New manufacturing reports — and focusing our efforts

A couple of new reports on manufacturing. Make: An American Manufacturing Movement from the Council on Competitiveness and 2011 Next Generation Manufacturing Study from the Manufacturing Performance Institute. The former looks at a number of economic and technology policies — such as taxation, regulation, immigration, training etc. The latter focuses on the business level with a scorecard as to how we are doing on six key Next Generation Manufacturing (NGM) strategies: process improvement, customer-focused innovation, human-capital management, supply chain management, sustainability, and global engagement. Given both the state-of-play in manufacturing (see earlier postings) and the state of policy making in Washington, I think the company level focus is more productive activity.
In that regard, the Next Generation Manufacturing Study holds out some hope and points the way to the challenges. The good news is that companies understand the issues. The bad news is that they are having trouble implementing solutions. For example:

82% of manufactures have business systems and equipment to support “current requirements” for customer-focused innovation (the highest percentage among any of the six strategies) — but only a small percentage of manufacturers describe their tools as “state-of-the-art,” capable of providing long-term support for this or other NGM strategies.

The study shows that companies are attempting to change this and are reaching out to external partners for help — including the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). [BTW – the only mention of the MEP in the Make report is to say that MEP should help companies use computer simulation and modeling tools.]
So in a time of limited resources, let’s focus on providing that help and creating the tools the companies need to succeed. Here is my basic roadmap: Start with a major expansion of the MEP budget and tool key (to include innovation and management of intangible assets). Move on to more manufacturing oriented train (as advocated in the Make report. And then craft a full blown manufacturing strategy to creates a high-valued added industry that both exports and provides a robust supply chain for domestic production.
Manufacturing is undergoing a transformation. By focusing on how to foster that transformation we can create a more health and balanced economy.

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