The Innovation Imperative in Manufacturing

In a recent report The Innovation Imperative in Manufacturing – How the United States Can restore its edge, produced jointly by The Boston Consulting Group, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Manufacturing Institute, The United States ranked #8 out of 110 countries in innovation leadership.     

The Top Ten List (overall)

  1. Singapore
  2. South Korea
  3. Switzerland
  4. Iceland
  5. Ireland
  6. Hong Kong
  7. Finland
  8. United States
  9. Japan
  10. Sweden

The first half of this report painted a pretty bleak picture for the US.  Among the depressing  statements:
“The United States is losing its distinction as an innovation leader and may be under-investing in the future.”

 “The United States is disadvantaged in several key areas, including workforce quality and economic, immigration and infrastructure policies.”
Some companies are even “moving R & D centers abroad to capitalize on leading-edge talent and lower cost scientists and engineers or to better meet local market needs . . .”

This information is difficult to swallow, but it clearly makes the point:

It’s time for change.

In the article, they actually used the quote “innovate or die!”

Even without the current economic crisis, we know we have issues and challenges at many levels, and if this report helps revitalize our companies and government into action, then all for it.

The second half the report does a nice job detailing what they considered to be the Four Key Factors for Success, which they felt are:

  • Idea generation
  • Structured Processes
  • Leadership
  • Skilled Workers

 
The research feels the US Government plays a vital part in encouraging innovation, and their role is to boost Company payback on innovation through consistent programs, like supporting innovation activities through government-funded laboratories and research labs. Tax credits are also a common way, but this deemed to be more of “thank you” then a motivator, and is often inconsistent from year to year.

Although they stated that some recommendations were beyond the scope of the report, they suggest the US make concrete improvement in six areas:

  1. Strengthen the workforce
  2. Lead by example
  3. Make innovation easier
  4. Maintain a strong Manufacturing base
  5. Improve the pay back
  6. Be Consistent

Although, I feel there is a lot of good information to be learned from the report, one should keep in mind that the bulk of the information was gathered through a NAM Survey of Corporate members with only ~1000 respondents and a series of 30  one hour interviews with “Senior Executives.” It’s truly hard to know how representative the sample was to the actual population.

To reiterate, we know that innovation, quality and jobs in the US have been on the decline for past years. It’s time to act, Adopt an innovation,  product development,  or quality program such as Design for Six Sigma (DFSS), Design for Lean Six Sigma (DFLSS), Critical Parameter Management, (CPM)or whatever you want to call it, deploy it and stick to it! As I have may have mentioned before, many companies I have worked with who indicated successful deployment really never got off the ground floor.
 

You can read the entire report at www.nam.org/~/media/AboutUs/ManufacturingInstitute/innovationreport.ashx

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