Volume 11 | Issue 3 | Year 2008

Innovations that could change The Way You Manufacture is a member driven initiative out of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers that outlines the emerging technologies making a positive impact on manufacturing. “What’s hot” advancements such as Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM); “what’s now” like self-assembling nanotechnology and “what’s green or eco-friendly” like ultra capacitors have all made the list.
The initiative was born out of a series of meetings, e-mail exchanges and other communications between SME’s Technical Community Network (TCN) and the larger manufacturing community. “So many published lists focus on emerging technologies that are most likely not available for use for some time. SME members are always looking to the future but they are also very much focused on making things happen today. The idea behind this list is to provide a service to help our members and the manufacturing community sort through all the “new” innovations announced each year,” explains SME Executive Director Mark Tomlinson.

The TCN, requesting nominations for ideas from the community, kept some and eliminated others, and then presented its findings to SME’s Manufacturing Enterprise Council (MEC) for review. The council collaboratively selected five “innovations that could change the way you manufacture” based on such criteria as universality across industries, positive impact on manufacturing, current availability for integration, and overall industry value. These innovations include:
• Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM)
• Ultracapacitors
• Self-Assembling Nanotechnology
• Intelligent Device Integration (IDI)
• Integrated 3-D Simulation and Modeling/Desktop Super Computers

Some, like DDM and ultracapacitors, are already making an impact on a broad spectrum of industries, while others, such as IDI and self-assembling technology integrated 3-D simulation and modeling/desktop super computers, hold great potential for industry-wide use but have been applied in limited areas.

“DDM is becoming an essential part of our nation’s key manufacturing industries such as aerospace, automotive, medical and even entertainment. The automotive industry uses DDM as a part of additive fabrication to build assembly aids. Orthopedic surgeons use it to create customized metal joint implants. It has even been used by video game designers to develop the latest gaming characters,” says Richard “Dick” Morley, a council member and founder of R. Morley Inc. (RMI), a consulting firm that specializes in the application of advanced technologies in the manufacturing and computer systems industries.

While the next innovation, ultracapacitors, may sound like something out of the 1980s movie classic, Back to The Future, this invention has 10,000 times more stored power than a typical D-cell sized electrolytic capacitor. Ultracapacitors also have an unparalleled life span. In our daily lives, these “super batteries” already provide long-lasting power solutions for cellular electronics, medical equipment, and most notably hybrid automobiles.

“Imagine the positive impact future, widespread use of this innovation could have on our nation’s current dependence on limited natural resources and ultimately our environment. This is one of manufacturing’s ‘greenest’ ways to go,” says Morley.

Self-assembly nanotechnology also made the list because this “what’s now” and “what’s green” innovation already has moved beyond theory to practice, most notably when IBM used it to enhance conventional computer chip manufacturing. This ever-changing technology makes it possible for objects, devices and even systems to form other structures without external prodding or manipulations.

“Almost like Lego’s® assembling themselves,” says Morley.

This type of manufacturing at the microscopic level also holds great promise to enhance daily life with such possible uses in water purification, sanitation, agriculture, computer manufacturing and more. The innovation’s “green” element comes in when it applies to alternative energy such as photovoltaics or converting the sun’s energy light into electricity.

The fourth innovation also selected for its “what’s hot” potential is Intelligent Device Integration (IDI), which entails any type of equipment, instrument or machine that has its own computing capability. Currently used in personal and handheld computers, IDI offers unprecedented visibility into and management of equipment, products, and even consumer interactions. By combining sensor data with two-way wireless communications, it promises more detailed, real-time views of activities and objects and will enable organizations to respond faster and even predict manufacturing incidents before they occur.

Finally, Integrated 3-D Simulation and Modeling/Desktop Super Computers are destined to revolutionize computer modeling. Imagine a large computer screen containing new automobile data. From it, users could see any segment or part instantly and in as much detail as desired from engine to component, all with 3-D impact and full rotation.

These super computers will make it possible for the computer to be used as a microscope, telescope and time machine to manage, view, and tool a complete manufacturing system.

“This is not the modeling and simulation of 20 years ago or even two years ago,” adds Morley.

The sector that will be most affected by these innovations is discrete manufacturing, Tomlinson says. This is a broad area that includes aerospace, automotive, medical devices, electronics and consumer goods. “Within this area, product development and engineering areas are the most to be impacted,” explains Tomlinson. “These innovations impact what can be developed and how they will be engineered. One hope of the project is that the list of innovations will answer questions some may not even known they had.”

SME’s Member Enterprise Council is interested in hearing opinions about these technologies. To submit feedback, visit www.sme.org/forums and click on “Innovations that Could Change the Way You Manufacture.”

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers (www.sme.org) is the world’s leading professional society supporting manufacturing education. Through its member programs, publications, expositions and professional development resources, SME promotes an increased awareness of manufacturing engineering and helps keep manufacturing professionals up to date on leading trends and technologies. Headquartered in Michigan, SME influences more than half a million manufacturing practitioners and executives annually. The Society has members in more than 70 countries and is supported by a network of hundreds of technical communities and chapters worldwide.

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