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Report: Continued U.S. Manufacturing Competitiveness Could Hinge on Collaboration

Posted By David Brousell, December 01, 2015 at 2:45 PM, in Category: Transformative Technologies

Faced with increasing global competition as well as talent and skills shortages at home, U.S. manufacturers should improve how they collaborate with government, academia, and other businesses in order to continue to drive innovation.

This is one of the major conclusions of a new study by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd.’s Global Consumer & Industrial Products group and the U.S. Council on Competitiveness (CoC).

Even though the U.S. currently enjoys a leadership position in research, technology, and innovation, the study warns that the lead may not be secure. “The U.S. currently spends the most of any nation in terms of R&D – with a 23 percent share of global R&D spend – but China is on pace to overtake America’s leadership in R&D investments by the end of the decade,” said Deborah L. Wince-Smith, president and CEO of the CoC.

Deloitte and CoC said that a majority of the executives interviewed for the study are concerned about foreign countries’ “providing targeted support” for their manufacturing sectors. Two recent examples of state-sponsored manufacturing competition are India, with its “Made in India” manufacturing initiative, and China, with its “Made in China 2025” smart manufacturing strategy. http://bit.ly/1D56PWK

They also said that executives are concerned about the U.S. talent pool and a “widening skills gap” as manufacturing becomes more technology-intensive.

But Craig Giffi, a vice chairman of Deloitte, said that one possible way for American manufacturing to better compete could be to “strengthen our collaborative mechanisms within the innovation ecosystem – capitalizing on proximities to national research and innovation clusters, as well as a strong entrepreneurial spirit.”

Giffi said that this would require “seamless coordination” among government entities, national labs, universities, businesses, venture capital, and entrepreneurial start-ups. “Though the U.S. remains a global advanced-technology leader, retaining our leadership depends in large part on how successfully and holistically our innovation ecosystem operates moving forward,” Giffi said.

In a telephone interview, Giffi acknowledged that coordinating the required entities is a big challenge facing the U.S., which doesn’t have a formal national manufacturing strategy. Such a strategy has been talked about over the years but has never gained much traction, he noted.

The coordination issue remains, though, and Giffi said that he would like to see a “national clearinghouse” that could “connect the dots” throughout the nation’s innovation ecosystem. And the first step, he says, is helping manufacturers simply understand what’s available to them from that system.

“A lot of how do we do it (the coordination) starts with getting visibility on what’s available,” Giffi said.

Another key to improving competitiveness, the report says, is advanced technologies. Deloitte and CoC identified what they called the 10 “most promising” advanced technologies that could, if they are successfully adopted and used by manufacturers, improve competitiveness of companies as well as the nation as a whole.

The 10 technologies cited in the report are: predictive analytics; the Internet of Things, including smart, connected products and smart factories; advanced materials; digital design, simulation, and integration; high performance computing; advanced robotics; 3D printing and scanning; open-source design/direct customer input; and augmented reality systems.

“By investing in advanced manufacturing technologies, nations may enhance their competitiveness and drive economic prosperity,” Giffi said. “Investments in R&D can lead to advanced manufacturing capabilities. This, in turn, can lead to more complex and exclusive products for export – and these high tech, often high-value, exports can then make a nation more competitive.”

But as a recent Manufacturing Leadership Council survey revealed, the widespread talent shortage and growing skills gap facing U.S. manufacturers could very well end up creating a constraint on manufacturers’ adoption of the advanced technologies that could make them more competitive. http://bit.ly/1N1YovJ

Giffi described this as a “vicious circle”, a two-pronged dynamic in which companies will use advanced technologies to address talent shortages to some extent by expanding automation but will also need to attract workers with newer, IT-related skills such as in data analytics in order to embrace and leverage the potential of advanced technologies.

“More and more manufacturers will solve the problem by automating the manufacturing process, which requires getting more skilled workers,” he said. “But it is easier to find a smaller number of skilled people, train them, and keep them. The battle is about finding and training a small cadre of workers for the Factory of the Future.”

To access the full Deloitte/CoC report, click here: http://bit.ly/1QbQMuT

Written by David Brousell

Global Vice President, General Manager and Editorial Director of the Manufacturing Leadership Council

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