Innovation is the Name of the Game in Today’s Manufacturing

By Charlotte Weber

Reports of the death of American manufacturing are greatly exaggerated.

The nation’s newspapers, magazines and TV news reports keep offering obituaries for manufacturing. But millions of American workers don’t have time to read or listen to those death notices. They’re too busy going to work every day, continuing to turn out the 1,001 products that are still made in America.

Yes, modern technology has vastly increased productivity for American industry, meaning that many of today’s products are produced in less time by fewer workers. Yes, many American manufacturing jobs have disappeared as a result of foreign competition, often under adverse and unfair conditions. Yes, many more manufacturing jobs have been outsourced to foreign factories.

Those trends are real – and they aren’t going away. There’s no turning back the clock. But even in the face of the multiple threats that confront it, American manufacturing isn’t just surviving, it’s thriving.

In a welcome departure from the usual news diet of gloom and doom regarding manufacturing, a recent Associated Press article reported that the United States remains the world’s No. 1 manufacturer.

As the AP article explained, what has happened is that American manufacturing is “moving upscale,” concentrating on high-end items.

Many consumer goods now come from overseas. America, for example, once made 98 percent of its shoes. We now import more than 90 percent of our footwear. But “Made in USA” is still stamped on a wide array of big-ticket items, from farm equipment to turbines for power plants, from computers to construction equipment, from autos and auto parts to aircraft, missiles and spacecraft.

The bottom line: Manufacturing remains the powerful engine that drives the U.S. economy.

This, of course, doesn’t mean we can afford to rest on our laurels. In today’s fast-paced world, those who are complacent are those destined to fall by the wayside. American manufacturers, if they’re to be successful today, must learn the new rules of doing business in a marketplace where your toughest competitor may not be on the other side of town, or even in another state, but literally halfway around the world.

Those manufacturers that stay in the game are able to do so because they’re turning to new strategies. They’re retraining their workers. They’re employing lean manufacturing, just-in-time supply chains and rigid quality.

And they’re innovating.

Innovation has been and remains the hallmark of American manufacturing, and our scientists, engineers and technicians continue to generate an amazing number of new and better products with worldwide appeal.

Ultimately, innovation is the name of the game in today’s manufacturing. When the chips are down, the companies with the winning hands will be those that focus on innovation.

And that’s where the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing (RCBI) plays an important role. At our statewide Advanced Manufacturing Technology Centers – in Huntington, Charleston, Bridgeport and Rocket Center in the Eastern Panhandle – manufacturers have access to state-of-the-market production equipment, new technologies, machinist training, quality certification and other initiatives aimed at helping them keep pace in today’s fast-changing world.

With our unique blend of industry-focused offerings and technical assistance, RCBI stands ready to assist manufacturers as they continue to innovate, succeed and grow.

Charlotte Weber is director and chief executive officer of RCBI.