The Future of Manufacturing and Operations in the U.S

Fri, April 05, 2024

Conversations about manufacturing logistics are at the forefront for U.S. leaders as the effects of the pandemic and global unrest have exposed insecurities in the supply chain. 

The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) invited key manufacturing leaders and academics to delve into the nation’s current production industry and discuss the future. Hosted at Purdue University in West Lafeyette, Indiana, the 2024 NAE Regional Meeting, Excellence in Manufacturing and Operations (XMO) at the Crossroads of America, featured in-depth panels, interactive tours, and discussions centered on integrated digital, physical, and sustainable manufacturing for critical industrial sectors including defense and aerospace, transportation and logistics, semiconductor and microelectronics, agriculture, and food, and biomedical for health care.

anderson.jpg“NAE regional meetings provide significant opportunities for convening, cooperation and allyship among engineers and others working in industry, academia, government and military,” said NAE President John Anderson. “The Purdue staff did an excellent job facilitating this meeting. The entire event centered on important moments for engineers and others to discuss the essential steps needed in industry to secure our mutual goals of ensuring sustainability for our environment, our economy and our livelihood.” 

Hosted in an integral state for U.S. manufacturing, the two-day meeting kicked off with the eXcellence in Manufacturing and Operations tours of Purdue University’s engineering laboratories and centers. The tours included viewings of the Indiana Manufacturing Institute, including the Composites Manufacturing Simulation Center and Indiana Next Generation Manufacturing Competitiveness Center; the Manufacturing and Materials Research Laboratories; the Birck Nanotechnology Center; and the Gateway Building. Led by faculty and students, participants engaged with interactive displays of the cutting-edge and imaginative machinery Purdue University uses in research and education.

Transportation and Logistics for Smart Crossroads

The symposium opened with leaders in transportation and logistics discussing the future of America’s transportation. Panelists noted that as automation grows and the demand for electric vehicles increases, the industry must address the new demands for quicker product development, sustainability, and managing customer anxiety. 

“If you’re going to talk about where we are going, it’s always good to look at where we have been,” said Alan Taub, NAE member and Robert H. Lurie Professor of Engineering at the University of Michigan. “The industry has known almost since the beginning that an electric vehicle is better. … The problem was we didn’t know how to deliver it. It wasn’t just the cost.” 

Despite the growing pains of electric vehicles in logistics, with the proper planning, the panel was optimistic about the future of transportation and logistics in the U.S.

Defense and Space: Manufacturing and Operational Resilience

Purdue_Regional-1.jpgWith a goal of long-term space exploration and eventual missions to Mars, NASA Glenn Research Center Director James Kenyon detailed some challenges the Artemis 2 flight will face such as cost, priority and policy. According to Kenyon, “These things are hard and expensive. … It’s going to be a little while before Artemis 2. … It is an ambitious development.” 

Fellow space expert Joel Mozer emphasized the need for collaboration and shared information to grow space exploration. “We have to understand that … using data that we don’t necessarily control is an advantage. It’s a culture change,” Mozer said. “Every new tech combines with another tech and that accelerates over time. Bureaucracy can fail to keep up with that.”

Agriculture and Food Security for National Security

“We don’t have a food production problem; we have a food distribution problem.” This was a powerful sentiment echoed by the three presenters on agriculture and food security. Mitch Frazier, president and CEO of AgriNovus Indiana, David Coates, director of the economic development division at the Indiana Department of Agriculture, and John Reid, NAE member and research professor from the University of Illinois Grainger College of Engineering, discussed how it is important for engineers to keep economic and ecological hurdles in mind when engineering for food insecurity. 

Because food affects everyone, the planning around food production and distribution must be human. Cultural differences, education, and mistrust were noted as competing factors when thinking of food innovation. For example, locals can ignore even the best new innovations in food if they can’t prepare it. A holistic approach to food management is important in the industry. 

Excellence in Life Sciences Manufacturing: Regional Opportunities and National Impact

In the final panel, industry experts discussed the current feats in the life sciences industries, like pharmaceuticals and biotech. Mike Bolinder, senior vice president of external engagement and chief innovation officer at BioCrossroads highlighted Indiana as a future industry leader for life sciences, emphasizing the “state’s well-established manufacturing expertise and the development and operationalization of new and emerging production systems that ensure efficiency and growth.” 

Garth Simpson, professor of analytical and physical chemistry at the College of Science at Purdue University, also agreed with Indiana’s importance in the life sciences realm. Simpson noted the critical next steps in taking the research gained at Purdue to Indianapolis, calling the idea a “hard tech corridor that connects academic accomplishments and academic innovations within West Lafayette through to the pharm manufacturer in other districts.” Leaning on Indiana’s infrastructure looks to be a promising path to bolster the life sciences industries. 

Attendees take part in manufacturing discussions at the 2024 NAE Regional Meeting, Excellence in Manufacturing and Operations (XMO) at the Crossroads of America.

Research by graduate students was highlighted during an interactive poster session and a student debate on “Microelectronics Manufacturing, Supply Chain and Tech Diplomacy.” 

For information on Purdue University’s recently launched eXcellence in Manufacturing and Operations Purdue Engineering Initiative click here.