VentureBeat: How investing in higher-ed can spark a manufacturing ‘moonshot’
VentureBeat – March 1, 2022
By James DeMuth
How investing in higher-ed can spark a manufacturing ‘moonshot’
Investments in innovation traditionally serve as the American trademark to big solutions. The space race, electric vehicles, and the COVID-19 vaccines all have one common thread — investments into the people behind them.
Now we’re facing another challenge: a supply chain that’s crumbling and hurting our planet. To build a resilient and sustainable supply chain, we need to move beyond a 7,000-year-old manufacturing process powered by toxic natural gas and coke and reinvent how we produce goods. The positive news is that we’ve tackled challenges like this before, and we can do it again — by investing in the educational pipeline to produce students with the skills to build the manufacturing of the future.
The 21st-century space race: Advanced manufacturing
The U.S. has never shied away from the massive investments it takes to move mountains. We made it our mission to put a man on the moon — and backed this up with approximately half of a trillion dollars in funding and additional investments into commercial space programs. Today, we have a proliferation of private companies like SpaceX and a modern space race propelled by a world-class educational pipeline, with more than 75 universities offering aerospace-related programs.
Yet, it’s a different story when it comes to building a resilient supply chain. To begin rethinking the modern economy, we need to rethink manufacturing.
Everything that moves, from cars to rotating components, needs to be durable and high-performing. Thus, they need a manufacturing process that can scale — to essentially make more, better. This can only happen with new innovations, like 3D metal printing, that enable the potential to re-shore and offer high-volume, localized production.
But the problem? There are only a handful of higher education programs focused on the technologies powering advanced manufacturing. As a result of this minimal education infrastructure, the U.S. manufacturing industry has greater demand for talent than there is supply. To strengthen our economy, we need to dramatically ramp up investments into programs that will help to
build the future of manufacturing. Take liquid crystals for example — a critical component of just about every piece of technology we use today. There are only two notable U.S. programs that teach liquid crystals: Kent State University’s Advanced Materials and Liquid Crystal Institute, and University of Central Florida’s College of Optic and Photonics. This needs to change.
Manufacturers and the government alike must approach the supply chain crisis with the same drive and creativity as we did the space race — and it starts with our higher ed programs to build our experts and technology. The U.S. must invest in building a strong education pipeline by funding equipment for college labs, offering incentives for manufacturing careers, or even beginning a nationwide initiative to standardize 3D printing in high school curriculums.
For example, we’re reimagining how pulsed lasers are architected so that manufacturing can scale. Finding talent that can create lasers that are 40X higher average power than anything in its class requires imagination, engineering ingenuity, and so much more. Undoubtedly, investments in higher education programs will yield greater quality careers as well.
Future of manufacturing will reshore jobs and modernize our economy
Mass manufacturing has historically been transferred overseas due to a vast pool of low-cost labor. Companies contend with IP leakage, poor communication, and complex logistics to maximize margins. Further, there simply hasn’t been a US-based manufacturing alternative that can compete with the price points that any foreign entity can offer. Bringing back jobs and reshoring requires winning business. Winning business is contingent upon proving that our manufacturing processes are robust enough to scale and produce goods with quality and consistency.
With advanced manufacturing, machines will displace some human jobs, but new advances will create exponentially more opportunities. According to a recent study from the World Economic Forum, the 4th Industrial Revolution could create a net positive of 58 million new jobs within manufacturing alone thanks to emerging technologies, like 3D metal printing, that support the industry. By remaining competitive in this new age of innovation, the U.S. will also create new job opportunities for workers and build resilient supply chains.
Advanced manufacturing will help us achieve our climate goals
Revolutionizing modern manufacturing will also play a critical role in the world’s net-zero carbon journey. While decarbonization is possible across the entire value chain in manufacturing — from materials, to manufacturing, to transportation – it can be further improved. There’s a fantastic opportunity to clean up advanced manufacturing to displace greenhouse gas emissions. I’m proud that our technology, born out of the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, is powered by 100% renewable energy and generates almost zero material waste. Our efforts support the newest White House effort to buy “clean” industrial materials and reduce carbon emissions, showing what’s possible for our planet and people when we move away from outdated techniques like casting.
Creating more net-zero business models isn’t just the right thing to do — it’s also good for business. Companies with the lowest carbon emissions had up to 25% higher valuations than those with the highest emissions, according to a BCG analysis. Further, by investing educational resources into the fully advanced manufacturing ecosystem, we can unlock cleaner energy sources, thanks to startups like General Fusion and Helion Energy, to power the future of manufacturing.
Now’s our moonshot moment
It’s time for manufacturing to have its moonshot moment and reimagine a 7,000-year-old process. By investing in technology and expertise that powers innovation, we can strengthen the U.S. as a manufacturing, economic, and environmental leader.