moonshot by Bohindi Abdulla

Near-Future Manufacturing Moonshots

Photo: Bohindi Abdulla

As we go about our busy daily lives, we rarely stop to think about how virtually everything we consume, from food to electronic devices, is manufactured. In a heavily industrialized world, just about everything we touch has gone through an intricate web of discovery, supply chain, assembly, distribution and recovery processes. And although globalization has made it possible to optimize just about every part of the manufacturing process, several moonshot-thinking technologies threaten to significantly disrupt business-as-usual manufacturing over the next several years.

Advanced Materials and 3D Printing

Recently, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced a new center of excellence for advanced materials research. The new Center for Hierarchical Materials Design (CHiMaD) will be funded in part by a $25 million award from NIST over five years to focus on developing next generation processes to enable “Materials by Design”–one of the primary goals the U.S. Materials Genome Initiative (MGI).

Using advanced computer models, sophisticated materials databases supported by big data analytics, the center aims to reduce the amount of time by half to design new, application-specific materials. Applications might range from novel biocompatible cell scaffolding for growing human tissue to hardened yet lightweight materials that might be deployed on military vehicles.

But advanced materials provide just part of the moonshot equation. When we combine these new materials with the possibility of 3-D Printing or additive manufacturing the biocompatible scaffolding, military vehicle and space station parts and even food, we’ve fundamentally changed how we make things. At the heart of all this technology innovation? Manufacturing.

Warehouse and Delivery Logistics

And the manufacturing moonshots don’t stop at the factory floor. With Amazon’s recent announcement that it plans to deliver packages via drone within the next several years, other retail, logistics and Internet companies have admitted to plans for drone deliveries as well, including UPS and Google. Recently, Google set up GoogleBot, a new group headed by former Android leader, Andy Rubin, and filled out the move with the acquisition of seven different robotics companies.

What does all of this mean? Someday, sooner rather than later, every step along the manufacturing journey– from the supply chain to the consumer front door, could be automated.

Real-Time Intelligence Around the Internet of Things

Finally, at the root of all of this technology, is data. Advanced materials databases brim with it. The 3-D printers and advanced robotics systems produce copious quantities of it. Once manufacturers have mastered the unique IT challenges around all of this “big data” in real time, they’ll get smarter, faster. And the ultimate beneficiary of such moonshot thinking? Customers, consumers and the world.

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