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Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me

Four tech leaders predict the future of high-tech manufacturing, innovation and the road back to success.

Steve Jobs has been gone too long. That much was clear when I visited Apple for the first time way back in 1990.

Walking through the offices, everyone looked a little lost – their tribal leader had been fired by his own board, leaving them half-developed, stalled hallway through their climb.

With Jobs off-campus, Apple hung in a peculiar in-between zone – most suppliers had not yet been off-shored, the economy was climbing an "endless" upward ride, and Moore's law continued to squeeze more functionality into smaller footprints.

Just about anything they did (with the exception of the Lisa) mattered. They were knee-deep in new designs and new concepts – the kind that would completely reshape the future when Jobs returned.

Halfway through our meeting a design engineer pulled out his wallet, flipped it open, and whispered, "You see this? Well, we're working on something smaller than this and it's going to allow you to talk and write, communicate everywhere."

They were just beginning to create that future then, and it seemed like anything was possible.

But now, of course, Jobs is gone again and all across the manufacturing  landscape, people feel they have "been down so long it looks like up to me" – shell-shocked by off-shoring, down-sizing and bad government moves, their eyes clouded over and they lost their vision.

And that's a shame, because they are missing the good news all around them: low inflation, cheap money, even cheaper technology, a steady stream of tech and machine innovation, U.S. companies taking back manufacturing and exporting a bigger share of product, an oil boom right here in the Americas.

It's enough to make a Mill Girl jump up at her machine and cheer.

Let's admit it, 2013 was tough and although many people didn't see manufacturing in the U.S.'s future, I'm hopeful. And hope is the commodity The Mill Girl loves right now – hope and tough love.

Innovation, technology, government policy and labor are driving change and will continue to drive it all through 2014.

I'm not alone in this. Executives and tech leaders all over the manufacturing industry are all seeing the same thing.

The following is a sample of what some of these leaders are saying about the next phase of our innovation Reboot.

Computer Power & Mass Customization

Mike OpalMike Opal, Microsoft Cloud Evangelist, foresees big changes in the ways we access and use computer power.

"In early American manufacturing, each factory produced the electricity it needed for its operations until electricity was generated more efficiently at scale and manufacturers bought and paid for the power they used.

"We'll see the same phenomenon with compute power for operations – Cloud providers will produce at scale and manufacturers will use it as they need it and be billed accordingly, just like electricity.
 
"Today we fixate on devices – which one to buy? which one is cool? which one is perfect? – but the reality is that just like in golf, there is no one perfect or single club. We'll carry a different, perfect club for each shot.

"We'll store the information we need in the Cloud so that the end device becomes a way to interact with that data. You'll select a different device based on the circumstance – for a trip to a ball game, you'll take your watch or other wearable device; for a plane trip, you'll probably pack a phablet, and when you're home you'll project and interact with the largest screen available, your TV and game console. In five years we'll look back and marvel at how we tried to accomplish so much on a single device..."


Joe Pine, "Mass Customization" author, looks for more flexibility and design smarts injected directly into manufacturing.

"I'm looking at fundamental changes that are happening but not yet complete -- like the shift from Mass Production to Mass Customization.

"Here's a great example: Lutron Electronics of Coopersburg, PA makes lighting controls any way a distributor or consumer likes them, including matching colors, 'ganging' them together, or providing adaptive solutions so people can hook different lights together and customize any way they like. I'm also working with Dassault Systemes, which has rebranded all its software under the rubric the '3-D Experience Platform' – a very strong indicator of where manufacturing is going.

"We'll continue to see the shift from mass producing to mass customizing goods, while recognizing that those goods enable experiences by customers or customer's customers. Companies that make this happen faster than their competition will increasingly be winners."

Automation & Mobility

David Simchi-LeviDavid Simchi-Levi, MIT professor, co-director of MIT's Leaders for Global Operations.

Automation will increase considerably. The push for this is twofold:

"First, the available technology, including growing capabilities of robots and sensors – the cost of sensors has decreased significantly, computer visioning has improved and the power of computers has increased.

"Second, increased labor costs and trouble with the labor force in China will accelerate the introduction of robots – one example is Foxconn's foxbots; another is Apple's $10.5B tooling investment. As the CEO of Foxconn told us, it's easier to manage robots than people!

"But understanding manufacturing and supplier risks is lagging – it could blindside us. Companies will still be surprised by events that they cannot control for which they are not adequately prepared. My recent work with Ford's supplier network showed that there are still many hidden risks and the biggest exposures lie in unlikely places."


michael schrageMichael Schrage, MIT Sloan School, MIT Security Studies Program; author of "What Do You Want Your Customers to Become?" and "Serious Play: How the World's Best Companies Simulate to Innovate"

Three Enterprise IT Predictions:

1. BYOD becomes BYOMD: "The most important enterprise trend on the hardware side is the rise of multiple devices among employees who are syncing and swapping their mobile phones, tablets and laptops.

"Different devices have different 'sandboxes' and security protocols so complexity and complications arise.

"Conversely, more employees – and contractors – have more ways to self-organize exchange and collaborate via the enterprise cloud.

"There will be more just-in-time meetings, wikis, 'enotations' and other device-driven formats to monitor and facilitate interpersonal interaction."

2. Enterprise App Stores: "By the end of 2015, 75% of the Fortune 1000 will have some form of internal 'app store,' scrupulously metered and monitored to make sure employees/workers have real-time access to computational 'best practice.'

"For example, organizations will be able to see – Amazon-like – what apps 'managers like you' use and ;'people who use these apps also use' recommendations. Job and performance reviews will drive rapid adoption."

3. The Self-Quantified Worker: "Just as the self-quantification movement has colonized personal health care, diet and exercise, we'll see 'lead users' define the contours of 'self-quantification' of work inside the firewall – numbers of emails; time spent; meetings; exchanges; most forwarded comments, etc. will all begin emerging as the raw material for personal – and team – performance analytics."



patricia e moodyNamed by Fortune magazine a "Pioneering Woman in Manufacturing," Patricia E. Moody is the publisher of Blue Heron Journal, where she created the "Made In The Americas," the "Education for Innovation" and the "Paging Dr. Lean" series. Her next book about the future of manufacturing is "The Third Industrial Revolution."

 

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