America Will Lead the Future of Manufacturing, China Will Follow
In a fantastic opinion piece by technology entrepreneur and academic Vivek Wadhwa, the case is made that America will be the center of manufacturing, not China. This won’t happen through increasing Chinese labor costs or monetary policy, but through American innovation in technology. Specific innovations cited include robotics, AI, 3D printing, and nanotechnology.
Below are Wadhwa’s thoughts on 3D printing:
A type of manufacturing called “additive manufacturing” is now making it possible to cost-effectively “print” products. In conventional manufacturing, parts are produced by humans using power-driven machine tools, such as saws, lathes, milling machines, and drill presses, to physically remove material until you’re left with the shape desired. This is a cumbersome process that becomes more difficult and time-consuming with increasing complexity. In other words, the more complex the product you want to create, the more labor is required and the greater the effort.
In additive manufacturing, parts are produced by melting successive layers of materials based on three-dimensional models — adding materials rather than subtracting them. The ”3D printers” that produce these parts use powered metal, droplets of plastic, and other materials — much like the toner cartridges that go into laser printers. This allows the creation of objects without any sort of tools or fixtures. The process doesn’t produce any waste material, and there is no additional cost for complexity. Just as, thanks to laser printers, a page filled with graphics doesn’t cost much more than one with text (other than the cost of toner), with 3D printers we can print a sophisticated 3D structure for what it would cost to print something simple.
Three-D printers can already create physical mechanical devices, medical implants, jewelry, and even clothing. The cheapest 3D printers, which print rudimentary objects, currently sell for between $500 and $1,000. Soon, we will have printers for this price that can print toys and household goods. By the end of this decade, we will see 3D printers doing the small-scale production of previously labor-intensive crafts and goods. It is entirely conceivable that, in the next decade, manufacturing will again become a local industry and it will be possible to 3D print electronics and use giant 3D printing scaffolds to print entire buildings. Why would we ship raw materials all the way to China and then ship completed products back to the United States when they can be manufactured more cheaply locally, on demand?
Read the full article at foreignpolicy.com.
American flag photo by Loving Earth used under Creative Commons license.
Vivek Wadhwa photo by BAIA used under Creative Commons license.