Once voices in the wilderness, industry calls to bring manufacturing back home are gaining credence--and decibels.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Several years ago, Gary Pisano woke me out of a sound sleep.
Not literally, but figuratively during a Harvard Business Review podcast I was listening to. He was talking about his research into the impact of offshoring
manufacturing on design.
In the interview, he talks about the concept of the industrial commons:
Some of them are public resources, but many of them
are resources that are shared among other companies in the
business, but they're embedded in suppliers, they're embedded in
the manufacturers, they're embedded in customers. Everyone in
the network is reliant upon other companies in the network for
those resources. If you lose one part of that chain, it can make
it very difficult for other companies in the business, or as
part of that chain, to continue to compete.
Pisano wasn't exactly a voice in the wilderness in 2009, but he didn't have a lot of company. Corporate America was racing offshore to slash costs and "get closer to customers" as the Great Recession
Turns out you need to get closer to your design chain.
Now he's got company.
Just down the road from Pisano's Harvard offices, MIT Professors Suzanne Berger and Phillip Sharp have helped
start the Production in the Innovation Economy
project, which brings together
leading MIT faculty from a variety of disciplines – economics, engineering, political science, management, biology, and others – to look at U.S. industry from different perspectives: national,
sectoral, and global.
The study's goal, simply put, is to revitalize American innovation by better understanding how design and manufacturing are symbiotic.
Researchers are looking at eight core modules including new manufacturing technologies, the challenge of scale-up, comparative analysis of manufacturing economies, and success stories.
The project has created so much buzz it inspired a recent New York Times story
on changing perceptions of American
innovation. In it, Berger is quoted as saying:
It is something that’s very difficult to establish
systematically. You really have to be willing to look at
case-by-case evidence, qualitative evidence. That’s what we’re
trying to do.
Wrote the Times:
Thus far, she said, the anecdotal
evidence from about 200 companies has proved striking, with
company after company detailing the advantages of keeping
makers and thinkers together.
All this collective work is worth keeping
an eye on in the coming months as the global economy staggers out
of its malaise. There will be new winners and losers and winners
likely will be able to credit a smart design-and-manufacturing