Better, Faster, More (Jobs)

Tuesday, 29 May 2012 | 11:23 AM ET

For those having difficulty picturing the concept of advanced manufacturing, look no further than your AppleiPhone.

Sure, the guts of the device are ground breaking, but so is the glass that covers the display screen. It's called Gorilla Glass because the super light and thin glass is scratch-resistant and largely unbreakable.

Developed by Corning in the 1960s, Gorilla Glass wound up in the cast-off bin of innovation because the company couldn't find any viable commercial application.

It's now widely used, as the company puts it, in the "world’s coolest smartphones, tablets, PCs, and TVs."

Gorilla Glass is not your ordinary glass, thanks to advanced manufacturing technology wherein the glass is put in a super-hot potassium salt bath, which changes its ionic composition.

Gorilla Glass became the main product of an old Corning plant in central Kentucky, which made thin-screen panels for televisions until it became cheaper to manufacture the materials in Asia, where most of the companies' customers were based.

Whether it was a new product or new application doesn't matter to those whose jobs were saved.

At its most basic, advanced manufacturing is about innovation, efficiency, and cost-savings — producing complex things as simply and cheaply as possible, redefining economy of scale.

At its best, advanced manufacturing is also about creating and saving American jobs from the global economy. Fewer workers, perhaps, but more affordable jobs. It is not about $20 DVD players.

Advanced manufacturing is about customization, scalability and high-precision and performance.

The Corning-Apple Gorilla Glass story is an oft-told one in advanced manufacturing circles, but it is hardly a rarity.

The auto industry has embraced the concept and is using it improve both process and product. In particular, the goal is to make cars by the thousands, not the millions, and make a profit. It is not simply about robots on the assembly line.

The aerospace, pharmaceutical, medical device, and IT sectors are other hotbeds of advanced manufacturing.

President Barack Obama is also hot on the concept, having launched a $500 million, public-private initiative in 2011 "to spark a renaissance in American manufacturing and help our manufacturers develop the cutting-edge tools they need to compete with anyone in the world ... and create high-quality, good-paying jobs for American workers.”

Sounds good to us here at "Better Your Business." The uninitiated can get their start here.


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