President Obama Touts Advanced Manufacturing: Pennsylvania can lead the way


By Richard McKenna

It’s official…Pittsburgh has changed. The term “manufacturing” took on new meaning recently when President Barack Obama spoke at Carnegie Mellon University about the future of American manufacturing. The term “advanced manufacturing” was used throughout his visit to help outline his ideas on what it will take to make American manufacturing a leader in the world again.

Western Pennsylvania was a leading center of manufacturing for almost 100 years, producing everything from cardboard boxes to World War II landing craft and enough steel to rebuild a continent or two.

All that changed, however, in the 1980s when the rest of the world began to develop and adopt many of the manufacturing techniques developed here. Japan, China, Brazil, Korea, Germany, India and a whole host of other countries began to manufacture products faster and for less money. America had to adapt and change. And change we did.

For the past 20 years, western Pennsylvania has been reinventing itself. Business owners and new entrepreneurs, along with many of the large national corporations, have advanced the science of manufacturing and have created a whole new segment called “advanced manufacturing”.

President Obama outlined a new government-business partnership titled the “Advanced Manufacturing Partnership.” It will invest $500 million in existing programs designed to connect the private sector, universities and the government to help advance the state of manufacturing in the United States.

In terms of advanced manufacturing, we don’t need to look far. Instead of making regular steel, western PA turns out specialty steel and has advanced the production of stainless steel to a level previously unthought of. Until recently, western PA was not known for pharmaceutical manufacturing. Today, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the US (Bayer Healthcare) has major operations located just outside of Pittsburgh.

Technology manufacturing is now a major component of the local economy. High-tech manufacturing companies such as Black Box and II-VI are leading the way, along with many others in manufacturing products that were formally made somewhere else.
Carnegie Mellon University is leading the way in robotics and similar types of manufacturing. CMU’s Robotics Institute opened its doors with the dream of ushering in a new age of thinking robots. During the ensuing decades, it has experienced many research successes in intelligent manufacturing, autonomous vehicles, space-related robots, medical robotics, nanomachines, computer vision and graphics, and anthropomorphic robots.

All this is a far cry from the heavy manufacturing of the past. As the President and many others turn their sights to the future, one can hope that through innovation, hard work and creative thinking, manufacturing will continue to be the foundation of the western Pennsylvania economy, and that western Pennsylvania can again be a leader in producing the goods and materials needed throughout the world.


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