Dare I ask? Has manufacturing, with its human-friendly, easy-to-program robots; sci-fi-like 3-D production technology; and space-age computer imaging and design finally recaptured the nation's imagination? Can it be that manufacturing once again is viewed as the vanguard of the economy's future, rather than a relic of its past?

I'm still skeptical that the broader business world, let alone public policy leaders, "gets" the importance of manufacturing to the nation's economic well-being -- or that they understand that manufacturing isn't what they recall from a quarter-century ago. I'm still worried that the attention will fade before manufacturing's new futuristic image is firmly fixed and fully understood. 

In the meantime, though, I'm encouraged that manufacturing continues to command the attention it deserves. In the past few months, several general business publications have featured special reports about the "new age" of manufacturing, including The Atlantic, The Economist, and, my favorite, Scientific American.

high tech manufacturingI single out the latter because its editor notes the connection between science and manufacturing, writing in the issue's editorial: "In its first issue … Scientific American summed up its mission: 'The Advocate of Industry and Enterprise, and Journal of Mechanical and other Improvements.'" 

Long-time readers recognize in this quote echoes of the belief I've often asserted: that manufacturing is high-technology; it's the latest science made tangible, useful. The internal combustion engine was the high-tech innovation of its day no less than additive manufacturing is today. Manufacturing businesses never stop innovating. The statisticians who count a "high-tech" sector separate from manufacturing have created a false dichotomy that wrongly relegates manufacturing to the past. 

Many of those taking a new look at manufacturing see a new industrial revolution, one based on knowledge and information. Those of us in manufacturing see the recent futuristic innovations as the latest in a long line of stunning achievements. Indeed, IndustryWeek heralded the dawn of manufacturing's information age nearly two decades ago. 

Now the irony. 

As we celebrate that others see manufacturing for what it truly is, the dynamic and innovative engine of the future, we're taking a look back. We've joined with the Industrial Research Institute as the sponsor of the IRI TechTournament, where you and the general public will choose the most meaningful technological advancement from the past three-quarters of a century.

I believe that this look back will show the general public, business community and public policy makers what they've missed about manufacturing all along. It will help firmly establish that manufacturing is, and always has been, leading us into the future. 

Click here to get details about how you can vote for the most meaningful innovation of the past 75 years during the IRI TechTournament, sponsored by IndustryWeek.