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The Manufacturer's Agenda: Where Manufacturing's Future is Being Built Today

June 6, 2013
    Presentations from two events I attended last month focused my attention on the magnitude of current change in manufacturing.

With the proliferation of new offerings -- digitization, automation and production technologies -- deploying from research labs at an ever faster pace, it's easy to become bedazzled at the future potential. You might think that it's time to start thinking about how someday you'll incorporate many of the latest innovations into your business.

If so, you're too late.

What's becoming very clear is this: Big things are happening now. A steady beat of reports continue to herald the vast array of new technologies, each of which have the potential to transform manufacturing businesses. This isn't a manufacturing resurgence or a renaissance; it's the dawn of a new era.

Presentations from two events I attended last month focused my attention on the magnitude of current change. At the MAPI Executive Summit, a panel on the future of manufacturing, led by The Economist's Innovation Editor Paul Markillie, discussed the latest design and simulation software, new materials, robotics and automation, and new production processes -- including 3-D (aka additive) manufacturing -- as well as the surge of online design and production services. 

At the Casting Industry Suppliers Association (CISA) Annual Conference, Jack Shaw, a technology marketing futurist, led the audience on a whirlwind tour through business technology's recent history, demonstrating how it inevitably will lead to future "global autonomous supply chains." That's smart machines able to access, evaluate and act on information without human intervention.

Both presentations (and others at both events) highlight some of the latest breathtaking technological advances and the possibilities they hold for manufacturers -- especially for those with production facilities in the U.S.

But where to start? 

Upon returning to the office, I read stories, published in this issue, that are equally exciting and important -- stories about HOW companies are implementing these "gee whiz" innovations NOW. 

Travis Hessman's "Mastering the Hybrid Factory" is a great example, showing how additive manufacturing fits seamlessly on today's factory floor "beside the CNCs, grinders, mills and lathes." Adrienne Selko tells a similar story in "The Next Wave of Manufacturing: Human Organs," where she describes how companies are developing the manufacturing processes and industrial strategies needed to commercialize 3-D bioprinted human tissues -- and eventually human organs. 

As these stories indicate, the futuristic-sounding technologies already are transforming manufacturing, bringing new life to mature -- and creating new -- companies and industries.

The time to integrate them into your business is now.

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