It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again: It’s a really good time in US manufacturing.
For a moment, let’s not talk about a few things, such as the sequestration cuts and what they mean for the defense sector, Boeing’s battery problems and the resistance cash-healthy employers have had to adding jobs, dampening our economic recovery. Let’s put aside, too, all the attention politicians are lavishing on industry, as it begins to prove its multiplier effect as manufacturing starts slowly growing again.
Instead, let’s talk manufacturing technology and just technology. There are so many exciting new developments on the horizon that it’s hard not to get excited about the future.
This edition of Manufacturing Engineering is largely focused on software, so let me start there. Understanding the role software plays in the new world of advanced manufacturing means changing the way many people think about manufacturing—and mastering a slew of acronyms. There’s CAD/CAM, PLM, ERP, PDM, FEA, SPC, not to mention other important advances in machine controls and robotics language. Check out, for example, this month’s Focus on the Workforce article, which delves into the role Hollywood animators are playing in manufacturing. Software, of course, wouldn’t be able to push these limits were it not for improved hardware, from super-advanced microprocessors that may soon max out Moore’s Law to sensors that are assisting software and today’s impressive, sophisticated drones.
For decades, running 24-7 lights-out operations with minimal labor has been a dreamed-of Promised Land: Its reality in 2013 would not be possible without all of this. I was recently at the headquarters for REGO-FIX AG, which is based in Switzerland, not a low-cost country by a long shot. But with the help of advanced software and machines, they are essentially building toolholders around the clock in an extremely efficient way that has allowed them to keep production at home. It’s a great example of what can be done cost-wise with advanced manufacturing.
"That’s why we can stay in Switzerland," Richard Weber, CEO of REGO-FIX AG, told me of the new technologies. If REGO-FIX can afford to stay in Switzerland, you can bet a lot of companies using advanced manufacturing can afford to stay in the US.
If you want to see the coolest new technologies on the immediate and far-out horizon, I encourage you to download our 2013 trends report, at www.sme.org/2013mfgreport, and SME’s annual list of Innovations That Could Change the Way You Manufacture, available at http://tinyurl.com/innovationsblog. ME
This article was first published in the April 2013 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.