Thursday, June 27, 2013

Manufacturing Matters

Rail service between Lowell and Boston
Rail service between Lowell and Boston began in 1835.
My wife and I have just returned from a road trip in the Eastern United States. The trip gave us a great opportunity to visit some of historical and industrial landmarks from the 19th century. My reading over the last few months has also focused on that time period.

These experiences have brought home how important manufacturing has been to our country.  In the Civil War, the Union had a greater population and greater manufacturing capacity than the Confederacy. While the link between manufacturing capacity and the ability to make more and better weapons is obvious, the population superiority is also linked to industrialization.

The mill towns like Lowell and Fall River, Massachusetts and the railroad centers of New York and Chicago provided employment and opportunity for a much greater group of people than the agrarian economy of the South. Once the Union was able to mobilize its resources and focus on the war effort, the outcome was inevitable.

Cotton looms in a water driven mill
Cotton looms in a water driven mill in Lowell, Massachusetts

In both of the World Wars, the United States was able to play a pivotal role in preserving democracy. Roosevelt's "Arsenal of Democracy" was possible because of the investments made in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century in rail infrastructure, steel mills and vehicle manufacturing.

In times of peace, manufacturing has been the engine that powered the growth of the middle class. Making things provides employment and opportunity for people with wide sets of skills.  Those people fuel the consumer spending that creates more opportunities to make things.

I feel that our country has outsourced too much manufacturing and I am pleased to see the trend reversing. Apple's announcements that the new models of their desktop computers will be built in Texas is both real and symbolic good news.

Trends away from mass production and toward personalized and personally configurable production also bode well for a manufacturing renaissance in the United States. The future of manufacturing will feature small work cells, equipped with 3D printers, close to the final consumers.
Terri Williams at the first Crane Paper site.
Terri at the first Crane Paper site.

What role do you feel manufacturing should have in the 21st Century United States?

You might also like:

Opportunity in Personalized Manufacturing
3D Printing Crosses an Inflection Point
Additive Manufacturing Pioneers

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