There is a new report out on Emerging Global Trends in Advanced Manufacturing by the Science & Technology Policy Institute (part of the Institute for Defense Analyses), done for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The study stresses that manufacturing is a moving frontier:
In 20 years, manufacturing is expected to advance to new frontiers, resulting in an increasingly automated and data-intensive manufacturing sector that will likely replace traditional manufacturing as we know it today.
The report highlights five converging trends:
• Ubiquitous role of information technology.
• Reliance on modeling and simulation in the manufacturing process.
• Acceleration of innovation in supply-chain management.
• Move toward the ability to change manufacturing systems rapidly in response to customer needs and external impediments.
• Acceptance and support of sustainable manufacturing.
I would note that a number of these trends are not simply technological, but have organizational and business-model focused as well.
On the technology side, they see major advances in two mature areas and two emerging technologies. The mature areas are semiconductor fabrication and advanced materials with a focus on integrated computational materials engineering. The emerging technologies are additive manufacturing (aka 3D printing) and biomanufacturing with a focus on synthetic biology.
As a result of the combination of the overall trends and the technological advances, they postulate the following future scenarios:
Our research into advanced manufacturing points to an increasingly automated world that will continue to rely less on labor-intensive mechanical processes and more on sophisticated information-technology-intensive processes. This trend will likely accelerate as advances in manufacturing are implemented.
Over the next 10 years, advanced manufacturing will become increasingly globally linked as automation and digital supply-chain management become the norm across enterprise systems. This trend will be enabled by adaptive sensor networks that allow intelligent feedback to inform rapid analyses and decision-making.
Countries and companies that invest in cyber and related physical infrastructure will be positioned to lead by exploiting the resulting increased flow of information. The underlying expansion in computing and sensing capabilities will, in turn, enhance the importance of semiconductors beyond today’s computing and information technology sectors.
Advanced manufacturing processes will likely be more energy and resource efficient in the future, as companies strive to integrate sustainable manufacturing techniques into their business practices to reduce costs, to decrease supply-chain risks, and to enhance product appeal to some customers.
From a technological standpoint, advances in materials and systems design will likely accelerate and transform manufactured products. For example, large global vi investments in grapheme and carbon nanotubes for nanoscale applications have the potential to fundamentally change electronics and renewable-energy applications.
Further, self-assembly-based fabrication processes and biologically inspired designs will be integrated into the manufacturing process as technologies advance and cost-effective implementations are realized.
Establishing an advanced manufacturing sector will continue to be a priority for many countries, with progress depending importantly on trends in the private sector, such as the size and growth of the market.
In 20 years, many of the early trends and techniques that begin to emerge at 10 years are expected to be more fully adopted, with advanced manufacturing pushed toward new frontiers. Manufacturing innovations will have displaced many of today’s traditional manufacturing processes, replacing labor-intensive manufacturing processes with automated processes that rely on sensors, robots, and condition-based systems to reduce the need for human interventions, while providing data and information for process oversight and improvement.
Advanced manufacturing will increasingly rely on new processes that enable flexibility, such as biologically inspired nanoscale-fabrication processes and faster additive manufacturing techniques capable of assembling products by area or by volume rather than by layering materials as is done today.
Over the next 20 years, manufacturers will also increasingly use advanced and custom-designed materials, developed using improved computational methods and accelerated experimental techniques. As computational capabilities increase, materials designs, processing, and product engineering will become more efficient, reducing the time from product concept to production In 20 years, synthetic biology could change the manufacturing of biological products. Coupled with advances in genomics, proteomics, systems biology, and genetic engineering, synthetic biology will offer a toolbox of standardized genetic parts that can be used in the design and production of a new system. The catalyst to new products will be increased understanding of cellular functions and disease models.
The report does not have specific policy-oriented recommendations. However, chapter 4 looks at the enabling factors need for success, including the policies of many nations to promote advanced manufacturing. As they point out in their conclusions:
Establishing an advanced manufacturing sector will continue to be a priority for many countries, with progress depending importantly on market factors. Companies will locate in countries that have large and growing markets. Country-specific policies that spur advanced manufacturing will set the stage for manufacturing sectors to emerge in both developed and developing countries.
So, bottom line: manufacturing will still matter, but it will be very different from what we think of today as “manufacturing”.