Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Manufacturing IS Technology


Gears, levers and other trappings of a steampunk contraption? Maybe you think of cartoon inventors like Maurice, Belle's father in Disney's Beauty and the Beast, with his coke-bottle goggles and bumbling attempts at various rudimentary forms of mechanical tinkering.
As manufacturers of linear slides and rotary guides, we know the importance of basic components, the bearings, gears and tracks that move things from one point to another. But these are only the building blocks for more advanced systems, which are poised to shape the future of the industry as well as the rest of the world.
3D printing technology is a manufacturing process
(photo credit: The Verge 2013)
It is likely that you have encountered or overheard some of the newer "buzzwords" that have been introduced to many laypersons, many of which were created in order to parboil complex cutting-edge innovations or indicate advancements beyond the cursory realm of simply "manufacturing". Today, you're more likely to hear words and phrases like "mechatronics", "advanced manufacturing", and "additive manufacturing", than simply, "manufacturing."

Maybe manufacturing has become a "dirty word," associated more with "dirty, dumb, boring [and] cheap" labor, as Bishop-Wisecarver Group CEO Pamela Kan poses in a post she wrote recently for GE's Ideas Laboratory. Perhaps the word "manufacturing" has become semantically outdated, which indeed justifies the industry's attempts to come up with contemporary lingo to more accurately describe the field in a way that makes sense.

When taken in accurate context, modern manufacturing is comprised of the latest and greatest innovations of our time. Surpassing the low-tech and common connotations of antiquity, modern manufacturing, both present and future, is high-tech: manufacturing is technology.

The Wall Street Journal published a piece last month that highlights this important definition. The article highlights the 11 areas of technology identified by the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership that will push manufacturing into the future. These emerging technological fields should be the focus of research and development in the U.S., the group says. So what are they?
  • Sensing, measurement, process control
    Manual processes: our past,
    but not our future?
  • Materials design, synthesis and processing
  • Digital manufacturing
  • Sustainable manufacturing
  • Nanomanufacturing
  • Flexible electronics manufacturing
  • Biomanufacturing
  • Additive manufacturing (better known as 3D printing)
  • Industrial robotics
  • Advanced forming and joining technologies
Kan mentioned before that it is a shame manufacturing has become a dirty word. However, with the exponential advancement of modern technologies (aka manufacturing), it's no problem to start making our language more specific to dispel whatever outdated notions the public still has about manufacturing being a thing of the early Industrial Revolution.

Changing the language can influence the national conversation in a way that encourages the next generation to choose careers in manufacturing and influences public policy to favor conditions that promote manufacturing innovation.

A number of emergent technologies
that apply to manufacturing

What do you think about the language we use to describe manufacturing? Tell us in the comments!