Megatrends, and Changing the Way We Manufacture

An example of biomimicry is AeroVironment's development of the world's first fully operational, life-size hummingbird-like unmanned aircraft for DARPA. Inspired by the hummingbird, the nano air vehicle (NAV) demonstrated hover stability in wind gusts, continuous hover without external power, transition from hover to fast forward, and many other abilities of the hummingbird.
Photo: Business Wire

American manufacturers today are facing a number of challenges, including tough international competition, as they adapt to and integrate the most recent technological advances. For businesses and policy makers, how to build and support a stronger U.S. manufacturing base is the million dollar question, one that takes on even greater importance in a volatile global economy.

One way to boost American manufacturing, exports, and job creation is to focus on addressing the world's megatrends, according to Dow Corning Chairman Stephanie A. Burns. In testimony last May before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Dr. Burns revealed that Dow Corning's sales had more than doubled since 2003, producing record growth that she attributed in part to studying the megatrends that are likely to influence the kinds of products consumers will want to buy in the foreseeable future.

"We are seeing record growth, we are exporting, and we are creating jobs," said Dr. Burns. "We have achieved that growth in part because we believe that you only can export what customers around the world want to buy--and, to sustain this growth, we know that we must not simply cater to the markets of today…we must also anticipate the shape and demands of the global marketplace of tomorrow."

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) is doing its part to support and strengthen the U.S. manufacturing base by keeping an eye out for innovative technologies and making sure that American manufacturers are aware of them. Continuing what has become an annual announcement, SME recently released its 2012 list of Innovations that Could Change the Way You Manufacture. It's hoped that the list--a summary of eight new and emerging technologies ranging from biomimicry to hyper-carbide cutting tools and a way to lower the cost of energy production--will strike a chord with American manufacturers who recognize an opportunity to enhance their capabilities and competitiveness.

Daniel Burrus, a prominent technology forecaster and business strategist, believes that today's manufacturers must transform along with the rest of the world by adopting Next Generation Manufacturing principles.  Burrus has identified six primary principles that he believes manufacturing companies need to embrace in order to contribute to the stabilization and growth of the manufacturing sector.

The following pages highlight some of the insights of Stephanie Burns, Daniel Burrus, and SME's Innovation Watch Committee that could help light the way to a better future for American manufacturing.

Studying Megatrends to Create a Strategy for U.S. Economic Growth

In her testimony last May before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in Washington, D.C., Dow Corning Chairman Stephanie A. Burns shared some thoughts on how to grow domestic manufacturing in a way that increases U.S. exports while reducing the trade deficit and strengthening America's competitiveness in the global marketplace. Suggesting a framework for thoughtful policy making, Dr. Burns recommended that we focus on addressing the world's megatrends as a way to improve manufacturing, exports, and job creation in America.

"We need to study the megatrends that will shape the world economy and humankind in the decades to come, and then unleash our innovators to find the products and solutions that will meet the needs and challenges they pose," said Dr. Burns.

A member of the President's Export Council, Dr. Burns used Dow Corning as an example of the role a vibrant manufacturer in America can play in satisfying the long-term trends that are shaping the world, such as energy scarcity and the need for clean and domestically-generated energy solutions; rapid urbanization of the developing world; and aging populations and the corresponding challenges related to the provision of health care.

"I'm sure other companies are exploring these and other megatrends through the lenses of their competencies and business plans," she said. "And I am also sure that companies that play into--and not resist--these trends will be the jobs engines of the coming decades. If the United States is to maintain its global economic leadership, it must strive to be home to these kinds of companies and industries…these innovators. To be sure, that means having a competitive corporate tax structure and regulatory regime, as well as incentives for investment in innovation and growth. But, it also means having smart, forward-looking policies that invite investment from manufacturers poised to meet changing global demand."

Information from Business Wire was included in this report.


Innovations that Could Change the Way You Manufacture

The new and emerging technologies on SME's 2012 list of Innovations that Could Change the Way You Manufacture were selected by SME's Innovation Watch Committee, and are already being used successfully in manufacturing settings. By releasing the list, SME is expecting that many manufacturers will see their value and will begin adopting these materials and processes into their products in the near future.

"Innovation keeps U.S. manufacturing strong," said LaRoux Gillespie, 2012 president of the Society, in a statement. "By constantly re-inventing itself, developing new materials, technologies, and processes, manufacturing increases its productivity while creating products that enhance our lives. That is why SME is seeking out, acknowledging, and sharing these innovations with the larger manufacturing community."

The Innovations That Could Change the Way You Manufacture will be a featured session track at the SME Annual Conference, scheduled June 3-5, 2012, in Cleveland.

Biomimicry: Finding Inspiration in Nature to Design and Manufacture Better Products

Think of nature as the ultimate engineer. Biomimicry takes ideas from nature, inspiring designs and processes that can be used to make better and more sustainable products. It's already behind many developments, including synthetic gecko tape, strong coatings and materials inspired by abalone, coloration with nanophotonic crystals inspired by peacock feathers, and an artificial leaf that harnesses solar energy. Another example of biomimicry is the hummingbird-inspired nano air vehicle (NAV) that could provide surveillance in many environments. The vehicle demonstrates hover stability in wind gusts, continuous hover without external power, transition from hover to fast forward, and many other abilities of the hummingbird.

Transistors Go 3-D for more Performance and Energy Efficiency

The 3D Tri-Gate transistor represents a fundamental departure from the traditional "flat" two-dimensional gate. By wrapping three gates around the silicon channel in a 3-D structure, it controls current flow on three sides of the channel rather than just from the top. Because these fins are vertical, transistors can be packed closer together. The new technology enables innovative microarchitectures, system on chip (SoC) designs, and new products. They will first appear in Ivy Bridge-based ultrabooks. Designers will also be able to continue growing the height of the fins to get more performance and energy-efficiency gains.

Economic Machining of Hardened Steels and Super Alloys with Hyper-Carbide Cutting Tools

Hyper-carbides are sintered, metal-matrix composites that differ from traditional "carbides" in the binder composition. By replacing the traditional binder metal (cobalt) with others such as Re, Mo, Ni, and Cr, the composite achieves a much greater hot hardness and thermal resistance, giving the tool an ability to withstand the extreme temperatures and pressures of higher-speed cutting. The resulting performance allows machining at 10 or more times the usual material removal rates. Yet, hyper-carbides are produced using the same basic methods as other carbide tools, resulting in similar tool production costs.

Replacing Artificial Parts with Synthetic, Grown Body Parts

Nanotechnology has played a critical role in the first synthetic trachea transplant. A patented nanocomposite was used to form a scaffold exactly the same size and shape as the patient's own windpipe, which was then seeded with adult stem cells from the patient's own bone marrow. This innovation is in addition to other methods that are being used to grow or print new body parts. While the list of parts that can be built--such as bladders and heart valves--is limited, it is imaginable that new parts could be built that would eliminate the need for things like dialysis machines, artificial hearts, and artificial joints.

More Good Batches at Lower Cost Using the Model Predictive Control

For batch processing, a multivariate-based model allows for a more accurate analysis and provides process insights not available from other approaches. Using available online multivariate analytics, the model predictive approach can provide immediate and substantial benefits, including an increase in the consistency of product quality, greater throughput through better yields, and decreased cycle time and outages. During Lubrizol's first trial at a plant in Rouen, France, 18 input variable, 38 process variables, and four output variables were used. They realized numerous and ongoing benefits, including uncovering a fault in the process that went unnoticed through traditional monitoring systems, quickly solving problems and avoiding extended downtime.

Technology that 'Sees' into the Future for Lower Energy Production Costs

A predictive header pressure controller adjusts boiler loads to maintain header pressure several minutes into the future. Controlling more like an operator, the system anticipates a change in header pressure, makes an adjustment, waits, and then tweaks. The result is substantially reduced fuel costs, which will benefit every energy consumer, as well as the environment, through efficient consumption of fuels. Through use of the technology, a major pulp mill in Western Canada reduced fossil fuel costs by more than $500,000 per month.


Want to Save the Manufacturing Sector? It's Time to Embrace the Principles of Next Generation Manufacturing

By Daniel Burrus

Like most industries, the manufacturing sector is transforming rapidly. Because of recent technological advances and globalization, U.S. manufacturing is facing intense international competition, increasing market volatility and complexity, a declining workforce, and a host of other challenges. Yet we know that in order to have a strong economy, we need a strong manufacturing base. So what's the answer?

Today's manufacturers must transform along with the rest of the world by adopting Next Generation Manufacturing principles. And while many manufacturers have started to adopt some next generation manufacturing principles, there are six advanced principles they need to embrace in order to move forward now.

Anticipate customer needs

It's vital that manufacturers anticipate customer needs based on hard trends. Therefore, look at your customers' future and focus on what you DO know rather than what you don't know. Ask, "What are the hard trends, the things that will happen, versus the things that might happen? What are the industries that are converging around our customers that our customers currently don't see?" Then you can start seeing both needs and opportunities before they happen.

One of the reasons you need to be more anticipatory is that things are changing so fast. Typically manufacturers ask the customer what they want and then give it to them. But by the time you have it designed and manufactured and give it to them, their needs have changed or the economy has shifted again. The relevancy of the need is no longer as great. Second, if you ask customers what they want and give it to them, they're going to under-ask, because they're focused on what they know is possible, not what you know is possible. Customers, just like most companies, don't know how to anticipate. But when you adopt this principle, you'll be able deliver what your customers need just as they need it.

Innovate around the core

What are your core competencies? Are you still using your core competencies? In the past, manufacturers could go decades between innovations. That strategy doesn't work anymore. The world has changed, and more important, change itself has changed. Information and new knowledge now travel around the world at the speed of light, and technological innovation proceeds at close to the speed of thought. Today you cannot just innovate now and then: to survive and thrive in a time of vertical change, you have to be innovating around your core competencies continuously. So what is your core, and are you using it?

Also consider if there's a new core you need. Because of the rapid transformation we're going through right now, which is driven by technology, there may be a new core you need to develop or to acquire.

Focus on collaboration

We are transforming how we collaborate right now. Realize that collaboration is much different than cooperation. Cooperation is based on scarcity and it contains within it the assumption that your interests and mine are inherently in conflict; however, we will temporarily set aside those cross-purposes to find some cautious tactical common ground. In essence, cooperation is about protecting your piece of the economic pie and doing everything you can to make it bigger. In contrast, collaboration is when we co-create the future together. It's about working with everyone else, even your competitors, to make a bigger pie for all. It's based on abundance and requires working together under higher levels of trust and connectivity.

The move from scarcity thinking to abundance thinking, from zero-sum competition to one-hundred-sum collaboration, is not just a "nice" or "moral" idea. In the twenty-first century, it's plain good sense. Scarcity says, "I'm going to keep all my ideas to myself and sell more than anyone else." Abundance says, "By mentoring, coaching, and sharing all our best ideas, we're going to create a powerful tide that raises all our ships--and we'll all sell more as a result."

Pre-solve problems

The best way to avoid problems is to use hard trends to both predict and pre-solve them. Based on my own studies of manufacturing firms and other companies, I've found that 98% of the biggest problems companies faced were fully predictable before they happened. This is hindsight, and hindsight always brings lament.

Hard trends add certainty to foresight. If a problem is fully predictable, that means it's fully avoidable. Therefore, manufacturers have to use those hard trends to look into the visible future and ask, "What are the problems that we can see based on anticipating customer needs?" Get that down to a short list that's aligned with your core competencies. Then that's where you focus, because you can see which problems are coming. Additionally, look at your own company in the same manner to determine the problems you're about to face. Solve them before they happen so they don't occur in the midst of rapid change and transformation. That's the only way to stay ahead of the curve.

Inform and communicate

In the past, we developed information-age organizations. As a result, companies do a lot of informing and are very good at it. But most are not good at communicating, both internally and externally. Companies now have to inform and communicate. What's the difference?

Informing is one-way. It's static and doesn't always cause action. Communicating is two-way. It's dynamic and usually causes action. Social media is a good example of engagement in communication, which is why it's spreading so rapidly and becoming a business tool. Next generation manufacturers understand that you don't just inform; you also communicate, develop that strategy, and move it out internally as well as externally.

Do continuous de-commoditization

Just as we had continuous improvement in the past, manufacturers need to continually de-commoditize their products and services. Realize that every product and service can be de-commoditized repeatedly. Unfortunately, most companies don't do this. Instead, they come up with a new product or service and they milk it. They make their money on it and by default let the product or service become a commodity.

The minute you come up with something new, a competitor will copy it. As they do so, your de-commoditized and innovative product or service slowly becomes a commodity. The margins get thinner as time goes on. You find yourself competing more on price and eventually remove the product or service from your line.

Here's a better approach: Instead of letting the margins get thinner and riding them down, you can wrap a service around a product or wrap a service around a service to add new value. You can think creatively about your product or service so you can repackage it, redefine it, revamp it, or somehow make it unique in the marketplace again. So do continuous de-commoditization. Not only will you raise the bar based on trends, but you'll also find yourself with good margins and a growing business.

--Edited by Mark Shortt

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