Article | Harvard Business Review | March 2012

Does America Really Need Manufacturing?

by Gary P. Pisano and Willy C. Shih

Abstract

Too many U.S. companies base decisions about where to locate production largely on narrow financial criteria. They don't consider whether keeping manufacturing at home makes more sense strategically or take into account the impact it might have on their ability to innovate. The result has been an exodus of manufacturing from America, which has weakened the capabilities that domestic firms need to keep inventing high-quality, cost-competitive products. One problem is that it's hard to tell when moving production far from R&D will do damage. To make that determination, we say that executives need to examine two things. The first is modularity, or the degree to which product design can be separated from manufacturing. When modularity is low, product designs can't be clearly specified and design choices affect manufacturing processes in subtle, difficult-to-predict ways (and vice versa). The second is the maturity of the manufacturing process. Immature processes are ripe for innovation, but over time opportunities for improvement become incremental. Viewed through the modularity-maturity lens, relationships between manufacturing and innovation fall into four quadrants: pure product innovation, pure process innovation, process-embedded innovation, and process-driven innovation. In the first two quadrants, locating design near production isn't critical, but separating the two functions is risky in the third and fourth quadrants. This framework will help business leaders make better sourcing decisions and reinvigorate America's innovation-driven economy.

Keywords: Production; Geographic Location; Innovation and Invention; Competitive Advantage; Product Design; Risk Management; Manufacturing Industry; United States;

Citation:

Pisano, Gary P., and Willy C. Shih. "Does America Really Need Manufacturing?" Harvard Business Review 90, no. 3 (March 2012).