There have been several eras in the history of modern manufacturing during which fundamental changes occurred in the way manufacturing was performed, the processes used, the products made, and the economic power of the locale in which manufacturing was taking place.*

In the earliest paradigm, the transformation from raw material or subassemblies into a more valuable final product was carried out by skilled artisans and craftspersons, people who practiced under expert supervision until they achieved proficiency. These experts performed the entire task of transformation, from raw material to final assembly and test, mostly by hand. An area’s economic wealth depended on the skills of local artisans and craftspersons, and world fame accrued to specific areas that manufactured specific goods. London, Imari, Leeds, Birmingham, and other artisan centers achieved world renown.

During the Industrial Revolution, when steam power became readily available, economic wealth shifted to locations that had inexpensive access to power sources such as coal, oil, and hydroelectric power; to raw materials such as iron, aluminum, and copper; or to low-cost transportation via rivers or seaports. Economic wealth was determined largely by the capital equipment available to transform raw materials into finished goods. Pittsburgh, Gary, the Ruhr Valley, and other smokestack areas became centers of the new manufacturing capabilities.

The latter part of the Industrial Revolution introduced mass production methodology, changing the nature of work from a “do it all” process to a specialization process. Specialists now performed repetitive tasks in one specific activity, substantially decreasing the cost of the finished product. Interchangeability of parts became critical, but knowledge about how the entire product came together decreased. Detroit, Wolfsberg, Osaka, and others became centers of mass production.

The next major paradigm shift, leading up to the 21st century vision discussed in this report, occurred after capital and access to raw materials became widely available and were no longer competitive advantages; U.S. manufacturers faced greater, worldwide competition. Various approaches to reduce costs and improve delivery were undertaken, with significant attention being paid to industrial engineering. Knowledge became important, as did quality control, time studies of manufacturing processes, flexible organization, skilled workers, and so on. The availability of an educated work force became a driver of economic wealth. Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, Seattle, Tokyo, Route 128, and others became the new centers of excellence.


A more comprehensive, engineering-oriented examination of manufacturing epochs can be found in a table on the evolution of manufacturing in the following: Jaikumar, Ramchandran. 1988. “From Filing and Fitting to Flexible Manufacturing,” Harvard Business School working paper No. 88–045. Boston, Mass. Reproduced in R.Jaikumar, “200 Years to CIM,” IEEE Spectrum 30(9):26–27.

appropriate technology development and deployment. It needs to make the investment required to apply relevant technologies in building effective production facilities. Information technology is only one of many areas in which the nation must continue to invest, but it is the differentiator that will give the United States a competitive edge.


Manufacturing involves the processes of designing products, planning and executing their transformation from raw materials into finished goods with high quality and low cost,

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