This post is authored by CEO and Co-Founder of Seurat, James DeMuth
July 4th, 1776, the United States of America declared independence. A united group of people looking to realize the desire, potential, and capability to control their destiny and their future. In the interconnected world of today, we have given up that independence in the form of offshoring manufacturing, jobs, and talent. It is time for not just the US, but the world to reclaim jobs, and control of its manufacturing and supply chains.
Since roughly the 1970s the United States has ramped up the off-shoring of manufacturing, subsequently spreading to other jobs across the economy. Large corporations supported shareholder profits at the expense of all else — workers, jobs, innovation, knowledge, and the environment, to name a few. This short-sighted plan had disastrous consequences for local economies and ultimately for the companies who implement them. The multi-generational consequences of these decisions have nearly destroyed the middle class in the United States. Instead of implementing more advanced manufacturing and lifting up the local economy, large corporations abandoned those nearest and dearest to them. It is time for this type of backward thinking to stop.
Some companies have been able to reverse the trend. From battery production to self-driving algorithms, Tesla has successfully vertically integrated their products and intentionally manufactured them close to its largest markets. Needless to say, the domino effects of job creation and regional economic benefits are plentiful. However, localized manufacturing does not have to be a ‘Musk monopoly.’
The opportunity for companies of all sizes to be like Tesla is closer than we think with emerging technologies that are increasing productivity and profitability at home. But, to fuel these technologies, we need major advancements in clean energy innovation to reimagine manufacturing.
Some smaller U.S. businesses are already pushing the needle towards the next industrial revolution. Take electric bike startup Land Moto, which re-shored their manufacturing to Ohio — relying on 3D printing (also known as Additive Manufacturing) to lower tooling costs. Then there’s private-label manufacturer American Knits, which sells to retailers like J.Crew — using shorter lead times to beat offshore suppliers.
How do we make these examples of reshoring more commonplace? Manufacturing will need to prove that it can cost-effectively scale without hazardously contributing greenhouse gas emissions. The “dirty secret” of manufacturing is that it is the highest and fastest-growing contributor to climate change, responsible for 22% of all emissions in the U.S. Shipping parts all over the world is disastrous environmentally and economically. Every $10 increase in the price of crude oil adds about 24 cents to the cost of each gallon of gasoline, and this is quickly reflected in the costs to manufacturers (and consumers).
To truly build back better, we need to move towards net-zero manufacturing powered by efficient, clean energy sources. The latest White House initiative to buy clean materials is a step in the right direction to prioritize manufacturing that produces fewer pollutants and set up pilot projects to increase federal procurement of clean construction materials.
The way we make things hasn’t changed much since medieval times.
Conventional casting, the 7,000-year-old process of pouring molten metal into a form, today uses natural gas and coke which produce unsustainable amounts of emissions. This must change. With innovation in laser and nano technology, we can pull manufacturing out of the coal mines and charge up a future powered by unlimited clean energy. Advanced manufacturing technologies powered by clean energy sources have the potential to transition the industry towards a ‘green destiny.’ It’s the only way.
Let the Reimagination Begin
Localized manufacturing first requires addressing the decades of dependence on foreign factories that move 300,000 jobs out of the U.S. each year. Offshored manufacturing is a big challenge, but curtailing it will be the future. We need an ecosystem of innovators and policymakers to democratize mass production and that starts with achieving cost parity of goods produced.
Additive Manufacturing is one new technology that uses high-power laser beams to unlock high-volume industrial production and ultimately outcompete the foreign market. By scaling the printing process, we can drop the costs of parts to below conventional manufacturing and essentially provide the solution that the industry has been waiting for. The benefits are already being realized — Additive Manufacturing is making localized production possible and profitable for companies building everything from wind turbines to rocket engines.
These advanced manufacturing methods bring our supply chains closer to home during a time when supply chain strife is leaving most manufacturers struggling to meet demand. When coupling localized production with cutting-edge technology, parts can be created when and where they are needed — dramatically reducing shipping inefficiencies and the potential for market disruptions. A domestic supply chain means bringing back jobs, as well as lower costs and shorter delivery times for all stakeholders, from the manufacturer to the retailer to the consumer.
New ways of manufacturing are sparking innovation and making the things we use every day without waste or sky-high prices. Similar to how the simple cylinder boring machine sparked the Industrial Revolution, Additive Manufacturing and other emerging technologies make domestic manufacturing capabilities better. And we’re just scratching the surface.
Reshoring Addresses the ‘Dirty Secret’ of Manufacturing
From my time at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, I learned that any success in advanced manufacturing is closely tied to the energy source that fuels it. With the IPCC recently calling out the “catastrophic impacts” of climate change, now is the time to turn to manufacturing technologies that will reduce the industry’s outsized carbon footprint. When Additive Manufacturing is powered by clean energy, it is not just beneficial to the energy generation industry, but is foundational to global sustainability.
Technologies powered by clean energy can support a new model of Green Manufacturing. Imagine local manufacturing depots powered by efficient, renewable, and non-green-house-gas emitting sources. With a focus on maximizing energy productivity and doing more with less, manufacturers can grow the economy and reduce both the nation’s emissions and reliance on an unpredictable supply chain.
The next iteration of clean energy will make manufacturing smarter, greener, and more cost-competitive than ever before. Next-Generation manufacturing needs Next-Generation Energy. Fusion energy companies, such as Helion Energy, Commonwealth Fusion Systems, Type One Energy, TAE Technologies, General Fusion, and Marvel Fusion, are pushing the frontiers of what is possible, driving us to an inevitable future, and innovating where manufacturers can harness energy sources.
Reshoring Is The Untapped Home Team Advantage
Offshoring will never be the solution to supply chain resiliency, job creation, and especially carbon neutrality. We need new technologies that can achieve high volume production and usher in a new era of green energy that will secure the supply chain and help to address the climate crisis. To truly reimagine manufacturing, we need to focus on emerging technologies that are powered by green energy sources — including those that are yet to emerge.