"I don’t think you can just design and not manufacture."

Posted by mmcmullan on 01/28/2013

Recently, we've been documenting the talk and uptick of a "reshoring" movement -- bringing manufacturing jobs back that went overseas in the last decade.

Apple turned a few heads recently when they announced plans to again assemble a limited number of their products in California. And last week, Walmart got a nice public-relations bump after it declared that it would buy $50 billion of American-made goods over the next decade.

But while it's nice to imagine American companies moving their jobs back home out of a sense of patriotic pride, benevolence it is not; rather, it's simple economics.

A long supply chain costs money. Access to cheap and plentiful labor is no longer a guarantee. And there's an increasingly recognized drop-off in quality that occurs when a product is designed in one place and manufactured elsewhere.

But you don't have to just take our word for it. Autodesk CEO Carl Bass talked to MIT Technology Review about where product design and manufacturing meet. That drop-off exists, he explains. And where manufacturing goes, he explains, design follows:
During the period where people tried to exploit offshoring and outsourcing, manufacturing and design got divorced from each other. Now companies are realizing that if you get too divorced from making the product, you don’t understand how to improve it. 

I was walking one day through this factory in China where they make a huge percentage of the world’s laptops. On one floor there were five different brands of laptops being made. The people who knew about making it were all in this factory. This outsourcer used to just do the manufacturing, but they told me now they’re doing the routine engineering, too.

Mr. Bass knows his way around the subject of design, and his insights into manufacturing reshoring are worth a read. Check out the whole interview here.

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