In This Issue
Spring Bridge on Postpandemic Engineering
March 14, 2021 Volume 51 Issue 1

Guest Editor's Note: Digitization to Transform Manufacturing

Friday, April 2, 2021

Author: Jennie S. Hwang

In the digital transformation era, a transcendent moment for US manufacturing on the global stage has arrived with the confluence of the evolving Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0), global geopolitical uncertainties, and the coronavirus pandemic. It is appropriate to take stock of the future of US manufacturing. What will it take to garner competitive prowess and catalyze a virtuous innovation-manufacturing cycle?

This issue is dedicated to the future of manufacturing. A stellar slate of experts present diverse experiences and perspectives from industry, a national laboratory, and academia. Together the articles provide informative coverage and holistic views on the future of advanced manufacturing, leveraging new and emerging technologies, desired infrastructure, innovative approaches, and a resilient supply chain to fortify US manufacturing competitiveness in the coming years.

The lodestar for the future of manufacturing is innovation. One of the most acclaimed engineers and accomplished businessmen in the 20th century and the author of a must-read book, Only the Paranoid Survive, Andy Grove (2010), writes: “Startups are a wonderful thing…as technology goes from prototype to mass production…this is the phase where companies scale up. They work out design details, figure out how to make things affordably, build factories, and hire people by the thousands. Scaling is hard work but necessary to make innovation matter.”

Indeed, scaling up reveals products’ intricacies and captures processes’ nuances, building invaluable know-how, knowledge, and innovative capacity. Manufacturing spurs innovation, and innovation propels manufacturing. In the larger picture, manufacturing also makes incalculable contributions to technological development and deployment, the workforce, and the nation’s continued prosperity in the competitive global sphere.

In This Issue

In the opening article I highlight the role of emerging technologies in advancing the manufacturing ecosystem and the convergent trend of technologies. The article also includes strategic business questions to be considered both to brace for challenges to the supply chain, workforce, and operations and to embrace opportunities that have emerged from the current mega-events.

In the second article, Thomas Kurfess and Howard Grimes discuss manufacturing and supply chain ecosystem innovations and the critical role of the digital thread in ensuring a secure, resilient, and adaptable manufacturing ecosystem and enabling augmentation of the human workforce. They explain the utility of the concepts of a “cyberphysical passport” and “born qualified” for operational production, and offer a thought-provoking comparison between ride-sharing and the manufacturing and supply chain ecosystem.

In the next article, “The Local Factory of the Future for Producing Individualized Products,” Yoram Koren showcases, with intriguing and creative illustrations, the manufacturing system architecture that enables the production of mass-individualized items, such as car interiors designed by the customer. He envisions that this capability and infrastructure will change the landscape of the manufacturing industry, with significant benefits for the economy and job market as well as consumer satisfaction.

Behrokh Khoshnevis then discusses “telefacturing” as a new manufacturing paradigm utilizing the components of Industry 4.0 to enable offsite work in support of production. He outlines the advantages of telefacturing—for example, reduced risk of disease contagion from worker proximity, fewer worker injuries from accidents with equipment on the factory floor, elimination of time-consuming commutes—and the continued technological and system-level advances needed for success.

Barbara Goldstein and Kate Remley focus on the next-generation industrial internet of things (IIoT), describing a government research program related to communication and sensing for wireless connectivity and IIoT technology. The research, at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology, is intended to support modern manufacturing in achieving the speed and reliability required to perform in factory-floor operations, the harshest of radio-propagation environments.

The sixth article illustrates the role of academic makerspaces in contributing to the future of manufacturing and discusses valuable lessons learned during the pandemic. The authors, James McGuffin-Cawley and Vincent Wilczynski, include case studies with compelling accounts of several very effective joint ventures of university makerspaces, manufacturers, and regulators. They conclude with opportunities for continued collaboration.

Hau Lee presents considerations for designing the global supply chain in the new normal after the pandemic. He discusses the relevance of end-to-end landed-cost analysis and explains the importance of avoiding overreaction and of designing a resilient global supply chain characterized by agility, responsiveness, and a capacity-ready platform.

The final article, by Ajay Malshe, Dereje Agonafer, Salil Bapat, and Jian Cao, illuminates the application of frugal engineering for social innovations to deliver social equity. The authors present examples of frugally engineered social innovation around the world, and make a compelling case for the need to apply such an approach to address inequities in the United States.

The Path Forward

As the global landscape continues to change, the future remains the most precious commodity. Charles F. Kettering, an American inventor and accomplished engineer, conveyed it well: “My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there.”

For the future, national recognition of the importance of digitized manufacturing to the workforce, the job market, and the national economy and security—and their interrelations—is paramount.

What is the path forward for US manufacturing? Future manufacturing will hinge on the prompt and effective adoption of frontier technologies; a well--educated and cultivated workforce; government encouragement, support, and well-balanced regulations; and constant innovation and the implementation of innovative ideas in a timely fashion.

I hope this issue sparks thoughts and actions about the role of future manufacturing to the engineering community, workforce, ecosystem, competitiveness, and ultimately the country’s prosperity from all walks of professionals and all levels of the government.


My deepest gratitude goes to the authors for their insightful and forward-thinking contributions and to Bridge managing editor Cameron Fletcher for tireless assistance throughout the process. It has been an absolute delight to work with all the authors and the managing editor.

I also thank the following, who provided thoughtful input in assessing the drafts for accuracy, coverage, and substantiation: Wayne Austad, John Birge, Rick Candell, Ken Case, Dianne Chong, Wally Hopp, Jonathan Hunt, Said Jahanmir, John Kitching, Raymond Rakhshani, Greg Reed, Chris Saldana, Steve Schmid, Susan Smyth, Ephraim Suhir, Chris Tang, and John White.


Grove A. 2010. How to make an American job. Bloomberg Businessweek, Jul 5.

About the Author:Jennie S. Hwang (NAE) is CEO of H-Technologies Group.