Manufacturing has changed radically over the course of the last 20 years and rapid changes are certain to continue. The emergence of new manufacturing technologies, spurred by intense competition, will lead to dramatically new products and processes. New management and labor practices, organizational structures, and decision-making methods will also emerge as complements to new products and processes.
Manufacturing will remain one of the principal means by which wealth is created. It is essential that the United States be prepared to implement advanced manufacturing methods in a timely way. A critical step in preparing for the future will be the development of an underlying technical foundation through research by industry, academia, and government institutions, which must be guided by a clear vision of manufacturing in the next century and an understanding of the fundamental challenges that must be met to realize this vision. In this study, the committee identifies fundamental manufacturing challenges that can guide current investments in research.
The Committee on Visionary Manufacturing Challenges was established by the National Research Council's Board on Manufacturing and Engineering Design (1) to create a vision of the competitive environment for manufacturing and the nature of the manufacturing enterprise in 2020, (2) to determine the major challenges for manufacturing to achieve the vision, (3) to identify the key technologies for meeting these challenges, and (4) to recommend strategies for measuring progress. The year 2020 was chosen to encourage thinking about revolutionary changes, rather than evolutionary advances based on current capabilities. The committee's findings are summarized below.
Vision of Manufacturing in 2020
The committee developed an information gathering process based on two primary mechanisms:
- A workshop was held for participants (primarily from the United States) representing a broad range of manufacturing expertise. The workshop included presentations and discussions on future trends in economics, business practices, environmental concerns, and manufacturing issues. A summary of the workshop presentations and discussions is included in the report as Appendix A.
- An international Delphi survey of manufacturing experts (more than 40 percent outside the United States) was conducted. Summaries of the survey methodology and results are included in this report as Appendices B and C.
The committee found that the experts who participated in the workshop and survey had a very positive collective vision for manufacturing in 20 years. The most important technical, political, and economic forces for the development of manufacturing are listed below:
- The competitive climate, enhanced by communication and knowledge sharing, will require rapid responses to market forces.
- Sophisticated customers, many in newly developed countries, will demand products that are customized to meet their needs.
- The basis of competition will be creativity and innovation in all aspects of the manufacturing enterprise.
- The development of innovative process technologies will change both the scope and scale of manufacturing.
- Environmental protection will be essential as the global ecosystem is strained by growing populations and the emergence of new high-technology economies.
- Information and knowledge on all aspects of manufacturing enterprises and the marketplace will be instantly available in a form that can be effectively assimilated and used for decision making.
- The global distribution of highly competitive production resources, including skilled workforces, will be a critical factor in the organization of manufacturing enterprises.
Manufacturing enterprises in 2020 will bring new ideas and innovations to the marketplace rapidly and effectively. Individuals and teams will learn new skills rapidly because of advanced network-based learning, computer-based communication across extended enterprises, enhanced communications between people and machines, and improvements in the transaction and alliance infrastructure. Collaborative partnerships will be developed quickly by assembling the necessary resources from a highly distributed manufacturing capability in
response to market opportunities and just as quickly dissolved when the opportunities dissipate.
Manufacturing in 2020 will continue to be a human enterprise that converts ideas for products into reality from raw and recycled materials. However, enterprise functions as we know them today (research and development, design engineering, manufacturing, marketing, and customer support) will be so highly integrated that they will function concurrently as virtually one entity that links customers to innovators of new products. The form and identity of companies will be radically changed to encompass virtual structures that will coalesce and vanish in response to a dynamic marketplace.
New corporate architectures for manufacturing enterprises, including materials enterprises that convert raw and recycled feedstocks into an array of finished and semifinished materials and product enterprises that convert the new materials into configured products, will emerge. Although production resources will be distributed globally, fewer materials enterprises and a greater number of regional or community-based product enterprises will be connected to local markets. The product enterprises may be part of larger corporations, but they will be located in and serve local markets and will operate autonomously.
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. Biotechnology will lead to the creation of new biosynthetic and bioderived manufacturing processes with new and exciting applications on the shop floor of the twenty-first century.
The two-part Delphi survey on visionary manufacturing challenges was designed to forecast manufacturing challenges in 2020 and to elicit information on enabling technologies for research and development. An analysis of the first questionnaire identified major challenges and enabling technologies for manufacturing enterprises. The second questionnaire identified the highest priority challenges and research topics based on the prioritized enabling technologies. The results of the Delphi survey are included in Appendices B and C of this report.
Based on the results of the Delphi survey, the committee identified six "grand" challenges for manufacturers that represent gaps between current practices and the vision of manufacturing in 2020.
Grand Challenge 1. Achieve concurrency in all operations.
Grand Challenge 2. Integrate human and technical resources to enhance workforce performance and satisfaction.
Grand Challenge 3. "Instantaneously" transform information gathered from a vast array of diverse sources into useful knowledge for making effective decisions.
Grand Challenge 4. Reduce production waste and product environmental impact to "near zero."
Grand Challenge 5. Reconfigure manufacturing enterprises rapidly in response to changing needs and opportunities.
Grand Challenge 6. Develop innovative manufacturing processes and products with a focus on decreasing dimensional scale.
Key Technologies to Meet Challenges
This report identifies the technology areas with the greatest potential for meeting the grand challenges. The committee's judgments are based on the following criteria:
- Was the technology identified as a high priority technology in the Delphi survey?
- Was the technology identified as a high priority technology at the workshop?
- Is this a primary technology for meeting one of the grand challenges?
- Does the technology have the potential to have a profound impact on manufacturing?
- Does the technology support more than one grand challenge?
- Does the technology represent a long-term opportunity (i.e., is the technology not readily attainable in the short term)?
After evaluating many ideas, the committee selected 10 strategic technology areas as the most important for meeting the grand challenges. These technology areas are listed below (not in order of priority):
- adaptable, integrated equipment, processes, and systems that can be readily reconfigured
- manufacturing processes that minimize waste and energy consumption
- innovative processes for designing and manufacturing new materials and components
- biotechnology for manufacturing
- system synthesis, modeling, and simulation for all manufacturing operations
- technologies to convert information into knowledge for effective decision making
- product and process design methods that address a broad range of product requirements
- enhanced human-machine interfaces
- new educational and training methods that enable the rapid assimilation of knowledge
- software for intelligent collaboration systems
The committee then identified research opportunities to support the development of the priority technology areas. The committee's general findings are listed below:
- Many of the areas for research are crosscutting areas, that is, they are applicable to several priority technologies. Adaptable and reconfigurable manufacturing systems, information and communication technologies, and modeling and simulation are especially important because they are key to manufacturing capabilities in many areas.
- Two important breakthrough technologies—submicron manufacturing and enterprise simulation and modeling—will accelerate progress in addressing the grand challenges.
- Substantial research is already under way outside of the manufacturing sector that could be focused on manufacturing applications.
- Progress toward the goals recommended in the Next Generation Manufacturing study on the needs of the next decade would provide some fundamental building blocks for meeting the longer-term grand challenges for 2020. These research areas include (1) analytical tools for modeling and assessment, (2) processes for capturing and using knowledge for manufacturing, and (3) intelligent processes and flexible manufacturing systems.
- Because manufacturing is inherently multidisciplinary and involves a complicated mix of people, systems, processes, and equipment, the most effective research will also be multidisciplinary and grounded in knowledge of manufacturing strategies, planning, and operations.
Based on the findings and general conclusions, the committee developed the following recommendations for a research and development program in the priority technology areas.
Recommendation. Establish an interdisciplinary research and development program that emphasizes multi-investigator consortia both within institutions and across institutional boundaries. Establish links between research communities in the important disciplines required to address the grand challenges, including all branches of engineering, mathematics, physics, chemistry, economics, management science, computer science, philosophy, biology, psychology, cognitive science, and anthropology.
Recommendation. Focus long-term manufacturing research on developing capabilities in the priority technology areas to meet the grand challenges.
Recommendation. Establish priorities for long-term research with an emphasis on crosscutting technologies, i.e., technologies that address more than one grand challenge. Adaptable and reconfigurable manufacturing systems, information and
communication technologies, and modeling and simulation are three research areas that address several grand challenges.
Recommendation. Establish basic research focused on breakthrough technologies, including innovative submicron manufacturing processes and enterprise modeling and simulation. Focus basic research on the development of a scientific base for production processes and systems that will support new generations of innovative products.
Recommendation. Monitor the research and development on technologies that will have significant investment from outside the manufacturing sector and undertake research and development, as necessary, to adapt them for manufacturing applications. Some applicable technologies are listed below:
- information technology that can be adapted and incorporated into collaboration systems and models through manufacturing-specific research and development focused on improving methods for people to make decisions, individually and as part of a group
- core technologies, including materials science, energy conservation, and environmental protection technologies
Recommendation. Industry and government should focus interdisciplinary research and development on the priority technology areas. Some key considerations for the long-term are listed below:
- understanding the effect of human psychology and social sciences on decision-making processes in the design, planning, and operation of manufacturing processes
- managing and using information to make intelligent decisions among a vast array of alternatives
- adapting and reconfiguring manufacturing processes rapidly for the production of diverse, customized products
- adapting and reconfiguring manufacturing enterprises to enable the formation of complex alliances with other organizations
- developing concurrent engineering tools that facilitate cross-disciplinary and enterprise-wide involvement in the conceptualization, design, and production of products and services to reduce time-to-market and improve quality
- developing educational and training technologies based on learning theory and the cognitive and linguistic sciences to enhance interactive distance learning
- optimizing the use of human intelligence to complement the application and implementation of new technology
- understanding the effects of new technologies on the manufacturing workforce, work environment, and the surrounding community
- developing business and engineering tools that are transparent to differences in skills, education, status, language, and culture to bridge international and organizational boundaries
One of the key factors in meeting the grand challenges will be monitoring the progress of technology development. The committee believes a detailed research agenda and timetable based on the grand challenges and priority technology areas for manufacturing in 2020 should be developed. However, detailed research agendas or timetables were beyond the scope of this study. Research road maps that could be used to monitor progress toward realization of the vision of manufacturing in 2020 should be established in follow-up technology seminars with focus groups exploring the priority technologies and potential research areas. Rather than trying to anticipate the advancements for a twenty-year period, the committee recommends that general long-term goals be established in each technology area and that detailed road maps be established for five-year "windows of commitment." This approach, similar to the approach of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, would provide a reasonable time frame for technology incubation, with yearly reviews to monitor progress. At the end of the five-year period, goals and programs would be re-examined for the next five-year period. This approach would allow research efforts to be adapted to revolutionary advances and for unfruitful research directions to be reconsidered.