In This Issue
Celebrating Manufacturing Technology
March 1, 2005 Volume 35 Issue 1

Celebrating Manufacturing Technology

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Author: Toni Marechaux

The future of the manufacturing sector in the United States is much in the news these days. Major stories in almost every news outlet are focused on trade, American jobs, and the loss of the U.S. manufacturing and industrial base. More specific discussions are focused on the offshoring, or outsourcing, of white-collar, back-office, and technology jobs and the role of manufacturing in national and homeland defense. And in the background, proposals have been made for foreign guest worker programs analogous to H-1B and L-1 visas for highly educated professionals. All of these issues were touched on by speakers at an NAE symposium on October 4, 2004.

The session was moderated by Pamela A. Drew, chair of the National Research Council Board on Manufacturing and Engineering Design (BMED), which has conducted studies on specific topics in manufacturing; interactions between design, engineering, and manufacturing; and the significance of manufacturing for the nation. The symposium, “A Century of Innovation in Manufacturing,” held at the NAE Annual Meeting, was intended to initiate a discussion on the significance of the manufacturing sector to our nation’s stature in the world and our future prosperity. The symposium gave experts in many fields an opportunity to reflect on our journey so far and opened a discussion about where we should go from here.

The four distinguished speakers from the symposium who contributed papers for this issue have very different perspectives on manufacturing. In the last 100 years, a great many changes have been made in the way we design and manufacture the things we use in our daily lives. The authors discuss the current state of manufacturing, the role of manufacturing in our national and economic security, and future technologies that may change everything about how we make things and how and where we live.

One way to approach the intersection of national and homeland security and the economic health of the United States is in the context of the defense industrial base. Kenneth Flamm, the Dean Rusk Professor of International Affairs at the Lyndon B. Johnson School at the University of Texas at Austin, traces the complex history of post-Cold War policies that have shaped the military-industrial complex. He also describes the major contributions of the electronics manufacturing industry, particularly the development of computers, and the U.S. semiconductor industry.

Lawrence Rhoades combines his knowledge of economics, mechanical engineering, and business administration as head of Ex One Corporation (formerly Extrude Hone), a small company leading the way to manufacturing in the next century. Larry describes the transition from discreet-parts manufacturing to nontraditional manufacturing processes for machining, finishing, forming, and measurement. He then suggests how these new manufacturing processes will affect commerce, transportation, and our quality of life.

The paper by Sidney Perkowitz of Emory University takes us into the next century with a discussion of “digital people” in manufacturing and in our daily lives. Sid describes how technology is inexorably driving us toward new levels of product manufacturing and new kinds of manufactured products. Drawing on nanotechnology, molecular biology, artificial intelligence, and materials science, scientists are learning to create beings that can move, think, and look like people. They are using increasingly sophisticated machines to carry out a range of brave new manufacturing processes.

Alfonso Velosa, associate director of Gartner Incorporated, provides an analysis of the semiconductor industry in the global technology marketplace. He highlights the importance of product markets, device and process technologies, strategic planning, supply chain management, and research to manufacturing and engineering design. Al highlights the ups and downs of the semiconductor industry and describes emerging business models that are enabling U.S. companies to succeed in the global marketplace.

The information presented in the papers at the symposium and the questions from the audience made for an interesting and provocative discussion of the history, status, and direction of manufacturing technology. Clearly, the manufacturing sector faces many challenges in the emerging global economy. During the course of the symposium, different words were used to describe the next generation of manufacturing—flexible, distributed, green, and intelligent, to name a few—but everyone agreed that the future of manufacturing will depend on the same innovative spirit that inspired Henry Ford to build the first assembly line back in 1903.

About the Author:Toni Marechaux is director of the Board on Manufacturing and Engineering Design of the National Research Council.