Many people view the Curiosity's successful landing on Mars as a scientific breakthrough, but I view it as a manufacturing marvel. Without a strong manufacturing sector, the United States would never have been able to land the SUV-sized, robotic laboratory on the distant planet.
The achievement shows that manufacturing is not only a fundamental driver in high-technology and scientific breakthroughs. Manufacturing is high-technology.
Long-time readers of my columns know I frequently editorialize on this topic. Indeed, in one of my first columns, Manufacturing's Big Chance (Nov. 6, 2000), I asserted: "Manufacturing is a high-tech, new-economy venture." (This was in late 2000, when dotcoms were all the rage.) I hadn't gone out on a limb; in the editorial I'd quoted Jack Welch, then the revered CEO of General Electric Co. (IW 500/5) When asked why he'd proposed an acquisition of Honeywell International Inc. (IW 500/37) instead of a high-tech company, he replied, "What the hell do you think Honeywell is?"
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Periodically, I've simply become fed up with people whose perception of manufacturing is stuck back in the Industrial Revolution, so I try again, as I did when I wrote Searching for Innovation's Source (January 2005). There I point out: "...walk into most manufacturing companies today, and you'll find the latest 'high-tech' machine tools networked with the latest 'high-tech' information systems churning out products that were developed in the last year and that are stuffed with 'high-tech' features."
So when I witnessed manufacturing play such a vital role in this historic event, I just had to jump in to point out how Mars Curiosity represents the best of manufacturing.
To wit: IW Technology Editor Travis Hessman's report, NASA's Curiosity Triumphs with the Help of American Manufacturing, Technology, details the key contributions of Alliant Techsystems Inc. (IW 500/202), a Minneapolis-based aerospace, defense and commercial products company.
Other big-name manufacturing companies that contributed vital components, according to reports, include aerospace and defense giants Lockheed Martin Corp. (IW50/37) and General Dynamics Corp. (IW500/40). And it wasn't just about the big guys. Marton Precision Manufacturing Inc., a metalworking job shop in Fullerton, Calif., reportedly manufactured hundreds of parts for Curiosity.
I'm certain other U.S. manufacturers–and likely a few non-U.S. manufacturers–contributed to this great success. If your company or another company you know of played a role, let me know, so IW can get the word out.
Because it's time to double-down on our efforts to demonstrate to the public and public policy leaders how vital manufacturers are to high-technology and scientific breakthroughs–and how manufacturing very often is high-technology.