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11 Advanced Manufacturing Experts Discuss the Industry’s Future

SME’s 2022 North American Manufacturing Research Conference (NAMRC) is the continent’s preeminent and longest-running international forum for applied research and industrial applications in manufacturing and design.

Celebrating its 50th year, NAMRC 2022 — hosted at Purdue University from June 27 through July 1 — will continue to push the limits of innovation in industries that shape our modern world.

With NAMRC attracting academicians, government and industry researchers, engineers and students in manufacturing from around the globe, we gathered 11 leaders from each area to share their thoughts and ideas surrounding the future of our industry over the next decade.

These interview answers have been edited for length and clarity.

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John Agapiou, Technical Fellow at General Motors
The future of manufacturing is moving toward digital transformation and smart, sustainable processes. Companies are increasing sophistication, automation, agility and efficiency. In addition, they are investing billions in a wide array of advanced digital and fabrication technologies—this includes widespread use of internet-connected sensors and analytics, in addition to 3D printing and nano-manufacturing.
 
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Dean Bartles, CEO of the Manufacturing Technology Deployment Group
Manufacturing is on a journey toward digitalization, and that all begins with connecting machine tools to be able to send transparent, real-time data of what’s happening. In the future, I see more applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning in things like closed loop adaptive control, for example, in which data going to an AI application can determine whether an adjustment needs to be made that the operator might not discern themselves, and automatically make those adjustments to improve the process.
 
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Tyler Grimm, Research Asst. & PhD Student at Clemson University
There’s a continued increase in manufacturers’ concern about climate change. In the future, I see a big push for electrification and elimination of fossil fuels from factories. I also think that, while automation is becoming more advanced, the discipline is still very young and will not yet be superior enough to replace humans—in this decade, at least.
 
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Grace Guo, Asst. Professor of Industrial & Systems Engineering at Rutgers University
We’re seeing more implementation of sensing and data analytics in traditional manufacturing. In the future, the industry will continue transforming to be smarter and more resilient. Processes and systems will be more responsive to disruptions, handle uncertainties better and expertly monitor to make the entire supply chain better. I also anticipate more development in workforce training—with new techniques and skills, people will need better training so they can take on bigger jobs and more advanced technologies.
 
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Robert Ivester, Deputy Director of the Hollings MEP Program at NIST
There’s been a fairly dramatic adjustment in our national approach to manufacturing. It’s become much more politically popular to talk about the importance of manufacturing and what the federal government can and should do to ensure manufacturing is the backbone of our economy. We’re now seeing the start of what looks to be a substantial wave over the next decade of onshoring and reshoring. As new technologies emerge from research environments, it will be increasingly attractive to implement them domestically.
 
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Tom Kurfess, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech
The rate of change in manufacturing is accelerating exponentially. With new tools and capabilities come new concerns, however the industry will remain critical from both an economic and national security perspective. Additionally, powerful, easy-to-use design tools are becoming more widely adopted, allowing some manufacturing processes to be more accessible to the general population as we move the industry forward.
 
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Dale Lombardo, Special Processes Technologies Leader at GE Aviation
Manufacturing has taken a big shift in the last decade as it tries to incorporate all the tools we have for machine learning, deep learning and AI. In the next decade, we will continue trying to connect the owners and operators of products into our supply chain. There will be more floor automation, data gathering tools and analytics available. We’ll also see an amplification of personnel—augmenting the workforce with technologies that give people insight into outputs and processes they can’t readily see otherwise.
 
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Brigid Mullany, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at UNC Charlotte, NAMRI President
Over the next decade, there will be greater interconnectivity between machines, plants and humans. This will spark more collaboration between manufacturing engineers and computer scientists as we communicate challenges, understand perspectives and leverage their tools for new applications. The industry will also have to start thinking differently in respect to energy. As governments call for more funding in this area, energy efficiency will be something we all need to consider in our future process design and development.
 
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Ihab Ragai, Associate Professor of Engineering at Penn State, NAMRI Scientific Chair
I anticipate another revolution in digital transformation as it relates to sensors, machine learning, computers, robotics and other high-tech applications that will drive manufacturing technology. With the surge in demand for products, the industry will have to adopt new innovations to increase quality, lower costs and amplify production times. A skilled workforce is the key behind competitive manufacturing, and a redistribution of our supply chain will see more sustainably produced products from more energy-efficient equipment and facilities.
 
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Iris Rivero, Department Head of Industrial Systems Engineering at Rochester University
There will be more integration of manufacturing systems overall, and the use of sustainable practices will continue to get more seamless. As global events impact manufacturing across continents, our industry will play an integral role in addressing societal problems—for example, taking advances in biomanufacturing out of research environments and into real-world applications to make treatments more affordable, accessible and reliable for patients.
 
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Lihui Wang, Professor & Chair of Sustainable Manufacturing at KTH, Sweden
As more countries around the world create Industry 4.0 roadmaps, we will see horizontal and vertical integration enabled by technologies like IoT and mobile internet. While today’s manufacturing environment is primarily based on acquired knowledge and human education, tomorrow’s operation will be more heavily data driven, as we refine ways to retrieve and convert data into knowledge, and knowledge into real-world application.

Attend NAMRC 50

This event attracts global academicians, government and industry researchers, engineers, students and leaders in manufacturing. We’re eagerly awaiting another successful and thought-provoking conference that is sure to impact our world for another half century. Attend NAMRC 50 and learn about the latest innovations and developments in manufacturing.