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On June 24, President Obama announced the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP) between the federal government, academia, and businesses to help stimulate the manufacturing sector of the U.S. economy. We have been following the so-called “Missing Middle” of small- to medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) on this blog, and I’d like to describe some of the recent initiatives to engage this high-potential segment of our economy.

Speaking at Carnegie Mellon University, Obama described that AMP would allocate $500 million of federal money to help make U.S. manufacturing more competitive around the world.

Inspired by a report drafted by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), which found that there are market failures in the advanced manufacturing space that need to be overcome by government intervention, AMP will focus on five initiatives:

  1. Manufacturing for national security
  2. Materials science
  3. Robotics
  4. Energy efficiency
  5. Developing partnerships and consortia between government, universities, and industry

Concurrently, the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (SMLC) released a report that outlined priorities for the next phase of developments in advanced manufacturing. A great new resource that follows this market segment, wrote about the opportunities that await U.S. manufacturers:

While US industry is making incremental progress in using smart manufacturing, the infrastructure needed to deliver the full potential of this knowledge-based manufacturing environment has yet to be developed, according to the [SMLC] report. This infrastructure will enable customers to tell flexible factories of the future what products they want made, reduce time-to-market, drive greater exports due to lower production costs, minimize energy use and materials while maximizing environmental sustainability, and create opportunities for increasingly skilled workers.

The strategy for spurring growth in the manufacturing sector relies on developing new technology (i.e. so-called “advanced manufacturing”) and training high-skilled workers rather than funding current forms of production. The co-chair of AMP, Andrew Liveris, has mirrored this trend during his tenure as CEO of Dow Chemical, where he has outsourced the simpler manufacturing tasks to other countries and focused on employing the latest manufacturing  technologies within the United States.

There are other plans in place to help speed up technological innovation in manufacturing, especially to accelerate the adoption of high-performance computing (HPC) for conceptual design, drafting, and simulation.

Jon Riley, Executive Director of the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS), recently described in an article his vision for Predictive Innovation Centers (PICs). These would allow small and medium size manufacturing firms (which have been slow to adapt to HPC capabilities, unlike their larger counterparts such as Boeing and Caterpillar) to access manufacturing applications hosted in the cloud running on supercomputing environments.

Companies such as Altair Engineering, which released its HyperWorks on Demand (HWOD) suite of software in June, are also trying to reduce barriers to entry for SMMs. By offering to host resource-hungry HPC applications in the cloud and creating simplified software licensing plans, Altair allows smaller manufacturers to use Altair’s advanced manufacturing software without the expense of housing and maintaining a multi-node computing cluster themselves.

The recent confluence of public and private efforts to develop advanced manufacturing technologies – including HPC – in the U.S. seems like a reasonable and promising way to invigorate the manufacturing sector.

If you still believe that manufacturing is not a “hot” industry anymore, then maybe this video of new 3D scanning and 3D printing technology by Z Corporation will change your mind.