'High-Tech Manufacturing Hub?' Sounds Like Control to Me

Jan. 29, 2014

My ear catches fire when President Obama mentions "high-tech manufacturing hubs." Sounds like control and automation to me, but we may need to reach out from this side, too. 

Sue me, but I usually avoid State of the Union addresses like the plague. They’re too full of vague generalities and unspecific promises that aren’t kept anyway.

Still, like Pavlov’s dog, I’m trained to salivate when I hear words or phrases close to any beat I’m covering. So when I heard that President Barack Obama was highlighting “high-tech manufacturing hubs” in his State of the Union address last night, I checked out the many transcripts available online. Here’s one: www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2014/01/28/obama-2014-state-of-the-union/4972569/.

Anyway, about a third of the way in, President Obama stated, “We also have the chance, right now, to beat other countries in the race for the next wave of high-tech manufacturing jobs. And my administration’s launched two hubs for high-tech manufacturing in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Youngstown, Ohio, where we’ve connected businesses to research universities that can help America lead the world in advanced technologies. “Tonight, I’m announcing we’ll launch six more this year. Bipartisan bills in both houses could double the number of these hubs and the jobs they create. So, get those bills to my desk and put more Americans back to work.”

Very nice. As usual, still fairly general and unspecific, and with few details on what the existing centers are doing, how the new ones are training participants, and how they’re helping U.S. manufacturing compete globally. Granted, it’s probably impossible to cram these and all other deserving details into one speech, but these questions will have to be answered at some point for the words to have actual meaning.

To me, “high-tech manufacturing hub” sounds like a very short hop, skip and jump to process control and automation. I’m playing favorites in favor of my beat, of course, but I think most politicians and business leaders have little or no idea what’s really involved in making real high-tech manufacturing a living, breathing, profitable reality. If they did, we wouldn’t have spent the past few decades letting Japan make all our VCRs, allowing China take over our rare-earth metals production, and frittering away so many other opportunities for the “short-end money.”

Once again, plant-floor process control and automation engineers are going to have get out from behind their traditional support roles, do some critically needed self promotion, and remind everyone else what “high-tech manufacturing” really means and what it requires to succeed in real applications. So, if you end up with one of these hubs nearby, or even something similar, I’d recommend investigating and getting involved. It’ll be more interesting and useful than yet another game of Candy Crush, right?