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RCBI plays key role in supporting innovation, manufacturing

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Charlotte Weber Charlotte Weber

Charlotte Weber is director & CEO of the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing.

American manufacturing continues to undergo tremendous changes and transformations. The first transformative wave that affected manufacturing was the introduction of the steam engine, followed by the advent of mass-production techniques. Then came the globalization of manufacturing. Fast forward to the 21st century, with manufacturers and entrepreneurs seeing big changes due to a new wave of innovations, such as 3D printing, robotics, customized products, etc. 

What does this mean for manufacturers and entrepreneurs and how do they prepare themselves to survive and thrive? A new report from MIT suggests that a renewed commitment to R&D in manufacturing, through creative new forms of collaboration, can spur innovation and growth in the United States. 

The report, Production in the Innovation Economy, or PIE, follows two years of in-depth research on hundreds of firms across various industrial sectors, ranging in size from high-tech startups to multinational corporations. 

While there are a variety of reasons why the nation should seek to retain its own manufacturing base, from defense capacities to job creation, the report aims to highlight the larger potential that manufacturing holds for innovation-based economic growth in the United States. 

"It has been suggested by previous reports that sustaining the strength of U.S. manufacturing is essential to America's future; a strong advanced-manufacturing base is crucial to national security, and it represents a key source of good-paying jobs," MIT President L. Rafael Reif says. "But as the PIE report makes clear, local production is very important to sustaining a vibrant innovation ecosystem in a region. 

"Thus, we must also take steps now to regain U.S. manufacturing momentum if we want to sustain the nation's signature economic advantage: innovation." 

Among the approaches the report recommends are new forms of collaboration and risk-sharing — often through public-private partnerships or industry-university agreements — that can enable a wide variety of firms and industries to grow. Another conclusion the report emphasizes is that manufacturing should not be regarded as a small group of traditional, shrinking industries. Instead, manufacturing is a diverse, evolving group of industries in which new products and knowledge frequently emerge from firms of all sizes throughout the country. 

The Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing, or RCBI, is a unique regional public-private organization that facilitates university-industry R&D efforts and provides training to manufacturers. Our statewide Advanced Manufacturing Technology Centers provide advanced manufacturing equipment and software available to lease ranging from state-of-the-art, cutting-edge machining, precision cutting tools and computer-aided design and manufacturing to robotics, digital scanning and 3D Printing. RCBI helps keep manufacturers competitive and thriving.

RCBI remains committed to being a beacon of innovation and learning for manufacturers of all sizes. Innovation again is opening new worlds of opportunities. RCBI is happy to be a partner in all of this and serve as a driving force toward a bright future.