6/11/13 9:58 AM – WSJ Terrific Article on Manufacturing Innovation

The Wall St. Journal, one of the world’s great newspapers and very much worth either a paper or online subscription, even for people who don’t work in finance, had a fascinating special section called Unleashing Innovation in Tuesday’s paper. Find it online here.

There are huge implications for the American economy that may be gleaned from this report, mainly that much more manufacturing is going to be done in the US by digital machines, eliminating much of the reliance on foreign labor, not leading to a lot of jobs in the US, but those it does create are engineering and computer jobs for which the US is woefully short in having enough adequately educated personnel. Quality control will be better, innovation time cut dramatically, the supply chain much shorter, time to market shorter, manufacturing use of electricity and energy cut. Some companies are already making this a reality.

Here are some highlights.

The Bad
Manufacturing’s share of US GDP in 1970 – 22.7%, in 2012 – 11.9%
Percentage of bachelor’s degrees in engineering in 2008 – Asia overall 17%, China 34%, US 4%

The Good
Difference in manufacturing costs between US and China in 2003 – 18%, in 2012 – 7%
The US has lower manufacturing costs than Canada and Europe but 11% higher than Mexico
Percentage of large US manufacturers planning to return production to the US from offshore – 48%

Digital Additive Manufacturing

Digital manufacturing, whether 3D printing or cold spray printing dramatically lowers the need for human assembly (read: low cost labor) and so a greater ability to locate manufacturing close to the end user in the US

Cold spraying is a new additive manufacturing process in which metallic particles are blasted through a nozzle at such high speeds that they cling to each other, forming a designed object as the nozzle is manipulated.

A single piece of additive manufacturing equipment can replace hundreds of custom-designed machines, each designed to do a single task

Factories can be largely staffed by robotic machines, so that factory lights and temperature control may not be needed much, generating big cost savings (“lights-out manufacturing”)

Digital collaboration dramatically telescopes the design and engineering process, greatly cutting the time to get new innovations and designs into production

3D printers can now print parts with a variety of materials rather than just one

Because additive manufacturing (3D printing and cold spray printing) works from digital models of objects the threat of intellectual property theft is greatly magnified

Quality control is greatly enhanced in additive, digital manufacturing; each piece is an exact replica

Additive manufacturing has advanced so much that GE is seeking to make as many parts as possible from additive manufacturing for its next generation LEAP jet engine and next-generation 777 engine.

Nike now has a 3D-printed mass market consumer product, the Flyknit shoe. Manufacturing that way cut material waste by 80%, greatly reduced the number of parts, and eliminated the need for a great deal of overseas hand labor common to sneaker production.