Skip to main content

Democratization of Manufacturing: Notes from the American Energy & Manufacturing Competitiveness Summit

June 3, 2016

By Jill Engel-Cox, Ph.D., CEMAC Director

Three panel member businesspeople chatting on a stage.

On May 12, I had the privilege of attending and participating in a panel at the 2016 American Energy & Manufacturing Competitiveness (AEMC) Summit at the City College of New York's Great Hall. It was especially exciting to share some of CEMAC's progress and findings since it was formally launched at the previous AEMC Summit in September 2015.

At CEMAC, we are conducting deep technical and economic studies on the supply and value chains for manufacturing clean technologies, and you can see some of those results in our recent reports on lithium-ion batteries and carbon fiber materials. Additionally, we are discovering cross-cutting observations important for the development of manufacturing, many of which were echoed by colleagues at the AEMC meeting.

First, we are finding that analyzing value chains in depth helps inform the many nuances of decisions related to manufacturing locations for extracting and processing raw materials, making the array of required subcomponents, and assembling and shipping the final product. This more robust knowledge, in turn, can help set research agendas and determine manufacturing areas of focus optimized by location and technology. When viewing the entire path from raw materials through processed materials and subcomponents to final product, it becomes clear that manufacturing of almost all clean energy technologies is global. This insight could be useful in informing policy and investment decisions to advance the clean energy economy.

Second, like so many other sectors in this Internet age, clean energy is in the midst of a manufacturing revolution. Processes such as additive, on-demand, and onsite manufacturing mean that the making of products is becoming decentralized and distributed. This could mean that small businesses and even individuals, in communities of any size, will have the ability to make complex products themselves, which could mean a realization of Thomas Friedman's vision of democratization of technology and manufacturing.

Third, the trends toward increasingly global supply chains and decentralized manufacturing can create tremendous opportunities for innovation and economic development of the United States and the world. These opportunities include developing new dynamic industrial processes, sustainable materials, and advanced clean manufacturing technologies, as well as the high-tech labor force that will create and operate them.

As policymakers and industry leaders engage the potential of the clean energy economy and manufacturing revolution, CEMAC will continue to provide objective analysis, unique data sets, and robust insights to aid the decision making process.