Manufacturing and NASA’s Mars Curiosity Mission

Without a strong manufacturing sector, the U.S. – or any developed country, for that matter – would never have been able to land the SUV-sized, robotic laboratory on the distant planet.

Many people view the Curiosity’s successful landing on Mars as a scientific breakthrough, but I view it as a manufacturing marvel. Without a strong manufacturing sector, the United States would never have been able to land the SUV-sized, robotic laboratory on the distant planet.

The achievement shows that manufacturing is not only a fundamental driver in high-technology and scientific breakthroughs. Manufacturing is high-technology.

Long-time readers of my columns know I frequently editorialize on this topic. Indeed, in one of my first columns, Manufacturing’s Big Chance (Nov. 6, 2000), I asserted: “Manufacturing is a high-tech, new-economy venture.” (This was in late 2000, when dotcoms were all the rage.) I hadn’t gone out on a limb; in the editorial I’d quoted Jack Welch, then the revered CEO of General Electric Co. (IW 500/5) When asked why he’d proposed an acquisition of Honeywell International Inc. (IW 500/37) instead of a high-tech company, he replied, “What the hell do you think Honeywell is?”

Periodically, I’ve simply become fed up with people whose perception of manufacturing is stuck back in the Industrial Revolution, so I try again, as I did when I wrote Searching for Innovation’s Source (January 2005). There I point out: “…walk into most manufacturing companies today, and you’ll find the latest ‘high-tech’ machine tools networked with the latest ‘high-tech’ information systems churning out products that were developed in the last year and that are stuffed with ‘high-tech’ features.”

So when I witnessed manufacturing play such a vital role in this historic event, I just had to jump in to point out how Mars Curiosity represents the best of manufacturing.

To wit: IW Technology Editor Travis Hessman’s report, NASA’s Curiosity Triumphs with the Help of American Manufacturing, Technology, details the key contributions of Alliant Techsystems Inc. (IW 500/202), a Minneapolis-based aerospace, defense and commercial products company.

Other big-name manufacturing companies that contributed vital components, according to reports, include aerospace and defense giants Lockheed Martin Corp. (IW50/37) andGeneral Dynamics Corp. (IW500/40). And it wasn’t just about the big guys. Marton Precision Manufacturing Inc., a metalworking job shop in Fullerton, Calif., reportedly manufactured hundreds of parts for Curiosity.

I’m certain other U.S. manufacturers – and likely a few non-U.S. manufacturers – contributed to this great success. If your company or another company you know of played a role, let me know, so IW can get the word out.

Because it’s time to double-down on our efforts to demonstrate to the public and public policy leaders how vital manufacturers are to high-technology and scientific breakthroughs – and how manufacturing very often is high-technology.

Patricia Panchak | IndustryWeek, Aug. 15, 2012

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