ability to use, information will reduce the current gap between individual intellectual capabilities. A diverse workforce, operating on a more level playing field, will have a greater potential for creating new products synergistically.

In addition to the workforce's situational adaptability, people, information/ data processing systems, and material processing systems will be closely integrated. Individual workers will learn not only through access to information, but also by being important elements of a highly integrated manufacturing system. As automation advances toward more "human-like" capabilities, workers will be freed to do what is uniquely human—create valuable new products and make bold and visionary business decisions. The synergistic output of human-machine interactions will be much greater than the sum of its parts.

Process Technology

The innovation that has driven the microelectronics industry toward smaller and smaller processing scales could provide a model for revolutionary advances in industrial processes and equipment in the future. As enabling technologies are developed, the trend toward small-scale production components will continue. Extremely small-scale process building blocks that allow for synthesizing or forming new material forms and products will emerge. Nanofabrication processes will evolve from laboratory curiosities to production processes. Molecular assembly of complex, precise functional structures will lead to the development of microdevices, such as sensors, computational elements, medical robots, and macroscopic devices constructed from fundamental building blocks. Biotechnology, combining biology and chemistry, will lead to the creation of new biosynthetic and bioderived manufacturing processes that will have new and exciting applications on the shop floor of the twenty-first century.

The focus on sustainable, low-waste production processes will intensify as the global ecosystem is strained by growing populations and the development of new high technology economies and as awareness and global economic forces increase the need for responsible environmental stewardship. Improved process controls, the recycling and reuse of process waste streams, and new synthetic pathways will result in near-zero discharge processes. Products will be designed to be recyclable and reusable or to exist benignly in the environment.


Predicting the future is a difficult but important task. Only by speculating about the future will we be able to affect it. Based on the information obtained from a workshop, an international Delphi survey, and a review of the literature, the committee developed a positive vision of manufacturing in 2020. The "grand challenges" presented by this vision of the future are discussed in Chapter 2.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement