The 2020 Vision
The objective of this study was to identify technical challenges and enabling technologies for manufacturers to remain productive and profitable in 2020. The initial task facing the committee was creating a vision of the competitive environment for manufacturing and the nature of the manufacturing enterprise in 2020. According to Adelson and Aroni, ''… the future is determined by innumerable decisions and actions interacting in rich and … indescribable ways" (Adelson and Aroni, 1975). Although anticipating every interaction that determines even a single event is impossible, anticipating future problems is the key to developing solutions to these problems. Future opportunities may require that the present plans be changed. Envisioning the future is, therefore, the key to influencing the future.
The Committee on Visionary Manufacturing Challenges was established by the National Research Council's Board on Manufacturing and Engineering Design to identify the major challenges that will face manufacturing enterprises in 2020 and the enabling technologies to address these challenges. In addition to reviewing forward-looking manufacturing studies and industry visions (e.g., NGM, 1997; ACS, 1996), the committee used the following methods to develop a vision of the future:
- A workshop was held for participants (primarily from the United States) with a broad range of manufacturing expertise. The workshop included presentations and discussions of 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 presented in Appendices B and C.
Based on the information gathered, additional presentations by leaders in manufacturing, and the committee's deliberations, the committee determined the major manufacturing challenges for the year 2020 and the enabling technologies that would be needed to address these challenges.
The Context for Manufacturing in 2020
For the purposes of this study, "manufacturing" was defined in broad terms as the processes and entities required to create, develop, support, and deliver products. Many forces—social, political, and economic, as well as technological—will shape the manufacturing environment in 2020. The committee concluded that the first step to envisioning the future of manufacturing was to envision the future world in general. Mechanisms to develop such a vision were included in the workshop and the Delphi survey. During the workshop, presentations were made on economic, social, and business trends; in the Delphi survey, participants were asked first to describe their view of the manufacturing environment in 2020. Although current trends must be considered to predict the future, the committee felt that the vision for manufacturing should be based on a positive view of the future that would be worth working towards.
Major Forces for Change
The nature of manufacturing enterprises will evolve in response to changes in the technological, political, and economic climate. The committee believes that the following factors will be the most important to the development of manufacturing:
- 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 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 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.
These trends suggest that flexibility and responsiveness will be critical for manufacturing in 2020.
Manufacturing in 2020
Customers will require that suppliers of goods and services maximize the value relationships among quality, service, and price. The goal of successful enterprises will be to find the optimum position in this "better-faster-cheaper" competitive triangle. A "we can have it all" attitude among consumers will force corporations to become extremely flexible and adaptable. As large numbers of consumers in newly developed countries gain economic power, this attitude will be prevalent worldwide.
The concept of manufacturing in 2020 will be broader than it is today. It will include software (the conversion of information, as well as materials, into useful products), biotechnology, some aspects of agribusiness, and many other production enterprises. The basis for competition will be creativity and innovation because (1) the manufacturing context will be broader and (2) social and organizational structures will be much more knowledge-based, dynamic, fluid, and globally distributed. Manufacturing enterprises will plan, create, and manage new products, processes, supply chain systems, and other business aspects of the enterprise (e.g., finance and marketing) concurrently.
The structure and identity of companies will radically change to encompass virtual structures that will coalesce and vanish in response to a dynamic marketplace. All activities that are not essential to implementing new ideas in marketable products will be eliminated. A readily available generic transaction and alliance infrastructure (e.g., equitable profit sharing and business processes for protecting intellectual property) will enable individuals and entrepreneurial teams to compete solely on the basis of skills and knowledge. These developments will require new corporate architectures for manufacturing enterprises:
- materials enterprises that can convert raw and recycled feedstocks into an array of finished and semifinished materials to meet the changing demands of product suppliers in a cost-effective way
- product enterprises that can convert the new materials into configured products
Although production resources will be distributed globally, fewer materials enterprises and more regional or community-based product enterprises will be linked to local markets. Product enterprises may be part of larger corporations, but they will be located in and serve local markets and will operate autonomously. Materials enterprises will initially merge to achieve economies of scale, but this will change as revolutionary materials processes (e.g., molecular nanotechnology) enable the local production of specialized materials.
Companies will be aggregations of people connected to each other by mutual trust and supported by an alliance and transaction infrastructure. Companies will be characterized by their ability to define an increasingly fluid "core competency" in a supply chain. Core competencies will be perceived as commodities that can be combined and recombined in response to market dynamics.
Team-like organizations will form around new product ideas and quickly assemble the necessary resources from a highly distributed manufacturing capability. All participants will share decision making, risks, and rewards. All functions of the enterprise will be comprised of highly integrated systems of human, material, and information processing capabilities that can be combined to transform ideas and materials into valuable products. All aspects of developing a manufacturing enterprise, including developing business and marketing strategies, research, and product innovation, will be concurrent.
Enterprise teams will interact continuously with each other and with computer-based system synthesis models to explore the complete range of configurations and resources to realize new products. As a result, robust system configurations will be relatively invulnerable to external changes and highly adaptable to changes in technology, the marketplace, and the business climate. Adaptable enterprises will be able to reconfigure quickly to accommodate change while continuing to be profitable.
New systems technology will enable innovative processes to focus not only on developing new products, but also on creating optimal enterprise configurations. Sweeping changes will be based on technologies that are currently unfeasible or impractical. The integrated enterprise system will be dynamic, continuously changing in response to new opportunities. Societal-based economic considerations will drive businesses to optimize the responsiveness, quality, and profitability of the system.
The manufacturing workforce will be as diverse as the global economy. Interpersonal skills will be highly developed, cross-cultural barriers will be greatly reduced, and remaining differences will be valued for their contributions to innovative manufacturing. Individuals will have a sense of purpose and satisfaction and will be able to see clearly how their skills and intellectual capabilities add value to the enterprise. Information systems that enhance workers' access to, and
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.
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.