Apr 2, 2014Articles

This article excerpt, by Larry Greenemeier, originally appeared here:

Much of what we buy in the U.S. is not made here, and hasn’t been for decades. If 2013 is any indication this could be changing, although the next generation of American manufacturing will differ greatly from its predecessor thanks to advanced technologies that rely on information rather than brawn.

William Bonvillian, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Washington office, says that a big problem is that U.S. innovation since World War II and the Cold War has focused mostly on early-stage research and development at the expense of investment in prototyping, demonstration, testing and production. The solution, he says, can be found in a number of new technologies and inventive approaches to making things. Some of these include:

Making better use of information technology—including computers, radio-frequency ID tags and sensors to improve efficiency. Big data analytics also play a role here, along with advanced robotics, simulation and modeling.

Mass customizing products with the help of 3-D printing and other additive manufacturing processes. Additive manufacturing processes create 3-D objects based on a computer file by sequentially depositing thin layers of liquid or powdered metals, polymers or other materials on a substrate.

Leveraging advances in computing and networking to make product distribution more efficient. One advantage to making things domestically should be that they are easier and cheaper to deliver.

Reducing energy requirements throughout the manufacturing process via energy-efficient technology and processes.

Looking ahead, companies should realize that workers are still needed to design, build and program. For example, computer software may streamline a supply chain, eliminating redundant workforce, but people are responsible for writing, testing and implementing that software.

Bonvillian likewise sees new approaches to manufacturing as sound investments central to growing the U.S. economy. The work required to bring production up to speed with traditionally strong investments in R&D will likely keep U.S. businesses busy for quite some time.



VIA: Scientific American

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