Last week, President Obama announced the first steps toward creating a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation with a pilot institute funded jointly by the Defense, Energy, Commerce and NSF. The new pilot institute will established on through a competitive process to demonstrate the feasibility of the new network. According to the budget submission from earlier this year, the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation envisions a set of up to 15 institutions funded at up to $1 billion.
I believe this new networks offers an opportunity to move manufacturing into the knowledge era. The Administration's announcement was couched in terms of new technologies, such as lightweight materials, additive manufacturing and smart manufacturing using "big data." As important as these are, I would suggest that the program can go well beyond technology. For example, one of the Institutes could be devoted to the embedding of design thinking in the product development and production process -- similar to the work done at the Stanford d-school. Another could focus on the fusion of manufacturing and services from both an operational and a business strategy point of view.
The nature of production has changed and our manufacturing policy should as well. The game is no longer "manufacturing" in old sense of the word, but "production" in the broadest sense. And all forms of production are becoming more knowledge intensive. The National Network for Manufacturing Innovation can be a great step forward in fostering a knowledge-intensive U.S. production base. But only by embracing the larger economic shift and thinking boldly about what it means to produce things in America.