All of a sudden, manufacturing engineers are in the spotlight, and universities are touting curriculum changes that are attracting new students to what was once a “dirt-under-the-fingernails” type of occupation. Recognition of the need for these engineers has occurred in government, academia, and industry organizations; they are a little late, one could argue, but at least there is awareness at all levels, a necessary and positive action that gets media attention.
Many decades ago, a group from the laser industry was invited by the U.S. Department of Commerce to present state-of-the -technology and to suggest ways in which that department could assist in growing what was then a nascent industry. This was long before the Fraunhofer model of government/academic/industry cooperative projects was even conceived. This laser industry group did not appear with hands out for federal funding; they simply thought that government recognition of this industry at the highest level might be the catalyst for faster growth. No funds were sought, only the suggestion that a statement by the president that this technology was important to the U.S. and that all government departments should cooperate to the extent allowed to smooth the path for this industry to grow.
The statement didn’t happen. It seems that the party in power was more influenced by corporate loathing for government involvement (with the attendant bureaucratic regimens), than to look to Washington for assistance. Several decades later, the current president did pretty much what the naïve laser group had proposed. Time will tell if they had the right idea.
In the meantime, manufacturing is on a roll in the U.S., and industrial lasers are riding with it.