Mike Molnar is no stranger to manufacturing, having spent 25 years at Cummins, most recently as director of sustainable development. But when we spoke with him recently, he was less than three weeks into his new job as chief manufacturing officer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), part of the Department of Commerce.
If Molnar hadn't quite figured out his way around the Washington bureaucracy, he had a clear sense of what would make him a success as NIST's first chief manufacturing officer.
First, he wants to change the image of manufacturing in the United States. He referenced the recent study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute in which those polled put a manufacturing plant at the top of the investments they would like to see in their community, but then showed little(33%) interest in having their children work in manufacturing. The country needs to change that underlying belief, that manufacturing "has no future, is dirty, hazardous," said Molnar, and instead see manufacturing as a source of good jobs.
Second, Molnar wants the United States to retain its role as "the best place in the world for advanced manufacturing." He noted that China will soon overtake the United States as the world's largest manufacturer, a role the U.S. held for 100 years. He said it was important for the country to continue to be "one of the largest manufacturers in the world," but it was vital that the U.S. keep its lead in advanced manufacturing.
In June, a presidential council warned that the nation's historic leadership in manufacturing "is at risk." The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) said in its report on advanced manufacturing that the United States was losing ground not only on "low-wage jobs in low-cost countries" but also to more advanced nations that were pursuing both advanced manufacturing and the research & development activities that go with it.
One aspect of President Obama's Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, announced June 24, is a proposal to help small and medium-sized manufacturers tap into local or regional resources such as federal laboratories and universities. Called the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia (AMTech) program, it calls for $12.3 million to promote consortia that would "tackle common technological barriers to the innovation and manufacturing of new products."
Molnar cited PCAST's position that the U.S. does not need an industrial policy as much as it needs an "innovation policy" that would provide a supportive business environment, promote the development of "powerful new technologies," and offer the infrastructure for technology-based companies to flourish here.
" made the case that complete laissez faire in these emerging technologies is not a good idea," Molnar said. Part of his job will be to develop better coordination among the "tremendous diversity of programs, consortia and universities" and strengthen the "industrial commons" so that the U.S. not only invents advanced products but produces them domestically.