From the President: August 2015

Aug 25, 2015

Julio C. Guerrero

The Challenges of Advanced Manufacturing

One of the most exciting developments in advanced manufacturing is the exploration of supply-chain automation that focuses on improving production flexibility and real-time control for improved performance. The vision for the factory of the future shifts from the historical assembly line and vertical-integration processes to the one of global industrial ecosystems with multi-tiered supplier networks. The technologies feeding this vision are big data analytics, greater energy-efficient infrastructures, and sophisticated control systems that reduce inventories and other costs.

For now, however, the basic how, when and whys are still central to the conversation for adopting additive manufacturing processes into business and industry. Questions about these challenges brought many engineers to the 2015 Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing (AM3D) Conference I attended earlier this month, and a good number of them were asked by engineers in small and medium-sized businesses. The potential savings in materials, improved performance in lightweight structures, and the impact on the supply chain for localized customization for products is radically changing manufacturing, but much is left to learn and widespread adoption is still ahead of us.

Taking a cross-disciplinary review of current work by early adopters in aerospace, automotives, medical devices, and other manufacturing applications can help others formulate strategies around particular technical requirements, and together we can resolve some of the challenges. Key among the discussions is how we can scale-up, not only for today’s start-ups but also the regeneration of existing manufacturing sectors. Commercial 3D printing is still expensive. We still are limited in available feed materials. Shifting up to digital factories involves complex production systems and networked manufacturing.

A second key challenge that needs attention is the education and training of engineers and the greater workforce for this new era of manufacturing. Historically, manufacturing is good for economies, jobs and higher standards of living. Economic expansion creates a need for talent that would drive innovation. Lifelong learning opportunities are available for a personalized approach for many people now, but what and how we teach changes. NSF Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program director Rajesh Mehta has said what we need are “craft persons with global connectivity.”

To do any of this, we need wider, broader manufacturing communities to improve the research and innovation infrastructure, which will lead to shorter timeframes between research and application. Regional centers for manufacturing continue to be established globally, ensuring the momentum that will reverberate throughout industries and emerging technologies. I look forward to seeing the progress by next year’s AM3D in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Julio C. Guerrero ASME President