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Realities of the future.

There is a fascination close to fantasy in considering what the future will bring to the world of manufacturing. Yet whether the hardware used for his exercise is a crystal ball or a computer that can handle gigabytes of data and extrapolate trend lines, the shopwise engineer is quick to question the validity of such forecasting.

With the past as prologue, the experience of most tells them that their proposals for the "ultimate" manufacturing systems are usually scaled down to some next logical step beyond the realities of the present.

The technology already exists to make most products of higher quality for lower cost. But will the realities of the future see widespread practical application of high technology on the manufacturing floor?

One of the current trends important to that question is the popularization of such issues to the general public by the news media (both print and television). The decline of the smokestack industries has suggested to some writers that this nation is going out of the manufacturing business. Yet we see fewer products in our marketplaces that are sold as they were produced from the good earth. Daily we see evidence of growing numbers of manufactured products. Certainly everyone is aware that manufacturing is here to stay.

We are also made aware that the United States does not have a corner on industrial production and that our competitors are not just across the street but across the oceans as well.

What some have called the post-industrial society, others see caught up in an another industrial revolution based on the universal use of microcomputer assistance for all functions of a manufacturing enterprise. Now the computer on a machine tool can talk to the computer on a manager's desk through a network as small or as large as the enterprise requires.

This leads us to rethink the boundaries of our enterprises. With international bankers promoting an awareness of each nation's balance of payments, the man on the street is coming to think of nation-vs-nation competition in the same light that his father thought of company-vs-company rivalry in the marketplace.

If technology is the capability to do something that has some logic in it, and everyone has access to all technologies encoded on software, the future would seem to belong to those who can optimize their systems in more productive ways.

Giving more people the products they want to buy at prices they can afford is a challenge whose boundaries go beyond the factory. With less direct labor content in manufacturing we would expect to see smaller automated factories located closer to their geographic market areas. Whether these would be better close to sources of their raw materials may depend more on the nature of the product and the value added by manufacture.

In this 50th anniversary issue of Tooling & Production the editors have provided a comprehensive look at the possibilities that abound. The realities of the future will be determined not by the futurists who study the imponderables, but by those of you who provide the hardware and manpower systems to make the products for the markets of tomorrow.
COPYRIGHT 1984 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Keebler, Jim
Publication:Tooling & Production
Article Type:column
Date:Mar 1, 1984
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