If recent moves by a few companies lead to a resurgence of manufacturing in the US, it won't necessarily be patriotism -- or even rising Chinese labor costs -- that drives the trend. (See: Is Outsourcing Losing Its Appeal?) The main factor will be innovative US technology.
That's the opinion that Vivek Wadhwa, a former software entrepreneur turned academic and pundit, lays out in a recent piece in Foreign Policy magazine. "Technical advances will soon lead to the same hollowing out of China's manufacturing industry that they have to US industry over the past two decades," Wadhwa wrote. He holds a ridiculous number of positions at places like Stanford, Duke, Emory, and Silicon Valley's Singularity University. Oh, and he seems to live on Twitter. Let's just say he's not shy about expressing his opinions.
In the Foreign Policy piece, Wadhwa ticks off these enabling technologies.
Robotics: A new generation of robots will undercut Chinese labor costs. Wadhwa notes that Foxconn Electronics Inc. announced plans last year to replace some of its low-cost Chinese workers with 1 million robots. (In the United States, Amazon, for example, has started using robots in its warehouses.)
Artificial intelligence: AI is helping Google develop a self-driving car. The iPhone's Siri is based on AI. One of Wadhwa's colleagues at Singularity University, Neil Jacobstein, told him that AI is going to revolutionize manufacturing, because we'll be able to design and build our own products at home.
3D printing: Through a process called additive manufacturing, printers can lay down successive layers of materials, including powdered metal and liquefied plastic, to print a solid object (in three dimensions) just as you would print a document. Costs are coming down fast -- 3D printers can be had for $500 to $1,000 -- and by 2020, 3D printers will be doing small-scale manufacturing of previously labor-intensive crafts and goods, Wadhwa wrote. We might even see the emergence of a Kinkos for 3D printing. You could go to your corner store and print out a new toy for your child, for example. "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?"
New molecular materials: Advances in nanotechnology and materials science are leading to the creation of new types of materials, including carbon nanotubes and ceramic-matrix nanocomposites. Wadhwa predicts that the emerging field of molecular manufacturing will produce ways to manipulate individual molecules easily and inexpensively, just as the electronics revolution enabled us to manipulate bits of information.
He makes some interesting points, but do they apply to the electronics industry? Board manufacturers have been using robotic pick-and-place machines for years. And it's hard to imagine a 3D printer could make the circuitry that goes into many children's toys, much less our other gadgets.
"All of these advances play well into America's ability to innovate, demolish old industries, and continually reinvent itself," Wadhwa wrote. "The Chinese are still busy copying technologies we built over the past few decades. They haven't cracked the nut on how to innovate yet."
What do you think? What impact will these new technologies have on electronics?
Hmmm...I'm trying to follow the author's logic here. On two of the four point he makes, technology enables us to do our own design amd manufacturing:
...told him that AI is going to revolutionize manufacturing, because we'll be able to design and build our own products at home.
3D printers will be doing small-scale manufacturing of previously labor-intensive crafts and goods, Wadhwa wrote. We might even see the emergence of a Kinkos for 3D printing. You could go to your corner store and print out a new toy for your child, for example
I'm not seeing manufacturing jobs here. The technologies will benefit the companies that develop them, but I don't see job growth in a DIY environment as described above.
Let's say that someone does manufacture these things...imagine to supply chain complications they'll have...
EBN Dialogue enables and encourages you to participate in live chats with notable leaders and luminaries. Not only editors and journalists, but the entire EBN community is able to comment and ask questions. Listed below are upcoming and archived chats.
Thailand Stages a Comeback Join EBN contributor Jennifer Baljko on Thursday August 23, 2012, at 11:00 a.m. EST for a live chat on how electronic manufacturers in Thailand have shored up their supply chain to reduce the impact of future natural disasters.
Microsoft Surface: Potential Winners & Losers What are the implications for the electronics industry supply chain of Microsoft Corp.'s decision to launch its own tablet PC? Join industry veteran and EE Times' systems and OEM expert Rick Merritt on Tuesday, July 3, at 12:00 pm EDT for a Live Chat on this subject.
Join EBN contributor Jennifer Baljko on Thursday August 23, 2012, at 11:00 a.m. EST for a live chat on how electronic manufacturers in Thailand have shored up their supply chain to reduce the impact of future natural disasters.
Peter Drucker famously said "Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window." Yet in the razor's-edge world of electronics—with a lean supply chain and just-in-time demands—the need to know the future is vital.
While no one really can accurately predict the future, we can take guidance from another Drucker saying which is the best way to predict the future is to create it.
You've heard the saying "the No. 1 supply chain risk is your people." That hasn't always been the case. But today's complex global supply chain requires a new type of multitalented employee. It's one who understands, finance, marketing, economics, is savvy with technology, graceful with relationships and can think analytically.
Where are these people? Are universities properly preparing the next generation supply chain professionals? How do train your existing workforce for these new, demanding positions?
Brian Fuller, editor-in-chief of EBN, will lead a 60-minute Avnet Velocity panel discussion that will ask and answer these and other questions swirling around today's supply-chain talent challenges.