February 10, 2013

Preparing for "Next Generation" Manufacturing - and the "End of Days" for the traditional drafter

I generally catch up on my "business" reading on Sunday mornings with a bottomless cup of coffee and jazz, and though it wasn't news to me, an article I read this morning pointed out once again the importance of keeping up with technology and taking some of the associated risks with becoming an "early adopter".

The article, entitled "Are You Prepared for the Next Generation of Manufacturing?", written by Warren Smith (an industry consultant with Infor), is the first of a series being posted on the Industry Week website. The message to manufacturers is that understanding (and in my opinion, adopting) the key technologies leading the industry today is essential to take on the future of manufacturing. In this competitive market, a vendor can't rely on long standing relationships and customer service to hold on to business - loyalty in the rapidly changing future will be dictated by attention to meeting shorter deadlines, better predicting product performance, and providing innovation that companies need before the end users think of it themselves. 

I'll go a step further and state that manufacturers had best pay attention to these trends in order to stay competitive, or many will not survive.

First in the author's findings was a stunning fact about the incorporation of the robotic workers - at a labor cost of $4 per hour, a robot can now perform tasks at less than that of an overseas worker. And with a point of entry at around $20k, a robot can provide 3 or more years of service - without the need for health plans, paid vacations, etc. At one time, the robotic worker was a pipe dream for the SMB manufacturing market. Now, it's a viable alternative to placing ads, interviewing people and hoping for a reliable (gast!) human employee.

Second, Mr. Smith discusses how additive manufacturing is lowering development costs, increasing innovation and protecting intellectual property. We've all seen movies and TV shows where a 3D design is pushed to a printer and within seconds the model is in use - though the printers aren't quite that fast, the era of affordable, high detail, and yes, desktop 3D printing is here.

I look forward to the second part of the article, but these two trends alone signal that the days of 2D drafting are nearing the end. After all, you can't virtually test and prototype a design drawn in 2D CAD. So if you're not designing in 3D now, you'd better start soon. Who knows? You could end up designing a "worker" for your company's manufacturing shop floor....

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