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Approaching an era where automation and cognitive computing seamlessly connect to smart factories, supply chains are entering into a fourth industrial revolution known as Industry 4.0. This transformation, through advanced digital technologies across engineering and manufacturing, is set to bring the U.S. manufacturing ecosystem to the forefront of modernization — and with it, a demand for a sustained pipeline of talent and strong domestic manufacturing centers. 

“America’s manufacturing ecosystem has been a vital engine of economic growth, innovation, and competitiveness for over 200 years — and has played a critical role in developing and driving the technologies that sustain our national security,” said Bill LaPlante, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, during an address celebrating October as Manufacturing Month. “Today, the U.S. is in a technological and economic race to maintain its manufacturing edge, particularly as it concerns critical defense systems, such as satellites, advanced munitions and communications technologies.” 

Advanced manufacturing is changing the nature of manufacturing — creating new, technically advanced and higher-paying positions. Today’s factories are safe, bright, energetic technology hubs operated and managed by capable, educated individuals — a stark contrast to the depiction of the noisy and dark factories of the past.   

Known manufacturing chokepoints across sectors — including skilled labor, machine tools, critical chemicals and a reliance on foreign resources — are impacting operational readiness. 

The Defense Department is taking decisive action to combat these challenges in order to achieve two imperatives: to maintain capability and capacity to sustain legacy systems; and to expand and modernize manufacturing capabilities to build tomorrow’s defense systems. This effort requires significant investment 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 an engine of economic growth, American manufacturers contribute more than $2.35 trillion to the U.S. economy — every dollar spent in manufacturing results in an additional $2.79 added to the economy, making it the highest multiplier effect of any sector,” said LaPlante. 

Manufacturing Economic Benefits 

  • In the U.S. today, manufacturing represents just 11% of U.S. gross domestic product, yet it accounts for 35% of American productivity growth and 60% of our exports 
  • U.S. manufacturing is the main engine of innovation in the U.S., responsible for 55% of all patents and 70% of all research and development spending 
  • Today, manufacturing employs over 12.5 million people and provides rewarding, living-wage jobs 
  • Every 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 leading multiple projects designed to increase industrial manufacturing capability, supply chain capability and resiliency, and workforce development.  

Calling for industry, government, and educational institutions to work together, IBAS Program Director Adele Ratcliff recognizes today’s national manufacturing imperative as “a critical time for America — and what is on track to be a national crisis.” 

With 64 active and planned projects in key defense industrial base sectors, program efforts assemble a coalition of stakeholders and public-private partnerships designing, building, and producing critical technologies and chemicals to ensure warfighters maintain enduring advantages. Defense-critical sectors at the focus of these efforts include workforce, castings and forgings, microelectronics, batteries, kinetics and critical chemicals.  

Skilled Workers 

Addressing the threat that an aging and shrinking manufacturing workforce poses to U.S. national security, IBAS has invested approximately $130 million across 16 unique workforce-related projects since the launch of its National Imperative for Industrial Skills initiative in 2020. 

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 solving national skills gaps will not sufficiently move the needle. Instead, the Defense Department is well positioned to drive coordinated efforts for an integrated approach at local, regional and national levels — all built around a common operational model. 

The model’s key principles emphasize identifying industry needs and driving collaboration with education, as well as looking at mutual reliance on like facilities, equipment and processes driven by relevant industry needs. This approach focuses on developing a deeper and sustained collaboration among all levels of education (K-12, 2-year post high school, and 4-year post high school) and industry (small and medium manufacturers, large original equipment manufacturers), as well as non-profit and governmental 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.  

Additionally, the Defense Department 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, over 62 school teams totaling more than 320 individual competitors have participated in Project MFG competitions. The program is currently focused on advanced computer numerical controlled machining, welding, metrology, project management and other industrial skills using leading-edge digital methods.  

Next Generation Machine Tools 

One flagship IBAS effort working to addresses critical machine tool needs in support of defense manufacturing is America’s Cutting Edge  program, which 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 the workforce development leadership of the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation to revitalize the U.S. machine tool sector through transformative thinking, technology, and training. 

Through ACENet, an associated network of regional machine tool innovation and workforce development hubs in Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia, the Defense Department is working to increase efficiency of existing machine tools while developing skills and training for next generation machine tools for composites and metals. This includes establishing efforts to rapidly train the next generation of machine tool designers and operators.   

“For the U.S. to project forward the best weapon systems in the world, it is essential that we stay competitive in these critical skills,” LaPlante said. “Advanced manufacturing innovations are key to how we will adapt and transform defense production and build capacity to respond during a national emergency.” 

For example, ACE led efforts during the COVID-19 response to create new tools that helped U.S. manufacturers produce millions of sets of personal protective equipment per day. ACE has also made U.S. machining far more cost effective by devising 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. By cooperating with industry, ACE is sharing the test and related information throughout the U.S. machining community. 

“We will need to use all the tools at our disposal to support a scale up of new, advanced manufacturing technologies across a range of critical sectors in the defense industrial base – including bio-manufacturing, renewable energy, batteries and microelectronics,” said LaPlante. “We must work to support American workers, by scaling up talent pipelines that will support the advanced manufacturing careers of the future.” 

About Manufacturing Month  

Each year, Manufacturing Month is recognized throughout October to highlight modern manufacturing efforts and how U.S. manufacturing and innovation are essential to economic and national security. The observance provides the opportunity to showcase how the Defense Department works with industry, academic organizations and public entities to renew and strengthen U.S. manufacturing, raise awareness about advanced manufacturing careers and prepare the current and next generation workforce for the skills and good-paying jobs of the future. 

Manufacturing Month highlights the ongoing efforts and progress made by this Administration. The Biden-Harris economy has delivered massive gains for American manufacturing. For instance, manufacturing employment has grown by 668,000 jobs since January 2021 — and as of August 2022 is now 67,000 above the pre-pandemic level — a milestone reached faster than in any post-recession recovery since 1953. More manufacturing jobs were created in 2021 than in any single year in nearly 30 years. The Defense Department’s efforts to bolster manufacturing and innovation ecosystems in communities across America plays an important role in these Administration-wide efforts because it strengthens our national security and helps the U.S. successfully compete in the industries and technologies of the future. 

Ms. Bistarkey is a strategic communications lead in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment.

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