Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Altering the course of American manufacturing:
a national meeting and public symposium

For more information:
• A National Symposium and National Academy of Engineering Regional Meeting: Engineering to Improve the Operations of Manufacturing Enterprises:
Engineering Research Center for Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems:

How to turn the tide in the shrinking American manufacturing sector is the focus of a National Academy of Engineering meeting this week at the university. More than 130 of the most distinguished engineers in the country are gathering for the event, which includes a public symposium on Thursday.

They will develop recommendations and expect to release a report in the fall.

Today, manufacturing contributes just 13 percent of the national GDP. That percentage has dropped by 50 percent in the past 35 years — a trend that threatens the country's competitiveness and national security, say U-M engineers.

“This shrinking percentage is seen as a problem,” says Don Chaffin, U-M distinguished university professor emeritus from the Department of Industrial and Operations Engineering. “There are many new marketplaces out there that are demanding new products and we need to be able to supply those products in the future. We need to have those exports.”

Chaffin says our knowledge economy can inform manufacturing expertise. Engineers at this meeting will consider how to model manufacturing systems and how to build them to be more agile, responsive to consumer needs, environmentally-sustainable and cost-competitive.

A detailed agenda is at Speakers include:
• Sridhar Kota, assistant director for advanced manufacturing at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Kota also is a professor in the U-M Department of Mechanical Engineering. (8:55-9:20 a.m.)

• Charles Vest, president of the National Academy of Engineering and former president of MIT (9:30- 10 a.m.)

• Lawrence Burns, retired former vice president for R&D and Strategic Planning at General Motors. (10:15-10:45 a.m.)

• Sharon Nunes, vice president for big green innovations at IBM Corporation (12:45-1:15 p.m.)

• General David Maddox, a retired U.S. Army general who is now with DMM Consulting. (2:30- 3 p.m.)

Chaffin underscores the importance of a robust manufacturing sector for national defense.

“We need the capacity here at home,” Chaffin says. “You can’t rely on the Chinese to manufacture our defense systems. We have to do that ourselves.”

The public symposium is May 14 from 8:30 a.m to 5 p.m. in Stamps Auditorium in the Walgreen Drama Center at 1226 Murfin on U-M’s North Campus in Ann Arbor. A map is available at

NAE members, U-M faculty, staff and full-time students may attend the symposium at no charge. The National Science Foundation also is sponsoring this meeting. The university is home to the Engineering Research Center for Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems, located in the College of Engineering.