Warren Hunt

Adding to the recent surge of attention focused on the future of manufacturing, the May 2013 issue of Scientific American contains a series of articles under the banner, “How to Make the Next Big Thing.” While these articles mainly skim the surface of this hot topic, the technologies that they feature have a lot to say about what the future of manufacturing—and, specifically, advanced manufacturing—will look like.

Below are the technologies that Scientific American chose to highlight as “the future of manufacturing”:

  • Robotics – A case study of a human-robot team project at Carnegie Mellon that offers a unique perspective on the role of robots in manufacturing
  • Advanced Materials – A look at seven materials technologies that are pushing the boundaries of materials science and engineering, including flexible concrete, fireproof fabrics, longer-life batteries, and “cyber steel” (i.e., the landing gear steels developed by QuesTek’s “Materials by Design®” methods for computational modeling, which is a good example of the Integrated Computational Materials Engineering [ICME] approach that is at the center of the Materials Genome Initiative)
  • Additive Manufacturing – A good snapshot of this widely publicized technology that provides a view of the challenges in speed, quality, and part complexity along with a future view of potential solutions
  • Nanomanufacturing – A brief overview of two technologies—bottoms-up, self-directed assembly and roll-to-roll manufacturing—that will be important at the commercial scale, as well as some fantastic-sounding products of the future that could result in electronics, photonics, and bio-inspired materials
  • Digital Manufacturing – A high-level look at the role of high-performance computing in enabling the simulation of product performance and manufacturing; includes a good quote attributed to the Council on Competitiveness that states, “to outcompete is to outcompute.”

At Nexight Group, we are currently supporting clients involved in the advanced manufacturing space. I found it interesting that the technologies featured in the Scientific American series align well with what we are seeing emerge as important technologies in this area. While it is true that these technologies won’t solely make up the future of manufacturing, they do stand out as key drivers with the greatest potential to shape the way our nation and the world makes the next big thing.

In addition to this technology overview, the Scientific American series also includes an essay describing how manufacturing is changing as a whole. While I will explore this essay in more detail in a future blog post, it makes an important point: the increasingly dominant importance of information (as opposed to energy or labor) as the basis for advanced manufacturing growth in advanced economies. As someone who strongly believes in the ability of data and information sharing to drive future innovation, you won’t get an argument out of me!