As early as 1970 Mexico saw the writing on the wall. More and more US manufacturing centers in Mexico were being closed and moved to China. The Mexican government decided to become less dependent on foreign-owned manufacturing and build “Mexican products for the Mexican people”. Very similar to China’s “Made in China 2025” strategic plan.
This decision led to the creation of CONACYT (Consejo Nacional de Humanidades, Ciencias y Tecnologías (Spanish for National Council of Humanities Science and Technology)). Instead of permanently closing manufacturing facilities, displacing workers and in turn losing critical manufacturing skills, CONACYT turned these facilities into research centers.
As a volunteer in the Peace Corps, I worked for one of the CONACYT research centers and visited several others in Mexico. All the centers have a research focus area(s). I worked for, CIDESI (Center for Engineering and Industry Development), which focused its research on the aerospace and mechatronics industry. The research was used to enhance technology for local and foreign manufacturing companies. For example, if a local aerospace part manufacturer designed a new widget, it would work with CIDESI on the design and manufacturing of the machines to make this new widget.
CIDESI was also an industry leader in CNC machining and welding. They offer training courses and certification in both for Mexican and foreign students. All CONACYT centers offer scholarships for graduate studies and the use of their facilities for graduate research.
If this sounds familiar it should. The US’s National Science Foundation also funds and supports several universities and “Innovation Centers” around the US but most of those programs started in the 2010s when the fight with China began. By this time, it was too late, these programs were focused on advanced manufacturing such as additive manufacturing (3D printing) but the basic manufacturing skills had already been lost.
Today the US is still recovering from the pandemic where it quickly became obvious how dependent we are on China and foreign manufacturing. We are slowly bringing manufacturing back to the US but in doing so companies are struggling with finding skilled labor, sourcing, finding an ideal location, and logistics such as transportation of the product.
Faced with these issues, many US companies are looking toward our neighbor in the south, Mexico, who has the facilities, labor, and logistical know-how. They are also using “advanced technology” such as Industry 4.0, 3D printing, and robots to help keep the cost of labor low. How are they able to provide this service? Because they never gave it away, they kept their focus on manufacturing and research which not only maintained the necessary skills, it sharpened them.
About the Author
Daisie Hobson is the Chief Operations Officer of the Reshoring Institute, overseeing the Institute’s research agenda, and managing consulting projects and marketing activities. She is also a Member of the Board and a Director at Blue Silk Consulting. She served for two years as a Project Management Specialist Volunteer in the Peace Corps. She worked at a government research and manufacturing center located in Central Mexico.