So as semiconductor manufacturing has moved offshore, the number of people in this country who actually know how to operate those tools, who have the tacit knowledge has declined as well.
Most of the semiconductor manufacturing capacity has moved out of the United States into Asia – primarily places like Taiwan and China, also Singapore. If you are manufacturing semiconductors you’re using a lot of complex tools. You’re using lithography tools. You’re using processes like chemical vapor deposition or thin film coating.
3D printing offers great potential for mass customization and manufacturing tools.
I think the impact of 3D printing will be seen in a number of areas. On the one hand I think there’s great potential for mass customization - the ability to tailor products to individual consumer needs and do it in a relatively rapid time. That means being able to order something on the web, customize it and deliver it to a consumer in a relatively short time.
The key question is will manufacturers in this country recognize and further exploit the benefits of having production close to manufacturing?
We’re hearing a lot about jobs coming back to America - reshoring. Is that phenomenon real? I think that what we’re seeing is a rebalancing of the tradability equation. Let’s talk about tradability. That’s a term that the economists gave us. Tradability of a good tells you to what extent is a good that is consumed locally need to be produced locally. Things that are tradable are most consumer products. Restaurant meals and haircuts are not very tradable. Ready mix cement is not very tradable because I have to use it usually within an hour of the time that I produce it.
If you look at advanced manufacturing processes today, they actually require a much higher level of skill and sophistication in your workforce than I think many of us realize.
A lot of us think of manufacturing as putting tops on bottoms, assembling widgets. We tend not to think about it as knowledge work. While it is true that a lot of manufacturing, especially things like the sewing of garments or the assembly of electronics products is very routine and very modular, if you look at advanced manufacturing processes today, they actually require a much higher level of skill and sophistication in your workforce than I think many of us realize. Let’s look at the manufacturer of genomics based drugs, protein based drugs.
Willy Shih’s expertise is in manufacturing and product development, and he has written or co-authored more than 125 cases and teaching materials in industries ranging from semiconductors, information technology, consumer electronics, aerospace, transportation equipment, manufacturing processes and tools, and intellectual property. His paper, “Restoring American Competitiveness,” co-authored with Gary Pisano, won the 2009 McKinsey Award. His recent book, “Producing Prosperity – Why America Needs a Manufacturing Renaissance,” co-authored with Gary Pisano, has called attention to the link between manufacturing and innovation. He is also the author of “Back Bay Battery,” a best-selling innovation simulation.