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First Person: AMT President Calls for Permanent Manufacturing R&D and Innovation Incentives

Doug Woods, President, The Association For Manufacturing Technology (Fall 2012)
AD: What challenges did you confront when becoming President of AMT?

Woods: When I became President of AMT, I was concerned about the lack of awareness about manufacturing's importance to our economy and the critical roles that the government and our educational institutions represent. At that same time, innovation economics was gaining energy, linking the strength of economic growth with innovation and productivity increases.


AD: I understand you spearheaded the Manufacturing Mandate initiative. Can you explain its purpose?

Woods: Our intent with the Manufacturing Mandate is to draw national attention to the challenges and opportunities of today's world economy. But, more importantly, it is a recommendation for building manufacturing strength and job creation and is ultimately the key to American economic power.

AD: How has the manufacturing landscape changed since implementation of the initiative?

Woods: It has been almost three years since we introduced the AMT Manufacturing Mandate. In that time, the landscape has changed considerably for American manufacturing. Led by a strong manufacturing technology industry, manufacturing has been the force behind our current economic recovery. Since the recession, manufacturing technology orders have soared as manufacturers have modernized their equipment, expanded their facilities, and upgraded their processes. Today, American manufacturers are more efficient, more productive, more innovative, and more prepared than ever to take on their global competitors.

AD: What should be government's role in advancing the manufacturing sector?

Woods: To accelerate and sustain this resurgence, the federal government needs to implement a data-driven, results-focused national manufacturing strategy. Today many policymakers, industry leaders, and academia agree on the major aspects of a strategy. They are consistent with the Manufacturing Mandate core principles of incentivizing R&D and innovation, increasing global competitiveness, and building a "Smartforce" that is equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary for careers in manufacturing.

AD: What makes today's manufacturers leaders in innovation?

Woods: AMT members are expanding the horizon of manufacturing technology in both incremental improvements and radical developments in technology. An increasing share of the price of new equipment is not in the part of the machine that shapes the product but in the automation that delivers the material, checks positioning, loads/checks programs, tests the finished product for quality issues, and then delivers the work piece to the next stage in the process. At the other end of the spectrum, manufacturers are introducing new technologies, e.g., 3-D printing of metals.

AD: How does R&D come into play?

Woods: R&D and manufacturing leadership are tied hand in hand. Proximity to the manufacturing process creates innovation spillovers across firms and industries, leading to ideas and capabilities that support the next generation of products and processes. Innovation is the fuel that grows manufacturing.

AD: How should manufacturing R&D be incentivized?

Woods: Top of the list is to make any R&D and innovation incentives permanent. It is impossible for small and medium-size companies to make long-term plans when the existence of R&D credits is always in question. R&D cannot be a year to-year commitment. Planning a project without knowing what the true costs are makes R&D an even more risky venture. The U.S. also needs to increase its R&D funding targeted for sustaining economic growth technologies and leverage existing manufacturing infrastructure to increase collaboration and accelerate the rate of commercialization.

AD: What types of workers are needed to fill today's manufacturing jobs?

Woods: The factory floor requires workers with math and science skills. That is why we need to build a better-educated and trained "Smartforce." As part of the collaboration we call for, there must be support for grants and scholarships as well as meeting the academic challenges for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs. We also support implementing national manufacturing skills certifications and the creation of "2-Plus" Manufacturing Technology degree programs at community colleges and universities emphasizing industry-based internships.

AD: What can be done to change the old perception of a manufacturing career?

Woods: We must educate parents and educators on the merits of a manufacturing career. We actually have a huge opportunity. A burden could be lifted if we can provide alternative education opportunities to college graduation. The current factory floor is far different than before. It's awash with new technologies and processes that require advanced training and adaptable skills.

AD: Is AMT taking specific steps to create the "Smartforce"?

Woods: Yes. AMT has partnered with the National Coalition of Advanced Technology Centers (NCATC), which includes more than 160 of the nation's leading community colleges, with Project Lead The Way Schools, as well as with the nation's top four-year degreed colleges and universities. Through education partnerships, the best candidates will be directed to our industry through MTCareers.org, to connect students to employers who have open positions that need to be filled. Another initiative involves jumpstarting internship programs by modeling successful programs that are still in place, newly created or working well.
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