But while the United States has become more competitive as a manufacturing base for many reasons, one arena where many of the nation’s advantages should come together has been missing from the list of burgeoning sectors: ‘smart manufacturing’, which offers speed and flexibility through digital automation.
Expect that to change. Harnessing smart-manufacturing capabilities “makes us more competitive,” says Hal Sirkin, Chicago-based senior partner of the Boston Consulting Group and co-author of The U.S. Manufacturing Renaissance: How Shifting Global Economics Are Creating an American Comeback. “We can compete against less-automated, more-labor-intensive countries. The more we can use these techniques, the more competitive we become. The jobs that left the U.S. will come back, but in different forms and different ways.”
Indeed, the United States is enjoying a favorable new shift in its cost position that has allowed it to rise to No. 2 in manufacturing competitiveness, behind China, according to Sirkin’s new report. And experts believe American manufacturers increasingly will leverage this and other nascent advantages most effectively through smart manufacturing.
“Strengths we still have in our favor in the U.S. to a great degree include intellectual property, talent, universities and our education system,” says Bob McCutcheon, U.S. industrial-products leader at PwC. “We still have a strongly innovative culture when it comes to technology—an advantage we can use not only in the technology sector and on the consumer-products side of the economy, but in the manufacturing economy as well.”
Pressing the digital envelope “can be a differentiator for North American manufacturing,” says Russ Rasmus, practice leader for global manufacturing for Accenture Strategy. “It’s something Americans can bring to the manufacturing agenda that we haven’t been able to until the last five years.”