Does U.S. Manufacturing "Step Up" Innovation?

Christina Lewellen
September 24, 2013

Some pretty smart folks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have issued a report basically summarizing what we in the window and door industry take as gospel: R&D and manufacturing are closely tied. Wherever the manufacturing happens, research and development is likely nearby.

The MIT study warns that if U.S. companies continue to outsource production, we might increasingly see those same companies relocate their R&D functions overseas as well. A recent article on notes, "Many industries require tight integration between manufacturing and research and development. ... If manufacturing does not increase in the U.S., companies could relocate to be close to their manufacturing facilities, significantly affecting the future of innovation in the country."

Now for a vast majority of companies in our industry, R&D and manufacturing happen in the same building so there's not much cause for concern. But considering U.S. manufacturing on the whole, do you think that outsourcing production--separating it from R&D--could have a lasting impact on innovation in this country? Will R&D follow manufacturing to countries with lower costs? Post a comment below, and take a moment to weigh in on our opinion poll.

Survey results as of Oct. 1. 


Will continued outsourcing have a lasting detrimental impact on innovation in the U.S.?

Yes, it's likely.





No, I don't think so.





I'm not sure yet.






Contact Christina Lewellen, senior editor, at

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Dr. L. J. Hart-Smith, a Boeing aerospace engineer, in a brilliant paper presented at a 2001 conference, β€œit is necessary for the prime contractor to provide on-site quality, supplier-management, and sometimes technical support. If this is not done, the performance of the prime manufacturer can never exceed the capabilities of the least proficient of the suppliers. These costs do not vanish merely because the work itself is out-of-sight.” Denning,S. (2013)retrieved September, 25, 2013 from
This is an interesting article about the Boeing 787 and how outsourcing cost Boeing money and resulted in a product that has not performed.
As a window specialist one of the criteria I require of a supplier is help me when you mess up. There are many companies that may not how a product will perform until it is in the field. Staining a fiberglass entry doors is an example.I am impressed when the president of the company says thanks for pointing the problem out and this is how we are going to fix it. The larger the company the slower the process. the farther the top management is from the field, the less responsive service becomes.
Jerry Hartman

While the possibility of R&D following manufacturing to countries with lower costs exists and has, indeed, happened in some industries to one degree or another I think the future of R&D and product development in the window and door industry is less susceptible to globalization primarily because of the many local and regional influences involved. A product development engineer remote from the market he is designing for and unfamiliar with the cultural nuances would be at a disadvantage and lower development costs are quickly negated by longer development cycles and extended time to market.

When you add to the equation the fact that costs continue to rise offshore and are already changing the game. Many offshored manufacturing operations are rethinking that position and re-establishing a manufacturing presence domestically.

Mike Mitchell