For over 100 years, U.S. manufacturing has remained a global leader in manufacturing despite the advances of cheaper Chinese companies and others around the world. In order to remain competitive and advance the manufacturing industry, economists suggest that the companies should move away from traditional assembly lines and toward “smart manufacturing.”

Smart manufacturing, described by Huffington Post writer Eric D. Isaacs, is the collaboration of both private and public collaboration inclusive of researchers, inventors, investors and manufacturers to establish more efficient engineering. Smart manufacturing creates vast potential to educate both the workforce and the designers that in turn would lower manufacturing costs, effectively lowering the price of products and increase profit.

Among composite manufacturers in particular, companies such as K2 Sports in Seattle, Wash., are already involving the work of teams of researchers, inventors and manufacturers. Others like the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Carbon Fiber Technology Facility are also joining composite researching with advanced manufacturing facilities. But these teams are not in the majority.

In 2010, approximately 70 percent of manufacturing companies outsourced research and development (R&D) to companies overseas Supporting the need to end this trend, the Report to the President on Ensuring American Leadership in Advanced Manufacturing published in 2011 argues that the U.S. cannot be a nation of research and development alone, as companies tend to invest in both engineering and manufacturing rather than just one or the other. If R&D or manufacturing needs move abroad, typically the whole operation does as well.

If the industry can address timely issues through collaboration, such as finding cost and time effective manufacturing techniques for composites, there’s a good chance that the material could go above the industrial curve and implement more jobs. Integrating R&D with manufacturing mixes the technical and practical aspects of design work, resulting in better overall products. Additionally, combining R&D and manufacturing would help to bring more jobs back to the U.S. Maybe smart manufacturing is just as practical as the name suggests, and it could be just the right solution for the U.S. composite industry.