If ever you've harbored any doubts, know now for certain that manufacturing is a high-technology endeavor. Always has been, always will be.
Most people don't think manufacturing is high-technology and will need to be convinced. Indeed, many who track the economy often create separate sector designations -- one for manufacturing, another for high-technology.
No wonder manufacturing's image is stuck in the past -- and our public policy leaders and the general public are confused.
But the recent International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) demonstrates that we have another opportunity to tell the true story about manufacturing. Throughout history, most high-technology advances have been manufacturing advances: from the windmill, to the steam engine, to the internal combustion engine, to solar power. Today is no different.
It's just that sometimes the technologies don't capture the public's attention in the way the latest crop has. Even the most fascinating, ground-breaking advance in fundamental machine tool technology, CNC, for example, is incomprehensible to the general public.
Enter 3-D printing, friendly-looking robots, wearable computers and the iPad, and suddenly manufacturing is not only accessible and understandable to the general public, it is exciting to them. To wit:
3-D printing and additive manufacturing: Few production technologies have captured the general public's imagination like the sci-fi-like ability of 3-D printing. And while the IMTS demonstrates the high-end production capabilities on the factory floor, 3-D labs throughout the country are democratizing the technology -- showing the public how exciting it is to make things with this latest machine tool.
IMTS demonstrates that we have another opportunity to tell the true story about manufacturing.
Wearable computing: While the general public is captivated -- and a bit weirded out -- by the idea of Google Glass in the public sphere, they instinctively understand the value of wearable technology when they see it in a factory setting.
Robots: Robots now are "scalable for just about any shop, flexible enough to adjust to just about any task … for every manufacturer in every industry," as IndustryWeek Technology Editor Travis Hessman declared from the floor of IMTS. Robots also are high-tech, interactive toys that kids grow up playing with. By linking robots to manufacturing, people link manufacturing to high-technology.
iPads and touchscreen monitors: Similarly, young people grow up these days interacting with iPads and other touchscreen interfaces. Now that they can see such familiar devices running industrial machines on the factory floor, the equipment doesn't look so foreign, giving them an opportunity to imagine themselves there.
We're at yet another turning point in manufacturing. A time when the technology and equipment used inside the factory not only amazes, but is similar to the technology that is used by the general public, especially young people. The benefits go beyond reducing costs and speeding production, making U.S. manufacturing more competitive in the world market. It provides one of the best opportunities manufacturers have ever had to burnish its outdated image.
Let's be sure to take advantage.