A Manufacturing Renaissance

manufacturingPicture source: www.investtoronto.ca


Industrial Engineer-Volume 46 Number 1

For decades, the news for manufacturing in the United States has been bleak. So many sources have reported about manufacturing going offshore for so long that it is almost a foregone conclusion that U.S. manufacturing takes place largely outside of the U.S. But things have been changing in the last few years. The Associated Press reported that U.S. manufacturing grew in November 2013 at the fastest pace in two and half years. And according to White House blogger Jason Miller, surveys show that more than half of all manufacturers are actively considering reshoring production to the United States.

Ben Wang, executive director of the Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute, his interests go beyond traditional manufacturing, or manufacturing 1.0, returning to the U.S. He and his colleagues at GTMI are working toward a new kind of manufacturing rooted in innovation and systems thinking (advanced manufacturing or manufacturing 2.0). The bottom line is a focus in innovation to create high value-add products. The approach will require looking at the entire system instead of discrete events.

Wang said that in the past, manufacturing was really assembly or machining within four walls of a factory, but in advanced manufacturing, it has to be looked as the whole value stream from design, machining, assembly, distribution, logistics, workforce – the whole infrastructure. Industrial Engineers are qualified and trained to look at everything as a system as opposed to individual components, so IEs really have an advantage and would fit well in the new system of manufacturing 2.0.

The grand challenges are articulated by Wang in an impressive video on the GTMI website. A critical component in achieving such goals is to have the government facilitate them. Fortunately for GTMI, a government initiative was already in the works to push advanced manufacturing forward.

In 2011, President Barack Obama created the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP). Partly due to the work conducted at GTMI, Obama selected Georgia Tech President G.P “Bud” Peterson to serve on the AMP steering committee.

In September 2013, the White House announced the second phase of AMP – AMP 2.0 – which will focus on implementing the plans laid out in the first phase of the initiative, and Wang was asked to serve on the operations committee.

In March 2013, the Aspen Institute, an education and policy studies organization, released a report titled “A Manufacturing Resurgence,” but Wang thinks a better title would have been “A Manufacturing Renaissance.” Wang says the report is the result of a study that lays out two scenarios for U.S. manufacturing.

GTMI’s goals are right in line with government initiatives, and the institute is focused on working with companies like Boeing, Caterpillar and Siemens on high-level research projects in advanced manufacturing. One project GTMI is working on for U.S. Veteran Affairs is called SOCAT, which stands for socket optimized for comfort with advanced technology. According to the research summary, researchers are improving amputees’ comfort, functionality, gait and mobility by leveraging innovative materials, advanced manufacturing and printed electronics to build a better integrated prosthetic socket system.

Wang came on board at Georgia Tech in January 2012 after in January 2012 after spending nearly 20 years at Florida State University building the school’s industrial engineering master’s and doctoral degree programs from ground up. He also led the development of the High Performance Materials Institute and the Center of excellence in Advanced Materials for the state of Florida.

He was so contented at FSU that he could only be lured away to Tech by the potential for creating the go-to place for advanced manufacturing and high value-added innovation.