Aiee! The U.S. Olympic Team’s uniforms were made in China. Curse you, China! Curse your uniform-making ways!
Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev) was positively exuberant with rage: “I think the Olympic committee should be ashamed of themselves,” said Reid. “…I think they should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them and start all over again. If they have to wear nothing but a singlet that says USA on it, painted by hand, then that’s what they should wear.”
That’s a bad idea for two reasons. One: those uniforms are probably mostly synthetic fiber, which release terrible crud when burned. Second, the only thing more ridiculous than the US team’s Ralph Lauren-designed, Franco-nautical-Japanese-schoolgirl inspired, beret-topped Opening Ceremonies uniforms might well be a singlet covered in finger paint.
But as Foreign Policy adroitly points out, the larger message may not be one of uniforms made in China but of China’s Precambrian manufacturing techniques. American manufacturing is undoubtedly in the throes of crisis, but the turbulence is due in no small part to an evolutionary change in the way things are made. While offshored manufacturing such as that in China still relies on thousands of workers turning the proverbial bolt, American manufacturing is ever more 21st Century. Factories will soon be about robotics, modeling and simulation, and additive manufacturing, not an endless sea of dollar-a-day sewing machine operators.
The challenge America faces is converting employment from the factory economy of the 20th Century to the digital manufacturing of the 21st – no small task, and one that will require a major skills and perception overhaul. But as China leverages a massive population of comparatively low-skill, low-education employees to do things the old way, manufacturing dominance is already showing signs of creeping back across the ocean. Tesla builds its electric cars in the U.S. Google is producing Nexus 7 tablet here. GlobalFoundries pumps out microchips from Malta, New York – and all are heavily driven by 3D printing, automation, and MS&A.
Foreign Policy’s Vivek Wadwha prognosticates: “…let me predict a future headline: Protests break out in China over 2020 Summer Olympic uniforms, 3D-printed with U.S.-made technology." Love it. We’ll take the manufacturing; China, you do the design for our 2020 uniforms. Please.