A secret Silicon Valley factory owned by Google is trying something that appears revolutionary — it aims to revive "made in the U.S.A." by returning electronics manufacturing to U.S. shores.
The inscription "Designed and Manufactured in the U.S.A." appears on Google's new home media player called the Nexus Q. Google did not want to disclose its factory's location, but the site appears to have "hundreds" of workers, according to the New York Times.
That Google experiment represents just one example of how companies have begun moving manufacturing back to the U.S. (corporations such as General Electric and Caterpillar have already moved assembly back to the U.S. last year). Reasons for the apparent reversal in U.S. manufacturing's fortunes include rising labor and energy costs in China, as well as the risks of losing intellectual property to copycat products.
The return of electronics manufacturing will likely prove a smart business move for U.S. companies by gaining public and political support and making business operations easier. But there are also reasons to avoid betting too much on hopes of a U.S. manufacturing renaissance giving a huge boost to the economy or certain jobs in the long run.
First, the actual economic benefits of assembling smartphones or tablets look pretty small compared to the rest of the creation process for electronics. For instance, U.S. brain sweat still reaps the most value (and profits) from Apple's iPads and iPhones assembled in China. [INFOGRAPHIC: Who Gets Paid When iPads Are Made]
Second, the return of manufacturing may not necessarily pay off for U.S. workers in the long run because of the huge disruptive technology lurking in the background — the rise of robot workers. Foxconn, the Taiwan-based manufacturer in charge of making Apple's iPhones and iPads, has already said it would invest in robots to begin replacing its one million human workers in Chinese factories.
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has also funded a project for robot sewing machines that can beat Asia's garment factory prices. Success could help tip the international trade balance back in favor of the U.S. and perhaps revive "made in the U.S.A." t-shirt sales, but the spread of robotic manufacturing would end hopes for U.S. assembly-line jobs.
Today's U.S. workers can still benefit from the return of manufacturing for a number of years, and the "made in the U.S.A." designation may prove comforting from the standpoint of safeguarding intellectual property and U.S. national security. But wise assembly line workers will point their kids toward careers beyond the automated factories of tomorrow.
Source: New York Times
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