3 Technologies Driving U.S. Manufacturing

April 19, 2023
Additive manufacturing, artificial intelligence and collaborative robots are changing every aspect of the manufacturing industries—from product design and production to supply chain strategies.

For well over a decade now there’s been a concerted push to revitalize manufacturing in the U.S. And while there has certainly been anecdotal evidence to support this vision, more than enough evidence existed to indicate a renaissance in American manufacturing would not occur for many more years—if it ever fully materialized at all.

During the peak COVID years, however, things began to accelerate on several fronts. These factors were highlighted at the 2023 Manufacturing in America event in Detroit, sponsored by Siemens and Electro-Matic.

Raj Batra, president of Siemens Digital Industries USA pointed to three key aspects that have either occurred or accelerated since the advent of COVID.

$108 billion in spending on new plant construction in the U.S. in 2022, according to the Census Bureau. “That’s the highest total on record,” Batra said, with much of it being spent on developing manufacturing industries related to electrification and battery facilities (see accompanying map of U.S. battery facilities). According to CNBC: Georgia, Kentucky and Michigan are going to dominate electric vehicle (EV) battery manufacturing in the United States by 2030. Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio and Tennessee will also be key players. This EV battery manufacturing capacity will support the manufacturing of 10-13 million all-electric vehicles per year, putting the U.S. in position to be a global EV competitor.
  • $52 billion in government incentives via the Chips and Science Act, which is spurring additional private investment in facility expansions and modernization.
  • The development of new supply chain initiatives as strategies change from just-in-time to just-in-case. Much of this shift is attributable to supply chain shocks encountered during COVID.
  • “Too many people talk about U.S. manufacturing in the past tense—about how it was,” said Garlin Gilchrist, Lt. Governor of Michigan, at the Manufacturing in America event. “But gatherings like this are about the future. And one of the most important results from federal and state programs and incentives [for manufacturing] supports the idea that integration and collaboration is key to innovation.”

    Transformational technologies

    In a conversation between Batra and and Tom Kelly, CEO of Automation Alley (a non-profit Industry 4.0 knowledge center and home to the World Economic Forum’s U.S. Center for Advanced Manufacturing), Kelly noted that what’s possible in manufacturing today with new technologies is not happening because these technologies are not yet in many plants, especially the smaller ones that comprise the bulk of U.S. manufacturers.

    A critical factor holding U.S. manufacturing back has been its focus on the lean model more than on innovation. “That’s the choice we’ve made for the past 30 years—to focus on driving costs out of the system,” said Kelly. “Going forward the value of a manufacturing facility will be based on the innovations it controls.”

    The new technologies Kelly contends will be key to manufacturing’s future are artificial intelligence (AI), 3D printing/additive manufacturing and collaborative robots (cobots).

    While AI and cobots receive most of the attention today, Kelly is particularly enthusiastic about the transformational potential around 3D printing. He noted that many companies still view additive manufacturing as a prototyping tool, but he sees that viewpoint changing as more people learn how the technology is being used to manufacture production-ready parts and recognize the cost value of it.

    “The cost points [in favor of 3D printing] will flip not at the piece part price, but in comparison to the costs to tool up a facility [to make parts with traditional technologies],” Kelly said. “You’ll start to see more additive manufactured parts at price points that you wouldn’t think will be competitive, but they will be because of small lot sizes.”

    Three examples Kelly pointed to as companies that will change manufacturing’s perceptions of 3D printing are:

    Relativity Space—a manufacturer of 3D-printed rockets to carry payloads into orbit. While this development is exciting, Kelly noted that it will be bad for traditional manufacturers in the rocket supply chain because this “will change the industry.”
  • A flow monitor manufacturer now makes its valve manifolds via carbon fiber additive manufacturing. Kelly said the company had eight people working the traditional production line to manufacture these manifolds and those eight people are still employed but working elsewhere in the facility. “No one got fired from the machine shop” because of this transition and it helps the company address ongoing labor shortage issues because they were able to re-purpose existing talent.
  • Kelly also referenced an equipment manufacturer who relied on sourcing less-expensive stainless-steel valves from China for the machines it manufactures. The old valves from China cost about $100 each, Kelly said, but printing them with carbon fiber—which has produced a better performing valve—now only costs about $20 per valve.
  • He predicts that, in 10 years, U.S. manufacturing will primarily be a software-driven industry using far more additive manufacturing process and be more distributed. “CNC manufacturing will go away and additive manufacturing will take its place because it’s easy to distribute as needed.”
    About the Author

    David Greenfield, editor in chief | Editor in Chief

    David Greenfield joined Automation World in June 2011. Bringing a wealth of industry knowledge and media experience to his position, David’s contributions can be found in AW’s print and online editions and custom projects. Earlier in his career, David was Editorial Director of Design News at UBM Electronics, and prior to joining UBM, he was Editorial Director of Control Engineering at Reed Business Information, where he also worked on Manufacturing Business Technology as Publisher. 

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