I've written about the manufacturing supply chain since 2013, and today believe the "next big thing" in America's latest (and ongoing) industrial revolution -- a.k.a. Industry 4.0 -- will be the interconnection of the U.S. supply chain.
The big breakthrough is AI-enabled search that will help manufacturers find ideal suppliers. In May, I bet the future of CompanyWeek on the idea, joining forces with Sustainment, the ascendent tech startup developing an advanced sourcing and connectivity software platform.
It's left to all of us to nurture a growing community of suppliers, and our new partnership will enable us to showcase more companies and people, but to also lean into our role as a champion for domestic suppliers. For me, it will be more of the same.
In early 2015, I took note of companies leaving Colorado in search of suppliers. "Gold Star is a good example of how much manufacturing growth in Colorado will pivot on supply chain development," I wrote. "It's why manufacturing is developing unevenly across industries and why the economy will be well-served by efforts to shore up resources that will drive manufacturing businesses."
Our clarion call was underway by 2016. "Want to engage in a real conversation to advance U.S. manufacturing?" I asked after the election. "Be an advocate for the domestic supply chain so that U.S. manufacturers have everything they need to make things here, including labor."
In 2018, I encouraged communities to "assess how well-matched target industries are to local and regional business assets," and "whether steps can be taken to address supply-chain gaps, or whether a pivot to better-matched manufacturing industries might be a better plan."
By January 2021, my optimism had turned to pandemic-fueled exasperation. I complained that: "American companies in part funded China’s world-class supply chain. Cheap labor and short-term profits were too hard to pass up. Now it's up to us to bring it home. Let's earmark substantial public sector support to hasten its reshoring as we take matters into our hands."
But during the pandemic, we launched SCoP, short for "supply-chain portal", to provide more transparency into the growing community of manufacturers featured in CompanyWeek, and to enable easier and more informed connections between manufacturers and suppliers. We put words into action. But it wasn't great.
By January of this year, in a column entitled "Supply-chain scramble: the race to connect you with suppliers and OEMs," I acknowledged others were in the game. Today, multiple players are striving to better connect the U.S. manufacturing economy, from Xometry/Thomasnet to Mfg.com to Connex Marketplace.
But Sustainment impressed me most, and by May, we'd joined forces. Here’s why.
First, our shared vision is that the community, not the technology or data, is most important. As I discussed a partnership with CEO Bret Boyd and the Sustainment team, the narrative always returned to one thing: you. Today our community is 50,000-plus CompanyWeek readers and technology users in 20,000 manufacturing companies across the West -- and growing – connected by stories and a common mission but not yet by advanced tools and software.
That will change quickly. Sustainment has been building software and enabling tools since 2020 to help U.S. Air Force customers in Oklahoma and Texas reimagine procurement in what is a massive defense supply chain -- millions of parts, components, and products. It's a "local and regional first" development strategy: locate and map the closest suppliers to start.
It’s a tech foundation that I trusted would be the best match for CompanyWeek’s audience. Our goal is to bring together our community with Sustainment technology to connect with each other, meet new people, find new buyers and providers, publicize new processes and capabilities, and otherwise help you be successful. Today, we’re in this together.
Our approach is to perfect the platform for suppliers and contractors in the machine-shop economy, by focusing on supplier processes, then expand the platform into other key manufacturing industries beginning this fall. Every small business machining, fabricating, or finishing parts or products should be listed in the Sustainment platform now -- and we can help.
Join the platform. There are no fees. Take it for a drive. Tell us where we can improve. I’m confident we're building on a solid foundation.
We're not alone in this quest, nor should we be. If we're successful, manufacturing will have taken a momentous next step -- as a prelude, it turns out, to Industry 5.0 – an era that “recognizes the power of industry to achieve societal goals beyond jobs and growth to become a resilient provider of prosperity.”
As we're a public benefit corporation, we’re ready for that, too. More on that in future editions.
Bart Taylor is publisher of CompanyWeek. Reach him at email@example.com.