George, Great topic. Flexible manufacturing is definitely critical to U.S. manufacturing, and the next wave of tighter integration of manufacturing into business systems could help create the stronger linkages needed. In heavily automated processes, the combination of highly flexible automation and communications technology should outweigh our labor costs since fewer workers are required. The U.S. government needs to create an environment where our technological strengths can be used to create a good business case. Plus we can't afford to be a country that has lost its core capability to build things.
The comment about fostering tighter linkages between product designers, manufacturers, and their associated supply chains is a theme I hear constantly as CAD, PLM, and other design tools vendors position their offerings. The ability to nurture a universal backbone for product development that lets all the various constituents in the product design chain around the globe share ideas and collaborate early on on the evolving product record can certainly promote innovation and help manufacturers more effectively transform ideas into working, production-ready products. These shared systems of record can also be instrumental in cutting some of the fat and design rework that goes on, thus aiding in leaner, more flexible product development and manufacturing processes.
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For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.