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2070: A Manufacturing Odyssey

Feb. 13, 2020
The past 50 years in manufacturing have been a wild ride. Thinkers and doers predict what's ahead for the next half century.

Much like today, 1970, when IndustryWeek was launched, was a seminal time for manufacturing. The first moon landing had occurred just a year before, bringing not only new technology that could be commercialized in the factory but also a psyche boost for America as innovator. Like today, it was a time of political unrest and social change (the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights movement, the Pentagon Papers), and the economic uncertainty that can bring.

The post-World War II boom that had fired up many idling factories and brought nascent industries to full-speed-ahead (convenience foods, electrical appliances, recreational vehicles, to name a few) had been humming along nicely for two decades and was just beginning to take serious hits from overseas competitors. Unions were strong but overseas competition was ramping up and mass layoffs coming that would gut the Midwest and change Americans’ faith that a high school diploma guaranteed a good job and a comfortable retirement.

What happened next? Great change, as the past 50 years in manufacturing brought us lean, cobots, globalism and AI. Now we’re in a seminal time again. The political status quo has again been disrupted. The decreasing cost of automation and the increased sophistication of artificial intelligence are changing the conversation about the nature of work and how to train and lead. The rise of Tesla has put new emphasis on thinking big, trying different things, failing fast and seeing what entirely new approaches can work in an industrial environment. Massive wildfires in Australia and California and unprecedented heatwaves, affecting people, wildlife and industry, have leaders ruminating on how to continue to innovate and prosper yet dispel the march toward doom.

And 3D printing is getting everyone excited—Is anyone, girl scout, librarian, engineer, not excited about 3D printing?—but figuratively speaking, it still hasn’t landed on the moon.

IndustryWeek reached out to a cross-section of thought leaders in manufacturing and future-facing industries touching manufacturing to share with our readership what they see ahead. Most companies think five years out for their business planning—10 is edging into Star Trek territory for corporate R&D departments.

We asked more than a dozen leaders to make a huge leap and think 50 years ahead (partly in IndustryWeek's own self-interest because hey, we’re 50 years old). What they brought us are some very practical, insightful predictions, and here and there a wild speculation to really light up the cosmic switchboard. For dreaming is the start of thinking big, and thinking big is the start of innovating.

We'll be rolling out their predictions over the next month, sharing them here and as individual articles.

1. The Human in the Machine, by Mike Walsh, author, The Algorithmic Leader: How to Be Smart When Machines Are Smarter than You

2. Eight Drivers for Manufacturing's Next 50 Years by Irene Petrick, Intel's senior director of the Industrial/Innovation Group

3. Three Cheers for Engineers, an interview with David Cote, Honeywell turnaround artist

4. Robots, Education and Climate Concerns by Denise Ebenhoech, regional head of Advanced Robotics Applications, Kuka Robotics

5. Humans Are Underrated by Jian Cao and Kevin Lynch, professors of mechanical engineering, Northwestern University

6. Tech Powering a Green Future by Andreas Schell, CEO, Rolls-Royce Power Systems

7. 3D Printing's Breakout Moment, by Dominique Malenfant, global technology officer, Wabtec 

8. Digital Consciousness and the Future, by Raj Batra, president, Siemens Digital Industries USA

9. Consider the Lobster Trap: A Small Manufacturer Looks to the Future. 

10. Craftsmanship Transcends Space and Time, by Prasad Akella, founder and CEO, Drishti

11. Pain First, Then Progress, by John Caplan, president, North America B2B, Alibaba Group

12. The Human Equation, by Lawrence Whittle, CEO, Parsable

13. Down the Street, and Across the Solar System, by Joel E. Barthelemy, founder and CEO, GlobalMed.

14. The Future Is Local, Jim Nerone, CIO, Buyers Products

About the Author

Laura Putre | Senior Editor, IndustryWeek

I work with IndustryWeek's contributors and report on leadership and the automotive industry as they relate to manufacturing. Got a story idea? Reach out to me at [email protected]


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