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Three Steps to Building the North American Manufacturing Industry

Kim Humphrey

President & CEO, Association for Manufacturing Excellence

For manufacturing, the abrupt economic change brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the negative impact of decades of offshoring, the opportunity for new manufacturing innovations, and the need for an industry 4.0-ready workforce. While the repurposing of companies to manufacture essential medical supplies is a short-term solution to the medical supply chain demands, a long-term approach must bring other critical manufacturing capabilities and jobs back to North America. 

A new North American “manufacturing Marshall Plan” is necessary to revitalize the post-pandemic economy. To protect against future disruptions, home-based supply chains must be rebuilt much like the effort undertaken in Europe after World War II. 

A three-part plan:

  1. Advocacy for reshoring and nearshoring. In response to 21st century demands, and to avoid future supply chain disruptions and takeovers from global competitors, companies must undergo a supply chain renaissance. Manufacturers must implement new operational strategies and technologies and identify the real cost of offshoring through total cost of ownership analysis versus just price or landed cost. The main criteria in the past. It is incumbent on industry to consider lean methods to ensure North American manufacturing is globally competitive. Using proven lean tools and processes will allow organizations to pursue enterprise excellence that leads to sustainable, long-term manufacturing on this continent. 
  2. Increased focus on industry 4.0 innovations data-driven decision making is prevalent in everything from manufacturing to baseball. By pairing a connected environment of people, processes, services, systems and IoT-enabled industrial assets with actionable data, we can realize smart ecosystems that foster innovation and collaboration. Smart manufacturing is on the forefront of the fourth industrial revolution. Automation is being followed by the digitalization of production. Increased productivity, efficiency, speed, and quality will result in higher competitiveness for companies. 
  3. Enhanced educational and training offerings to create a stronger workforce as the workforce undergoes generational changes precipitated by retiring baby boomers, factories are evolving from the pre-automation plants of the past to the smart factories of the future. Workers in smart factories require digital fluency, technological savviness, and data analytics know-how. The industry 4.0 and digital revolution is creating demand for millions of new skilled jobs. Job seekers who possess the required technical skills and some work experience are well positioned for the bounce back. 

To accomplish this, businesses, educators, and policymakers must focus on closing the North American skills gap and producing more career-ready individuals with the right technical and social skills, so the workforce is oriented for the future and aligned with the latest industry 4.0 and Digital Revolution technologies. These three actions will provide North American manufacturing with a distinct competitive advantage – boosting productivity and improving sustainable resilience in this fast-changing competitive world. 

Time to mobilize

With the current “burning platform,” the time is right for public-private partnerships to raise North American competitiveness in the global economic marathon. This is not just a call-to-arms for policymakers. It is a rallying cry for North American manufacturers. It is the primary responsibility of industry to reinvent processes, supply chains and products to bring cost-competitive solutions to customers – to use lean methodology to more efficiently delivery on the promise of this new plan. 

While government support is necessary, industry must mobilize to make this a success, just as business sectors mobilized in Europe after World War II to make the Marshall Plan a success. With a sharp focus on retooling the educational and industrial infrastructure and reshoring advanced manufacturing capabilities and good paying jobs, manufacturing can advance the North American economy and secure the social, environmental and economic future.

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