From the Foreign Policy article: "The Future of Manufacturing Is in America, Not China
," by Vivek Wadhwa:
"Ralph Lauren berets aside, the larger trends show that the tide has turned, and it is China's turn to worry. Many CEOs, including Dow Chemicals' Andrew Liveris, have declared their intentions to bring manufacturing back to the United States. What is going to accelerate the trend isn't, as people believe, the rising cost of Chinese labor or a rising yuan. The real threat to China comes from technology. Technical advances will soon lead to the same hollowing out of China's manufacturing industry that they have to U.S industry over the past two decades."
"Several technologies advancing and converging will cause this."
"First, robotics. The factory assembly that China is currently performing is child's play compared to the next generation of robots -- which will soon become cheaper than human labor."
"Then there is artificial intelligence (AI) -- software that makes computers, if not intelligent in the human sense, at least good enough to fake it. Neil Jacobstein, who chairs the AI track at the Silicon Valley-based graduate program Singularity University, says that AI technologies will find their way into manufacturing and make it "personal": that we will be able to design our own products at home with the aid of AI design assistants. He predicts a "creator economy" in whi
ch mass production is replaced by personalized production, with people customizing designs they download from the Internet or develop themselves."
"How will we turn these designs into products? By "printing" them at home or at modern-day Kinko's -- shared public manufacturing facilities such as TechShop
, a membership-based manufacturing workshop, using new manufacturing technologies that are now on the horizon."
"By the end of this decade, we will see 3D printers doing the small-scale production of previously labor-intensive crafts and goods. It is entirely conceivable that, in the next decade, manufacturing will again become a local industry and it will be possible to 3D print electronics and use giant 3D printing scaffolds to print entire buildings. Why would we ship raw materials all the way to China and then ship completed products back to the United States when they can be manufactured more cheaply locally, on demand?"
"It's a near certainty that robotics, AI, and 3D-printing technologies will advance rapidly and converge. American companies are already finding the rising cost of labor, shipping costs and time lags, and intellectual-property protection to be major issues in doing business in China."
"The most advanced automobile of today -- the Tesla Roadster -- is already being manufactured in the United States using robotic and AI technologies. Google just announced that it will produce its highly-acclaimed Nexus 7 tablet in the United States. This is just the beginning of the trend. So, let me predict a future headline: 'Protests break out in China over 2020 Summer Olympic uniforms, 3D-printed with U.S.-made technology.'"
HT: Sadanand Dhume