Manufacturing in North America is at a crossroads. Jobs have been outsourced to take advantage of the low cost of human capital for mass production of low cost manufactured goods. This movement has been experienced in the United States over the last 20 years as jobs were moved from U.S. locations to Mexico to take advantage of the low labor costs in the Mexican maquila system. As the workforce in Mexico has matured so have increases in pay, which means that manufacturing jobs have moved further abroad from mainland North America to China and India, chasing the advantages of low cost labor.
Today’s consortium of alliances in the Rio South Texas Region called the North American Advanced Manufacturing Research and Education Initiative (NAAMREI) has been established to take on the challenge of positioning the Region, Texas, and North America as a world leader in rapid response manufacturing. This is the first step in bringing affordable, high-quality manufacturing back to the North American continent.
Three alliances comprise NAAMREI, including the Advanced Manufacturing College Alliance, which provides customized training of the manufacturing workforce in response to local industry needs; the T-STEM alliance led by the Region One Education Service Center, which services K-12 teachers, administrators, and students of T-STEM Academies to prepare them for technical careers in manufacturing; and the North American Technology Innovation Alliance, which includes companies, universities, and economic development organizations; and government agencies. Together, these alliances share a common goal: to address the issue of sustainable competitiveness in manufacturing technology in North America.
At the core of the NAAMREI consortium is The University of Texas-Pan American Rapid Response Manufacturing Center. The center officially opened its doors in April 2008. Its focus is to promote the identification and use of disruptive technologies to increase speed in response to customer needs, speed of technology development, decrease time-to-market of mass customized products, and spearhead new strategies to address product costs and speed of delivery. Rapid response manufacturing (RRM) is a concept that incorporates innovation in the minimization of product life cycle from an initial concept idea to the delivery of a finished product based on a customer satisfaction driven process focusing on price and lead-time.
The rapid response concept in the region has evolved through collaboration between UTPA, Michigan State University, ITESM in Mexico, the McAllen Economic Development Corporation, and manufacturing companies from the local maquila system. These efforts started with a grant from the National Science Foundation in 2000 under its Partnership for Innovation Program. The North American Technology Innovation Alliance was formed, and then joined with the Rio South Texas Manufacturing College Alliance, and the Region One Education Service Center TSTEM Alliance to form NAAMREI. This consortium of alliances has received funding as a generation two project from the U.S. Department of Labor WIRED Program, the State of Texas, and the U.S. Department of Education.
STRENGTHEN AND COLLABORATE
There are three specific goals for NAAMREI and the UTPA Rapid Response Manufacturing Center, including:
• Strengthen competitiveness of North American manufacturing and the regional advanced technology base by creating RRM systems through university research and development, as well as developing engineering talent to implement RRMbased industries in similar areas across North American, Thus sustaining regional and national economic growth and prosperity in manufacturing.
• Develop a globally competitive manufacturing workforce through regional customized manufacturing education and workforce training systems that utilize innovative curricula to credential the skills and knowledge needed to compete in a global economy in a sustainable manner.
• Collaborate with Region One Education Service Center’s T-STEM Center, El Centro del Futuro, to meet the statewide T-STEM goal of developing the nation’s leading innovation economy workforce by aligning high school and post-secondary education with economic development activities.
A HUB FOR ACTION
The Rio South Texas Region is geographically and demographically well positioned to achieve these goals. The region added more than 231,000 people between the years 2000 and 2006, and approximately 40 percent of the population is 20 years old or younger. Regional job growth has outpaced that of the entire State of Texas with nearly 50,000 jobs added in the past five years.
Based on all of this potential, a new Advanced Manufacturing hub is forming around the UTPA Rapid Response Manufacturing Center activities. The center will harness technological advancements and grow the seeds of technology in the Rio South Texas Region, the State of Texas, and North America to build a sustainable globally competitive economy. The RRMC will provide companies with research, development and demonstration services; customized education of tomorrow’s engineering workforce; pre-incubation of new companies and ventures and growth in a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Companies from around the world have already started to visit the region to explore how they might participate in the development of the NAAMREI planned North American Research and Education World Premier Park. This park, as phase two of the NAAMREI plan, will be located on a plot of 280 acres located in McAllen, Texas. Private investors will develop 200 acres that will be devoted to corporate research and development operations. Eighty acres will be devoted to the Phase II Rapid Response Manufacturing Center education facility. This new 280-acre research and education park will focus on sustaining North American leadership in manufacturing.
The product engineering design and manufacturing sector of the Americas must focus on customer desires and needs. Products driven by customer needs and desires, delivered when the customer wants, and at a price that the customer is willing to pay is the strategy that can produce a competitive edge and bring manufacturing jobs back to North America. The Rio South Texas Region is strategically positioned to become the hub of the next generation of advanced manufacturing.
Dr. John R. Lloyd is a Research Professor of Engineering at The University of Texas-Pan American and Director of the UTPA Rapid Response Manufacturing Center. He is also a University Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University and a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School.
Dr. Miguel A. Gonzalez pursued and obtained a Bachelor, Master, and Doctorate degrees in Industrial Engineering at the University of Houston and is a founding leader of the Rapid Response Manufacturing Center and serves in leadership positions in technology based economic development in the Rio South Texas Region.
For information visit www.southtexascollege.edu or www.naamrei.org.