The Next Manufacturing Revolution Is Here

from TED

Economic growth has been slowing for the past 50 years, but relief might come from an unexpected place — a new form of manufacturing that is neither what you thought it was nor where you thought it was. Industrial systems thinker Olivier Scalabre details how a fourth manufacturing revolution will produce a macroeconomic shift and boost employment, productivity and growth.

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  1. Ted Talks are always inspiring, Oliver Scalabre starts his Ted Talk by outlining how growth in the United States in the past two centuries has been driven by 3 major manufacturing revolutions. The steam engine in the 19th Century, mass production in the early 20th and automation technology in the 1970s. These have been major economic turning points in history. Although we’ve tried to change the face of manufacturing over the past 50 years, there has not been a single point of real transformation. Moving labor overseas to save money worked for a while, but wages can’t stay down forever. We made bigger, more specialized factories, but they look generally the same as they did 50 years ago. Although technology and the internet have been great for many things, they have not improved productivity or drove economic growth. “Do you really think we’re more productive posting on Facebook or watching YouTube videos?”, says Mr. Scalabre. The problem is that advanced, technological innovation has not fully met up with manufacturing. While robots have been a mainstay on the production floor for years, it’s the new wave of technology that can expand their presence in better ways. It’s the advances in technology that will make better robots that are more productive, faster, safer and less expensive. Combine that level of automation with the speed and accuracy of 3D printing for the next giant leap in manufacturing. Although 3D printing it has made great advances with plastics recently, metals are beginning to be experimented with as well. This could change the landscape of manufacturing in ways we can’t even imagine now! 3D printing can create complex parts or products faster, cheaper and more accurately than our current processes. Plus, it can scale easily, offering true flexibility to manufacturers. They will be able to make products on demand, instead of in large volume. Reducing the need to make products in large volume, and then transport them across the globe could be a catalyst for micro-economic boost at the local level.
    Creating products on demand, and transporting them only across a region puts the manufacturing focus on cities and communities, instead of globalization and mass scale.

  2. I would like to start off by saying that I am a global supply chain management major. Thus, most of what he is saying does make sense. The first thing that came to my mind when he was talking about factories moving back to their home market, was the discussion I once had in my Global Business class. The discussion was about the paradox of globalization and I believed that one day, (after a few decades), all the companies will come to their home market because it will be cheaper. In other words, the minimum wages will even out across the countries. Now, I was only factoring the minimum wage with currency in my discussion. Nevertheless, the only reason that companies outsource their products is that of the cheaper wages which equal cheaper products for the consumers. This is how our economy is working. Companies outsource from all around the world and develop a product that a consumer from anywhere can buy and use. It allows companies to maximize their profit as well as their audience.

    Thus, when Olivier Scalabre was talking about this idea of the fourth manufacturing revolution, I have to agree. I am constantly reading articles on how manufacturing is changing because of technology advances. Robotics is becoming a big deal in the way we run our supply chain. For instance, robots are being made so that they can work next to humans safely. This allows them to maximize their time and profit. And as he stated 3D printing is allowing companies to personalize products. I remember going to Costco and seeing many 3D printers making personalized shoes right then and there for their customers. It was remarkably straightforward. The customer would stand on a machine that would scan their feet. Then the scans would be sent to their computer (or iPad), and from there to their 3D printers (which were placed 3 feet away from them). When I saw that, I was in awe by the technology and by the idea. That alone just showed how stores might run in the future. Imagine, instead of going to the store to try on clothes that may not be the best fit, consumers in the future will go to the stores knowing that a personalized product awaits. This also changes the way businesses will be done. Companies will no longer be needing to have a bulk amount of goods in stores (let’s say clothing or shoes), instead, they will allow the consumers to pick and choose exactly what they want.

    Yet, if the idea is that easy, then why is every company not adopting this faster? Maybe because of the cost. Companies know that in today’s market, anything customized takes more time and money. They do not have the technology, just yet, to personalize products faster for their consumers. Maybe a few decades from now, it will get easier to produce better, smarter products.

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