Supply chains are approaching an era where automation and cognitive computing seamlessly blend with smart factories, entering a fourth industrial revolution known as Industry 4.0. This transformation through advanced digital technologies in engineering and manufacturing will put the US manufacturing ecosystem at the forefront of modernization – and with it a demand for a sustained pipeline of talent and strong domestic manufacturing hubs.
“America’s manufacturing ecosystem has been a key engine of economic growth, innovation and competitiveness for over 200 years — and has played a critical role in developing and advancing the technologies that sustain our national security,” said Bill LaPlante, Secretary of Defense for Acquisitions and Sustainability , during a speech celebrating October as the month of manufacture. “Today, the US is in a technological and economic race to maintain its manufacturing lead, particularly when it comes to critical defense systems such as satellites, advanced munitions and communications technologies.”
Advanced Manufacturing is changing the nature of manufacturing – creating new, more technically advanced, and better-paying jobs. Today’s factories are safe, bright, energetic centers of technology run and managed by capable, educated individuals – a stark contrast to the portrayal of the noisy and dark factories of the past.
Known production bottlenecks in all sectors – including skilled labour, machine tools, critical chemicals and dependence on foreign resources – affect operational readiness.
The Department of Defense is taking decisive action to address these challenges to achieve two imperatives: maintain the ability and capacity to sustain legacy systems; and to expand and modernize manufacturing capabilities to build tomorrow’s defense systems. These efforts will require significant investments in American workers and infrastructure, including $372 million in the President’s fiscal 2023 budget, to strengthen the nation’s supply chains through domestic manufacturing.
“As engines of economic growth, American manufacturers contribute more than $2.35 trillion to the US economy – every dollar invested in manufacturing translates into an additional $2.79 to the economy, making it the highest multiplier effect of any sector ‘ said LaPlante.
Economic benefits for manufacturing
- In the US today, manufacturing accounts for just 11% of US gross domestic product, but accounts for 35% of America’s productivity growth and 60% of our exports
- US manufacturing is the top driver of innovation in the US, accounting for 55% of all patents and 70% of all research and development spending
- Today, manufacturing employs over 12.5 million people and provides rewarding jobs with living wages
- Each manufacturing job spurs 7 to 12 new jobs in other related industries, helping to build and sustain our economy
In support, the Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment program within the Department’s Acquisition and Sustainment Office is running several projects aimed at improving industrial manufacturing capacity, supply chain capacity and resilience, and workforce development.
Adele Ratcliff, director of the IBAS program, calls on industry, government and academia to work together, recognizing that today’s national manufacturing imperative is “a critical time for America – and what is poised to become a national crisis.” , acknowledges.
With 64 active and planned projects in key defense industry sectors, the program effort brings together a coalition of stakeholders and public-private partnerships that design, build and produce critical technologies and chemicals to ensure combatants retain lasting benefits. Defense-critical sectors at the heart of this effort include labor, castings and forgings, microelectronics, batteries, kinetics and critical chemicals.
To address the threat that an aging and shrinking manufacturing workforce poses to U.S. national security, IBAS has committed approximately $130 million to 16 unique job-related projects since launching its National Imperative for Industrial Skills initiative in 2020 projects invested.
NIIS aims to create an enduring, national public-private response to build a robust industrial skills workforce development ecosystem. The initiative recognizes that isolated, one-off approaches to addressing national skills gaps will not move the needle sufficiently. Instead, the Department of Defense is well-positioned to drive coordinated efforts toward an integrated approach at the local, regional, and national levels—all based on a common operating model.
The main principles of the model emphasize identifying the needs of industry and fostering collaboration with education, as well as considering the interdependence of similar facilities, devices and processes driven by relevant industry needs. This approach focuses on developing deeper and sustainable collaboration between all levels of education (K-12, 2-year post high school, and 4-year post high school) and industry (small and medium-sized manufacturers, large OEMs) as well as non-profit and government support activities.
This month alone, NIIS activities include the Accelerated Training in Defense Manufacturing Summit in Danville, Virginia and the X-STEM NOVA conference-style event in Chantilly, Virginia. Both events are uniquely designed to engage stakeholders and inspire students through activities that introduce them to manufacturing processes.
In addition, the Department of Defense program focuses on developing trade skills through national competitions, “Project MFG” will host the next round of welding competitions at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. To date, more than 62 school teams with a total of more than 320 individual applicants have taken part in the MFG project competitions. The program currently focuses on advanced computer numerical machining, welding, metrology, project management and other industrial skills using state-of-the-art digital methods.
Next generation machine tools
A flagship of the IBAS effort aimed at meeting the critical need for machine tools to support defense manufacturing is America’s Cutting Edge program, launched in March 2020. The effort combines the scientific expertise of the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory; the research and teaching expertise of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; and leadership of the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation people development to revitalize the US machine tool sector through transformative thinking, technology and training.
Through ACENet, an associate network of regional machine tool innovation and workforce development centers in Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia, the Department of Defense is working to increase the efficiency of existing machine tools while developing next-generation machine tool skills and training for composites and metals. This includes efforts to rapidly train the next generation of machine tool designers and operators.
“In order for the US to advance the best weapons systems in the world, it’s important that we remain competitive in these critical capabilities,” LaPlante said. “Advanced manufacturing innovation is key to how we will adapt and transform defense manufacturing and build capacity to respond during a national emergency.”
For example, during the COVID-19 response, ACE led efforts to develop new tools that helped US manufacturers produce millions of sets of personal protective equipment per day. ACE has also made US machining far more cost effective by designing and implementing a simple test that can improve material removal rates by a factor of three. This simple test saves thousands of hours of machine and operator time and millions of dollars per year. Through industry collaboration, ACE is sharing the test and related information with the entire US machining community.
“We must use all the tools at our disposal to support the scale-up of new, advanced manufacturing technologies in a number of critical sectors of the defense industry — including bio-manufacturing, renewable energy, batteries and microelectronics,” LaPlante said. “We must work to support American workers by expanding the talent pipelines that will support the advanced manufacturing careers of the future.”
About the month of manufacture
Manufacturing Month is recognized each October to highlight modern manufacturing efforts and show the importance of U.S. manufacturing and innovation to economic and national security. The celebration provides an opportunity to showcase how the Department of Defense is working with industry, academic organizations and public bodies to renew and strengthen U.S. manufacturing, raise awareness of advanced manufacturing careers and the current and next Generation of workers to prepare for the skills and well-paying jobs of the future.
Manufacturing Month highlights the ongoing efforts and advances made by this government. The Biden-Harris economy has brought massive gains to American manufacturing. For example, manufacturing employment has grown by 668,000 jobs since January 2021 – and as of August 2022 is now 67,000 above pre-pandemic levels – a milestone reached faster than any post-recession recovery since 1953. In 2021 were created more manufacturing jobs than in any single year in nearly 30 years. Department of Defense efforts to strengthen manufacturing and innovation ecosystems in communities across America play an important role in these agency-wide efforts as they strengthen our national security and help the U.S. compete successfully in the industries and technologies of the future.
(Ms. Bistarkey is a strategic communications officer in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense and Procurement.)