Why We're Betting on Manufacturing

Author: 
Jeff Immelt, Chairman and CEO, General Electric Company

America can turn a slow recovery into a strong comeback, one that grows our economy and firmly reestablishes our country as a powerhouse of ideas and production. The key – and what will determine the winners and losers of an exciting new era – is our willingness and ability to lead the next “big waves” of productivity.

There are four new drivers of productivity, and success in each depends on the technology and talent we develop. The first is how the sheer volume and increased access to shale gas in regions around the globe is changing the energy debate and the balance of energy power.

It would require real infrastructure and pipeline integration between Canada, Mexico and the U.S., but North America could achieve energy independence within 10 years. The second driver for dramatically increased productivity is applying the lessons of social media to the industrial world and building what we call the Industrial Internet. By owning and connecting the analytical layers around industrial products – and using real time data to extract real time knowledge – we can improve asset performance and drive efficiency. The third driver is speed and simplification because the only way to serve our customers better and compete in a complex world is by working faster and smarter. The last productivity driver, and related to the other three, is the evolution of advanced manufacturing. Manufacturing excellence, forgotten for too long, is once again a competitive advantage.

Today, we are convening a forum in Washington, DC to discuss the future of manufacturing and its impact on the economy. It’s an exciting time; we can reverse a trend where companies outsourced critical capabilities in their supply chain and focused too much on cheap labor rather than speed, innovation and market access. Now, advanced manufacturing — both imbedding technology into products and processes and creating the highly skilled workforce that can support these efforts — and other new innovations in manufacturing are changing what we make, where and how we make it, and even who makes it. Large or small companies that invest in their own capabilities and “own” or control a local supply chain have a competitive advantage as they develop their next breakthrough.

Historically, we’ve manufactured jet engine components mostly by casting, stamping and cutting steel and alloys. Now, through 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, we can “print” complex parts layer by thin layer. At GE Aviation some of our newest jet engines will have printed combustion system components and other parts inside, reducing engine weight and saving our customers money.

Now is the time to bring efforts like this to scale. The rise of analytics and software in the industrial world only multiplies the opportunity in front of us. America must capitalize. If we do, we can create new businesses and new industries. Advanced manufacturing will change not only the way we build complex machines but the entire competitive landscape.