Traditional physical infrastructure investment policies and programs are always useful to a nation. However, a January 2017 report by the prestigious Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, titled: Investing in “Innovation Infrastructure” to Restore U.S. Growth states the following observation,
While support for traditional physical infrastructure could help increase employment if it is debt funded, we should not expect it to address the underlying structural problems of low investment and productivity stagnation that face the U.S. economy. Nor will it do much to revitalize the U.S. manufacturing sector, which suffered unprecedented output and job losses in the 2000s. In addition, innovation-based growth seems to have stalled except in software. Filling potholes and repairing sewers will do nothing to address these deeper problems.”
How can we revitalize the U.S. manufacturing sector through Innovation infrastructure?
Manufacturing and Innovation Infrastructure
As shown in the following Figure 1, for the Manufacturing sector, there is a need to develop an Innovation infrastructure in two areas – (a) scientific and engineering research in the public, academic, and private sectors, and (b) Embedding Innovation models in the Product Development Lifecycle which represents Applied Research to Commercialization phases.
In the above Figure, the Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) are a method of estimating research and technology maturity. The TRLs were initially developed by NASA, and are now widely accepted by the Department of Defense and a number of other U.S. Government agencies and commercial R&D organizations. This nine phase method show the progress of technology from Basic Research to Commercialization. The bottom columns of the figure show the suggested areas where innovation investments should be made. These areas are introduced in the following paragraphs.
Scientific and Engineering Research
Recently, the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) conducted research to identify the economic benefits of developing Advanced Manufacturing technology infrastructure. A summary of these research efforts is provided in a NIST brief – The Economic Impact of Technology Infrastructure for Advanced Manufacturing: An Overview
These research efforts identified that by conducting scientific and engineering research in four Advanced Manufacturing sectors will have an economic impact of over One Hundred Billion ($100B) dollars per year in terms of cost savings. The proposed research areas are: (a) Smart Manufacturing, (b) Advanced Robotics & Automation, (c) Additive manufacturing, and (d) Roll-to Roll Manufacturing. The following Figure 2 shows the breakdown of the total estimated economic impact by each of the four proposed areas, including the percentage factory cost reduction.
For each of these areas, NIST have also produced detailed briefs which show the proposed research areas.
Embedding Innovation Models in Product Development Lifecycle
To support these advanced manufacturing innovation activities, I propose that investments should be made to develop and embed the following innovation models in the Applied Research, Research Translation and Commercialization phases of the Product Development lifecycle.
- A Broader Innovation Model: Currently, most of the research translation efforts are directed towards physical product development. However, it is now well established that there is a need to develop and implement Innovation models which incorporate a broader model to translate research projects and resultant emerging and/or existing technologies into new or existing Product, Service, Process, and Execution models.
- Multidisciplinary (STEM/HUSS) Model: Currently, most of the manufacturing product development activities are conducted by the STEM professionals. However, for successful outcomes, there is a need to involve Humanities and Social Sciences (HUSS) professionals in the Product Development Lifecycle. As Steve Jobs reminded us, “It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.” The STEM professionals “make things work,” and the HUSS professionals “make things matter to the customer” – an essential component of product success.
- Advanced Manufacturing Product-Market Fit: It is now well accepted that nine out of ten venture projects and product development efforts fail due to lack of Product-Market fit. There is need to conduct scientific and engineering research efforts to develop effective Product-Market Fit models for the Manufacturing sector.
- Customer Value Proposition Model: A recent Wall Street Journal article stated that the killer application for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is Product-as-a-Service. According to a recent Cisco survey of worldwide CEO’s of large manufacturing enterprises, such views are well supported by over eighty percent of these CEOs. Such Customer Value Propositions need extensive R&D efforts to ensure that they provide expected values to the customer.
- Empowering STEM/HUSS workforce to Innovate: There is a need to empower the future generations of STEM/HUSS professionals to innovate by teaching them what I call “Innovation-enabling” skills. These skills include Team Science, Science of Science Communication, Venture Science and the application of the innovation models introduced in the above four topics.
For the U.S. to achieve a long term and sustainable growth in GDP and manufacturing productivity, there is a need to invest in not only the physical infrastructure, but also in innovation infrastructure. The nations that adapt such policies and strategically start this journey toward manufacturing “Innovation Infrastructure” will earn long-term advantages in terms of GDP and productivity growth, competitive advantages and Innovation leadership well into the coming decades.