My friends Rob Atkinson and Stephen Ezell have floated a proposal to designate 20 universities as “manufacturing universities” (see their Brookings paper and Rob’s ITIF blog posting). The idea is that the U.S. needs to put a renewed emphasis on manufacturing as part of engineering education. Their concern: “engineering departments at most major U.S. universities have shifted to a ‘science based’ model of engineering, which focuses more on publishing abstract scholarly papers than on working with private-sector firms to solve real-world problems.” To remedy this problem, they propose 20 leading universities be designated as “manufacturing universities” with a $25 million annual grant from NSF. To qualify for the funding, these universities would have to revamp their engineering teaching and research activities toward manufacturing and engage in greater joint industry-university research projects.
I think this is an intriguing idea, but would like to hear more about how it would work in practice — and what the deans of some of the engineering schools thought. As a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Engineering (many years ago), I know that there was always an emphasis on working closely with industry. In any event, additional funding for joint industry-university research would certainly be welcomed.
I do think that the proposal is incomplete, however. As I’ve noted before, “manufacturing” is a rapidly changing activity. The game is no longer “manufacturing” in old sense of the word, but “production” in the broadest sense. And all forms of production are becoming more knowledge intensive. The old narrow definition also leaves out an important component: design. So my expansion of this proposal is to also fund at least 5 d.schools.
The linkage between design and manufacturing is well established. Both are key elements in sustaining competitive advantage. As the recent MIT report on Production in the Innovation Economy (PIE) notes about leading manufacturers, “the greatest strength is a combination of design and fabrication capabilities.” The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) report last fall of a workshop on Making Value: Integrating Manufacturing, Design, and Innovation to Thrive in the Changing Global Economy makes a similar point. As one workshop participant said, “The new model is that we are all producers, we are all designers.”
That new model calls for people trained in the interface of design-engineering-business. Which is exactly what the Stanford d.school (Hasso Plattner Institute of Design) does:
The d.school is a hub for innovators at Stanford. Students and faculty in engineering, medicine, business, law, the humanities, sciences, and education find their way here to take on the world’s messy problems together. Human values are at the heart of our collaborative approach. We focus on creating spectacularly transformative learning experiences, and inevitably the innovations follow. Along the way, our students develop a process for reliably producing creative solutions to nearly any challenge. This is the core of what we do.
In a time when there is hunger for innovation everywhere, we think our primary responsibility is to help prepare a generation of students to rise with the challenges of our times. We define what it means to be a d.school student broadly, and we support “students” of design thinking who range from kindergarteners to senior executives. Our deliberate mash-up of industry, academia and the big world beyond campus is a key to our continuing evolution.
Other examples include the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology. As the Wall Street Journal reported last summer, “Forget B-School, D-School Is Hot.” More and more business schools are incorporating courses on “design thinking.”
It is time to push the envelope on this integration of manufacturing and design. Creating 5 new d.schools is not the only way to accomplish that goal. In addition, one of the new Institutes in the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation should be devoted to the embedding of design thinking in the product development and production process (see earlier posting).
Advancing manufacturing through “manufacturing universities” is a good idea. But we need to take our game to a new level. Funding 5 new d.schools would be a start.