Industrial Insight

the future…. | August 27, 2012

The Next Great Growth Cycle

By Mark P. Mills Saturday, August 25, 2012

The third grand technology shift is already starting to happen in the emerging Computational Manufacturing revolution. This is the first core shift in how we manufacture things since Henry Ford launched the economic power of “mass production.”

We have already seen some evidence of this transformation in how “automation” has been applied to manufacturing and the supply chain. But computational manufacturing is much deeper and broader. It begins with something commonly called 3D printing—or “additive” or direct-digital manufacturing. This is literally the “printing” of parts and devices directly from a computer model or image, using lasers, electron beams, or microwaves, and powdered raw materials.

3D printing is radically improving and accelerating the design process and already produces commercially viable final parts in some niche applications such as highly customized parts for aircraft or medical devices like knee joints.

A directly related aspect of the manufacturing revolution emerges from the computational design of the materials themselves. Engineers can use supercomputing power to design and build from the molecular level, optimize features and even create new materials, radically improve quality, and reduce waste. For example, there are materials like graphene, which offer as much promise as did silicon itself, and bizarre constructs of so-called meta-materials, which enable, literally, features like invisibility.

Computational manufacturing is poised to become a trillion dollar industry, unleashing as big a change in how we make things as did mass production in an earlier era, and as did the agricultural revolution in how we grew things. It is a manufacturing paradigm defined not by cheap labor, but high talent.


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About author

I'm the executive vice president for a steel casting trade association, the Steel Founders' Society of America. I've got a crazy wife, five crazy children, three crazy people that married into the family, and two crazy fun little grandsons.







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