Manufacturing: Innovation’s secret sauce

Thanks to our new master of engineering program and other initiatives, we’re educating a new generation of entrepreneurial engineers with transformative products and services in mind. But to drive these innovative ideas to market, they will need manufacturing know-how as well.

To help, Berkeley Engineering is leading a national effort to build networks for manufacturing innovation—consortia where university and industry researchers can develop assembly lines that match the sophistication of today’s emerging technologies.

In advanced fields ranging from microfluidics to cyber-physical systems, the manufacturing challenges are just as formidable as the original product development. Designers and builders must work side-by-side to test prototypes and production, iterating as they go along.

The “Edison Institutes” we have in mind will focus on reducing costs and increasing scalability in technologies that will drive growing sectors of the U.S. economy, from health care to energy to national security. The setting will be pre-competitive, and the latest thinking on “smart” materials and sustainable design will shape our work. So far, UC Davis, UCSF, LBNL and Stanford have joined Berkeley Engineering to plan a West Coast hub for this national initiative. Industry partners are also joining in.

This manufacturing innovation network is an outgrowth of the national Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP), formed in 2011 at the behest of the White House. Berkeley is one of six universities that helped to launch AMP, joining with industry and government to invest in technologies that will create high-quality jobs and enhance global competitiveness.

Our work will do more than just prepare emerging technologies for large-scale manufacturing. It will also prove some theories about the relationship between manufacturing and innovation. Economists and engineers are starting to think that expanding manufacturing will lead to a more innovative economy. Companies that keep research and manufacturing together may be able to innovate better than those that send schematics overseas for low-wage production.

What’s your view? I welcome your thoughts and ideas.

S. Shankar Sastry
Dean and Roy W. Carlson Professor of Engineering
Director, Blum Center for Developing Economies