Next Generation Product Development Tools, Part 4

Originally, in my prior post, I’d included the disclaimer that while using molds might be an old solution, the ability to do it well is both an art and a science. It’s no easy thing to properly balance all the different factors that go into molding quality plastic parts. But the same can be said for casting swords. So while I respect those who can do it, I don’t feel beholden to them or the process.

So without reservation, in this post I want to discuss where I believe manufacturing is headed.

NGM: Next Generation Manufacturing

Not many people outside manufacturing circles are aware of what’s called “Next Generation Manufacturing”. It’s not a new term. In fact, it’s been around for some time. Here’s what the U.S. National Science Foundation has to say about it (Link):

In 1995, more than 500 industry experts worked together to produce a final 1997 report offering a detailed vision for the future of manufacturing. Today the NGM report forms the basis of a follow-up effort called the Integrated Manufacturing Technology Roadmap (IMTR) project, also funded by NSF and other federal agencies.

Successful next-generation manufacturers, the NGM report concludes, will have to possess an integrated set of attributes. The company will need to respond quickly to customer needs by rapidly producing customized, inexpensive, and high-quality products.

Sound familiar?

The Integrated Manufacturing Technology Initiative (IMTI) is what was apparently spawned from the initial roadmap. However, in 2004 it appears that the site went dead, the focus shifted to defense, and the result was increased effort in what’s known as the Next Generation Manufacturing Technology Initiative (NGMTI).

Needless to say, there wasn’t much information available on the NGMTI website. When I attempted to access the “Digital Direct Manufacturing” (aka, rapid manufacturing) section, I hit a password protected area. However, just two bullet points below is this other declared area of interest: “Low-Cost Titanium Powder Production”.

If you can’t do the math then watch these two videos. The first is “regular” Selective Laser Sintering (SLS):

This second one is DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering):

I suppose it goes without saying that in this day and age such technology is not just seen as something primarily for commercial business interests, it’s become part of a full-blown national strategic initiative. It has significant military applications. Kind of like… say… high-end video technology once reserved for state-of-the-art military simulators. And just like that technology, there’s no reason to believe that digital direct manufacturing won’t find it’s way down the food chain. Or rather further down the food chain.

I give it 15 years, give or take a few.

Additional reading:

– Manufacturing Engineering, Feb 1996: “Why we need a national manufacturing infrastructure” (Link)

– “On the Factory of the Future” (reLink)

– “SLM Process Video” (reLink)

– “TRUMPF’s Laser Forming Focus” (reLink)

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