Initiatives designed to bolster the United States' manufacturing sector, including President Obama's Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP), have been receiving a lot of press these days. Most of these efforts are just getting underway. Many of the fledgling programs are targeting America's manufacturing heartland, the Midwest.
But the US isn't the only country taking measures to support its manufacturing infrastructure. And perhaps we can learn a thing or two from our global competitors.
In the UK, for example, the Brits have been far from idle. Right in the center of England is the Sheffield City Region which makes this far from modest claim, "Whether you represent a company from the rest of the UK or the rest of the world, if you want to set up a new manufacturing facility there is no better place globally (boldface theirs) to start this endeavour than in Sheffield and its surrounding region." The Locate In Sheffield website then asks rhetorically "Why, you will be rightly asking yourself," and then goes on to cite three reasons: more than 150,000 top quality people who work in manufacturing; the innovative and "maverick" spirit that exists among its businesses, universities and R&D organizations; and a robust infrastructure of networking, property, HR and unrivaled financial support (italics ours).
To be specific, this October the UK's Business Secretary, Vince Cable, announced that two research centers in the region's Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP) will be among seven nationwide to benefit from a £140 million, six year program to create a new Technology and Innovation Center (TIC) for high value manufacturing.
Said Dr. Cable, "Manufacturing has a key role to play in economic growth and rebalancing the economy, in particular driving exports and productivity. The Government is supporting manufacturing through a modern industrial strategy fit for the 21st century."
So the Sheffield Region is pulling out all the stops to realize its goal of becoming the advanced manufacturing center of the UK and the world. It is pushing to become the home of a National Advanced Engineering and Manufacturing Growth Hub, based at the Advanced Manufacturing Park. AMP is located at the center of the Region's new Enterprise Zone, which is focused on attracting companies specializing in technology, research and digital developments such as digital manufacturing.
The UK government's Technology Strategy Board is also providing £33 million on competitions designed to come up with new discoveries and breakthroughs in products associated with advanced materials, biosciences, nanoscale technologies, and low carbon vehicles. Another government initiative called "See Inside Manufacturing," is geared to help companies recruit young people with the skills needed to remain in the forefront of advanced manufacturing.
The Sheffield Region is already home to some of the world's leading manufacturing companies such as Boeing, Roll-Royce, Corus, Marshall Aerospace, and many others.
Given all this coordinated, funded and highly focused activity, the Sheffield Region may just realize its goal of becoming the UK's magnet for advanced manufacturing.
In the US, numerous initiatives – from Ohio Blue Collar Computing to the National Center for Manufacturing Science's Predictive Information Centers – are springing up all over the landscape, many of them taking different directions. It could be that the close cooperation and interplay between UK government, academia, manufacturing companies, and regional agencies is a model worth watching and learning from.