and Ford, as well as firms of varying sizes that earn their keep at different stops along manufacturing’s supply chain and R&D highway. Deloitte found “numerous examples of companies connecting and working together in ways that would not have occurred independent of the institutes.”
Among the comments Deloitte highlighted from interviews with members, one organization said, “Affiliation with Manufacturing USA provides access to unique opportunities to bring together multidisciplinary teams to conduct impactful research. The combination of research partners, industry members, and government interest, all focused on advanced manufacturing, exists nowhere else.”
One of Manufacturing USA’s major focus areas is workforce development, to help make sure enough workers have the skills that match the needs of today’s cutting-edge manufacturing. The report noted that “baby boomer retirements, the technical complexity of manufacturing work, a science, technology, engineering, and math [STEM] skills deficit among students, and persistent negative perceptions make it difficult for companies to fill critical roles in a timely manner.”
Deloitte said that Manufacturing USA’s most effective efforts to bridge that talent gap have been through its workforce assessments, events that engage the community, apprenticeship programs for post-secondary workers, and credentialing of industry skills.