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SME Speaks: Innovations That Could Change the Way You Manufacture

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By Manufacturing Enterprise Council
Society of Manufacturing Engineers 

In October 2007, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers made the announcement that a new initiative had been developed—Innovations That Could Change the Way You Manufacture—a member-driven program to discover and showcase new and emerging technologies that are making a difference in manufacturing. Following is some background on this program:

How the list was selected:
Beginning in August 2007, representatives from SME's Technical Community Network (TCN) met, exchanged e-mails, and held conference calls, to define criteria, exchange ideas, and ask for nominations from the entire manufacturing community. The nominations from those collaborations were then added to the initial ideas list. Eventually, some were kept and some were eliminated. Those that were kept were then sent to SME's Manufacturing Enterprise Council (MEC) for review. The MEC also met, discussed ideas, exchanged e-mails, held conference calls, and added even more ideas to the growing list. In the end, all of these "ideas" were put together in a shorter, more condensed listing. To maintain the quality level, five "innovations" were chosen because they met the following criteria:   

  • Does the innovation have potential application in a broad spectrum of processes and/or industries?
  • How much of a positive impact on manufacturing, in terms of process or even the products that can be manufactured, can it have?
  • Is it available now to implement or integrate?
  • How many have adopted the innovation? Is it one of those things known to a few, but has huge potential for a much larger group?

Through the process, representatives from nearly every manufacturing sector and functional area contributed.

Now that the innovations have been chosen (see subsequent pages for summaries), upcoming SME Speaks columns will include more in-depth information on each of the technologies selected. While reviewing the summaries of the preferred technologies, please keep in mind that this is not the usual list of emerging technologies— these are innovations you can use today or within a few months AND have already shown some successful implementation.

The information that we are providing could not have been possible without the help of all of the nominators. SME and the Manufacturing Enterprise Council greatly appreciate the time and effort that it took to submit the nominations. We would also like to thank the TCN members who spent time reviewing and discussing the technologies, as well as those who met in early August and laid the foundation for this initiative. Without your help, none of this would've been possible.

During this process, the MEC and SME staff members involved learned a lot about what is and is not important to manufacturing professionals. Going forward, we hope that we will be able to continue to grow this initiative and bring even more innovations to the forefront. As you read upcoming issues of Manufacturing Engineering and SME Speaks, and while you continue your careers in the manufacturing community, we want you to consider keeping us up-to-date on any new and exciting innovations that you may have used, heard about, or are involved in. We also welcome your feedback on the innovations list that we've provided as well as your input on what we may have missed.

Again, we would like to thank everyone who was involved in this project. We look forward to participating in this venture again, as well as providing SME members and the manufacturing community at large with the information it needs to succeed in this competitive, modern world.

Innovations That Could Change the Way You Manufacture

The following list was compiled by SME's Manufacturing Enterprise Council (MEC) with support from the Technical Community Network (TCN). Future sections of SME Speaks will contain more detailed summaries on the innovations outlined below.

Direct Digital Manufacturing

The Use of Additive Fabrication for Direct Digital Manufacturing—Terry Wohlers

What It Is: Ultracapacitors are electric storage systems that have an unusually high-energy density typically 10,000 times greater than Dcell sized electrolytic capacitors. The capacitance of a capacitor is mainly dependent on the surface area of the two plates that make up the capacitor and the distance between them. The ultracapacitor is an improvement on both of these by creating a larger surface area under the same space. Think heat-sink fins as they create a larger surface, but the real estate remains the same as if a single layer of material was used. Ultracapacitors are very good at efficiently capturing electricity from regenerative braking and can deliver power for acceleration just as quickly. With no moving parts, they also have a very long lifespan.

What It Is: Several companies in Asia, Europe, and the United States have commercialized methods of additive fabrication (AF) that use a laser, electron beam, or an infrared (IR) light source to sinter or melt plastic, composite, or metal powders to form parts. Other companies jet photopolymers or binders to form parts layer by layer. Others use a light source to solidify successive layers of photopolymer. Among the materials used are thermoplastics such as ABS, polycarbonate (PC), ABS/PC, polyamide (PA), glass-filled PA, aluminum-filled PA, carbon-fiber-filled PA, and polystyrene. Common metals are stainless steel, titanium alloys, and cobalt chrome.

Why: In the past, most methods of AF have been used for the modeling and rapid prototyping of new product designs. Increasingly, they are being used for custom and replacement-part manufacturing, special-edition products, patterns for production castings, manufacturing assembly aids, short-run production, and even series production. The use of additive fabrication for these manufacturing applications is being referred to as direct digital manufacturing (DDM), as well as rapid manufacturing.

Applications: Among the industries using AF for manufacturing are aerospace (air ducts for cooling and electrical boxes), automotive (assembly aids), motorsports (body panels and brackets for brake lines), dentistry (crowns and bridges), orthodontics (clear plastic braces), orthopedics (metal implants), audiology (hearing aids), furniture (lamps and chairs), jewelry (rings and necklaces), entertainment (video game characters), and consumer products (collectables and wall hangings).


Why: Energy storage is at the base of most of what we do in our daily lives. A big improvement in the storage of energy means a big improvement in everything that uses stored energy. It's environmentally friendly, helps conserve energy, and enhances the performance and portability of consumer devices. Ultracapacitors are also free from characteristic battery problems, such as limited cycle life, cold intolerance, and critical charging rates. Ultracapacitors are being developed as an alternative to pulse batteries.

Applications: Ultracapacitors can benefit many applications, from those involving short power pulses to those requiring low-power supports of critical memory systems. They provide an excellent solution in several system configurations and high-power applications, such as cellular electronics, power conditioning, uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), industrial lasers, medical equipment, and power electronics in conventional, electric, and hybrid vehicles. One example is cordless power tools that currently use differing battery technology, none of which last all that long. Ultracapacitors can be used in power tools, which would greatly diminish the need to replace the battery. Because the charge time is low, the need for a second battery would also be greatly diminished.

Self-Assembling Nanotechnology

What It Is: Self-assembly is a branch of nanotechnology in which objects, devices, and systems form structures without external prodding. The individual components contain in themselves enough information to build a template for a structure composed of multiple units. Many examples of self-assembly exist in nature. Biological systems use self-assembly to assemble various molecules and structures. Think of it as Legos® that assemble themselves.

Why: Self-assembly has moved beyond theory to practice. IBM announced the first-ever application of a breakthrough self-assembling nanotechnology to conventional chip manufacturing.

Applications: The natural pattern-creating process that forms seashells, snowflakes, and enamel on teeth has been harnessed by IBM to form trillions of holes to create insulating vacuums around the miles of nanoscale wires packed next to each other inside each computer chip. The self-assembly process already has been integrated with IBM's state-of-the-art manufacturing line in East Fishkill, NY, and is expected to be fully incorporated in IBM's manufacturing lines and used in chips in 2009. The chips will be used in IBM's server product lines and thereafter for chips IBM builds for other companies. Nanotechnology also has potential benefits for many fields, including water purification, sanitation, agriculture, alternative energy (particularly photovoltaics), home and business construction, computer manufacturing, communications, and medicine.

Intelligent Device Integration

What It Is: An intelligent device is any type of equipment, instrument, or machine that has its own computing capability. As computing technology becomes more advanced and less expensive, it can be built into an increasing number of devices of all kinds. Various products are being developed to enable network connectivity for diverse intelligent devices. A new category of software known as device relationship management (DRM) is designed to enable the monitoring, managing, and servicing of intelligent devices over the Internet.

Why: Intelligent device integration offers unprecedented visibility into and management of equipment, products, and interactions. By combining sensor data with two-way wireless communications, it promises more detailed, real-time views of activities and objects and will enable organizations to respond faster—and even predict incidents before they occur.

Applications: In addition to personal and handheld computers, the almost infinite list of possible intelligent devices includes cars, medical instruments, geological equipment, and home appliances. The integration of intelligent devices has implication for several sectors, including:

  • Cost reductions in areas such as logistics, supply chain, manufacturing, and transportation operations
  • Understanding customers by gaining additional product usage information
  • Creating new business models for revenue generation by offering new services around existing products
  • Data from intelligent device integration applications provides direct value, but can also be utilized to discover deeper insights through analysis

Integrated 3-D Simulation and Modeling/Desktop Super Computers

What It Is: Imagine a large computer screen with data on a new automobile. The viewer can see any segment or part instantly and in as much detail as desired from the engine to component to supplier to schedule to organization chart to person and back all with 3-D impact and full rotation. The computer will be used as a microscope, telescope, and time machine to manage, view, and tool the complete manufacturing system. Software, such as Photsynth and Everyscape, has already shown what can be done to bring together digital photos. Imagine what can be done with existing 3-D data and more?

Why: This is not the modeling and simulation of 20 years ago or even two years ago. Introduction of new software packages have shown how varied images and data can be brought together to discover and create hyperlinks. This provides an ability to connect all the various parts throughout the manufacturing process. Desktop computers that have the power of the super computer of five years ago are now available. This means manufacturing can take advantage of the 3-D modeling and simulation already being used in game, entertainment, and scientific applications.

Applications: Virtually every aspect of manufacturing could be touched. Design and development have long used 3-D simulation and modeling tools. This new generation allows these tools to be used in a global system that brings in all aspects including production, sales, and finance. As super/high-powered computer and display technologies are more readily used by those outside the entertainment industry, the impact of this integrated 3-D, drilldown, see everything type of software will truly change the way everyone in manufacturing will work. The next challenge will be cultural—changing the way we work and think.

To submit your feedback, visit and click on "Innovations That Could Change the Way You Manufacture."

About the MEC

The Manufacturing Enterprise Council (MEC) of SME was created in the fall of 1999 to guide the development of SME's technology portfolio. This group's focus has been to create a foundation for future knowledge generation, and oversee the development of a technical volunteer network that will provide the Society with new methods for responding to member technical information needs. The MEC serves SME and the manufacturing community by recommending manufacturing processes or technology areas for development of new services, and by monitoring the health and wellbeing of the SME Technical Community Network encompassing every phase of the manufacturing enterprise. 


Manufacturing Enterprise Council Members

Mark Michalski
MKS Instruments

Dennis S. Bray
Cincinnati Incorporated

David A. Dornfeld, PhD, FSME
University of California at Berkeley

L. Wayne Garrett
ArvinMeritor Light Vehicle Systems

Red Heitkamp
Remmele Engineering

David Hogg, PE
High Performance Solutions

Randy Kappesser
MAG Cincinnati

Roger E. Lang
Cummins Engine Company, Inc.

Richard E. Morley, FSME
R. Morley, Inc.

Cynthia A. Skelton-Becker
Nordson Corporation

Susan M. Smyth, PhD
General Motors Corporation

Terry Wohlers, FSME
Wohlers Associates, Inc.

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New Lean Registry Launched

The new Lean Registry is a free community connection and collaboration space for lean practitioners. You'll be surprised at how it can help you collaborate, build your lean personal knowledge supply chain, and share content. The Lean Registry is brought to you by SME with help from its partners and sponsors, such as The Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) and The Shingo Prize for Excellence in Manufacturing. Lean practitioners cross industry, company, and geographic domains. Practitioners work at global enterprises, small companies, independent consultancies, and public institutions. Some work in large departments, while others work independently. Some have lean-related jobs to fill, while others are seeking opportunities to work or consult on lean. The Lean Registry allows users to post needs/expertise directly to their profile, create virtual groups, and make safe connections more easily. You can search through shared profiles to find who might match your need and send an invitation to connect. You control if/when you accept a connection and/or share contact info. To learn more, visit


This article was first published in the March 2008 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.