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Rising from the Ashes – The California Network for Manufacturing Innovation

“The phoenix hope, can wing her way through the desert skies, and still defying fortune's spite; revive from ashes and rise.” – Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Between 2001 (the middle of the “dot com bust”) and 2011, the State of California lost about 10,000 manufacturing establishments and 81,000 manufacturing jobs, a goodly portion of those lost in the entire U.S. Even prior to that, the prevailing belief was that California was shifting to a service economy and that they would do just fine without manufacturing. Companies in Silicon Valley were outsourcing and offshoring the manufacturing of their products as fast as they could. Venture capitalists were requiring start-ups, at a minimum, to explain why they weren’t manufacturing in India, China or other low-cost countries as a precondition for funding.  All in all, it was a manufacturing economy that gave every appearance of being in ashes.

More recent observations, though, show the beginnings of a rebirth of manufacturing in the Golden State. Starting with a National Governors’ Association policy academy on “Making” Our Future that included California (co-sponsored by NIST MEP and the subject of a separate blog) and an initial face-to-face meeting in July 2012, several players in the State have come together to form the California Network for Manufacturing Innovation (CNMI) to address the future of manufacturing in the state.  CNMI’s founding members include NIST MEP affiliated Centers, the California Manufacturing Technology Consultants (CMTC), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL)  and the Corporation for Manufacturing Excellence (Manex) along with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), the University of Southern California (USC), RTI International, El Camino Community College (representing all the Centers for Applied Competitive Technologies) and i-GATE (one of the State’s Innovation Hubs, sponsored by the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development or GoBiz).

The founding members developed a charter in December 2012 including vision, mission and values that includes four pillars – education, outreach, research and policy – to provide focus and allow the group to move forward. The first research event was recently held at LLNL on March 21st. The main topic was additive manufacturing (AM) and the event drew over 200 attendees including about 75 manufacturing companies from around the state.

Keynote speaker Scott Summit of Bespoke Innovations laid out a future for AM. Subsequent panels included AM success stories by Makers Factory, LLNL and Studio Fathom; OEM needs from Rocketdyne, AeroVironment and Argen; capabilities of vendors and suppliers including Autodesk, Microfabrica and 3D Systems; capabilities of service providers including Oxford Performance Materials, Solid Concepts and Global Contract Manufacturing; and the future of AM by LLNL, NASA-Ames, USC and Tesla Motors. The final panel focused on CNMI itself and how the attendees could get involved.

Future events are under consideration. We’ll also be looking at other activities and funding streams required for CNMI to position itself to identify and respond to opportunities to reincarnate, rebuild and reposition California manufacturing. The goal is to achieve the vision of California manufacturing as it should be, not as it is, and truly make a difference to California’s economy.

The path to CNMI hasn’t been easy or quick but may provide a roadmap for other regions and industries to put together their own manufacturing networks. That’s the subject of a future blog (Getting to CNMI).

"Too much sanity may be madness and the maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be." – Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

About the author

Dave Cranmer

Dave Cranmer is the former Deputy Director of the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). With MEP since 1993, he has overseen...

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