Advanced Manufacturing in the Era of Greater Corporate Sustainability – Here’s “Industry 4.0” From the World Economic Forum

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

The 18th Century British song title goes, The World Turned Upside Down. American legend has it that at the end of the War of Independence with the American colonists winning the conflict, the British military played the song with the apt title at Yorktown, Virginia as they surrendered.

We can apply that song title to important developments in the global world of manufacturing in the 21st Century. Important news from Davos is the basis of our commentary here.

The mantra Take, Make, Dispose has been the traditional approach of many manufacturing firms over the many decades of the modern industrial revolution.

It’s 110 years and counting since entrepreneur Henry Ford set up his modern factory in Detroit with the assembly line bringing the car to the factory hand — rather than the worker walking around to find the car and install his component.

Are we in now in Phase One of dramatic change? Phase Two? Three?  The World Economic Forum discussions center on Phase Four – as in, the Fourth Industrial Revolution. And part of that is the focus on achieving greater sustainability in industry.

Discussions and presentations at the WEF annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland always brings forth new ideas, new concepts, new approaches to topic areas such as manufacturing and production. 

The WEF Advanced Manufacturing and Production Initiative has been addressing many issues, including using data and 3-D printing and new materials to foster innovation, and supporting the widespread adoption of “inclusive” technologies.  What does that mean in practical terms?

Furthering the discussion that got underway in 2019, this year the Davos gathering’s participants were treated to a presentation focused on “Industry 4.0” for manufacturing a more sustainable world by a corporate CEO, whose ideas for “four simple solutions” that can help make the global manufacturing industry more sustainable. 

We bring you today CEO Ric Fulop’s “four” simple solutions:

First, the Desktop Metal CEO advises, companies can move to “tooling-free” manufacturing, eliminating scrap. Eliminating tooling can mean use of less parts and fewer products whizzing around the globe; only raw materials would be shipped, creating a more efficient supply chain. (And a more sustainable / less polluting global transport network for manufacturers.)

Second, the spreading out assembly of today can be consolidated, to achieve fewer, more multi-functional assemblies (meaning less parts to transport, saving energy, reducing emissions, saving money). Three-D printing can make contributions here, many experts say. More customization is also more possible with 3-D methods.

Third, “generative design” can open new ways to use artificial intelligence (AI) and mimic nature in some ways; 3-D printing is key here, because new design tools can help industry use fewer natural resources and manufacture lighter weight components for cars and airplanes – lowering carbon emissions in manufacture and long-term product use. And then…

Fourth, circular manufacturing and the use of new polymers moves us closer still to a process where parts are designed to fit into sustainable loops for re-use over and over. 

The Potential Impact on Vehicle Design & Manufacturing

Imagine a time (soon?) when automobile / vehicle parts and components live a very long life, to be used over and over in a line of future new vehicles, as well as live longer “first” lives upon manufacture and use.

Longer use is a fit with current practice — people are now keeping their autos much longer these days and this approach could stretch out vehicle use for years after purchase.

Think of “re-purchase” of your car, with parts and components being re-used in assembly along with the new toys and gadgets that impel us to purchase “the new”.

The post-WWII industrial approach of “planned obsolescence” would be going away. That does not have to mean that auto makers would suffer loss of market; there will always be the new new thing on wheels, but the parts etc may be in their second or third of fourth life!

Henry Ford, the Ford Motor Company founder, not only perfected the process of automobile manufacturing, he took advantage of, and helped to further advance, important materials and components of the car.

Henry Ford-Master Tinkerer

Think of the company’s use of metals / metallurgy; glass; paints; engine blocks; driveshaft components and innovations; fabrics & leather; electrical parts and systems; rubber (tires, fan belts); lighting systems — all present in the Tin Lizzy, the famed Model T, with millions of these cars and T-trucks putting Americans on the road to the future.

Materials in manufacturing are still key; various metals, ordinary and exotic, most long used in modern manufacturing, may over time give way to the use of advanced polymers that are more environmentally-friendly and perfectly suitable for the evolving circular economy. (They don’t rust or get tossed out too soon in the useful life.) Goodbye, auto graveyards at some point.

That old ’56 Chevy or ’69 Pontiac or ’40 Ford that you always yearned to have? Those cars’ future descendants may some day be assembled from parts that date 50 or 60 years back or so.

WEF Lighthouse Companies

The WEF’s concept of developing a network of “lighthouse” companies that would develop the way forward was unveiled in 2019.

Companies in such industries as chemicals, automotive, textiles, healthcare, and electronics would collaborate to develop more efficient processes along the lines outlined here.

The “Platform” developed by WEF today includes 130 organizations from 22 industry sectors, governments, academia and civil society working together. 

One of the participating companies is Desktop Metal; Founder/CEO Ric Fulop described for you the “four simple solutions” above — and in this week’s Top Story.

Top Story

4 ways the way we make things can change for a sustainable world    
Source: World Economic Forum – The way we make things is changing. But the Fourth Industrial Revolution isn’t solely about how new manufacturing technologies, like 3D printing, will benefit companies and consumers. It’s also about how industry can usher in a…

More on the World Economic Forum’s “Shaping the Future of Advanced Manufacturing and Production” is available at: https://www.weforum.org/platforms/shaping-the-future-of-production

Find this blog post interesting? I explored Henry Ford’s tinkering and the impact on America in a post: https://www.hankboerner.com/staytuned/the-21st-century-company-and-you-iteration-innovation-progress-and-the-now-very-familiar-disruption/

You And The 21st Century Company — All About Iteration, Innovation & Disruption!

Theme-setting Comments at the Skytop Strategies’ “21st Century Company” conference, early-November 2017 in New York City. This was my third time opening the conference to set the theme of the day…

By Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

There are three words that I think define the concept of these 21st Century Company gatherings. The approach was conceived more than three years ago over lunch with Chris Skroupa, my partner Lou Coppola and I.  And the words keep ringing true ever since.

The first word is Iteration — from the ancient Latin: again…and again…and again. Science and Discovery is about iteration — it is the basis of our scientific theory and practical application of scientific advances. We hear these days about “science-based” and “evidence-based” progress being made. At least from most of us.

The second word is Innovation — also from the Old Latin — the new. Something, everything — new. Most of us are interested in the new; some are anxious, others enthusiastic.

The third word is Progress — also from the Latin roots and with us with the same meaning for many centuries — it is the story of humanity — forward! Moving forward.

Interation / Innovation / Progress. Think of the great inventions of the later years of the late 18th and 19th Centuries that made the 20th Century so very different in so many ways in our personal and business lives. In finance — in public and private governance — and other aspects of our lives.

Our lives in Century 20 were very different from the experiences of generations before us. And will be in Century 21 thanks to the great progress of prior decades.

We can see all of this at work in these Inventions.

  • First, Electricity – the “Dynamo” (as it was called) that harnessed the power and changed nighttime dark to daylight at any time!
  • Telegraphy, the Wireless and Telephony….over time leading to the broad-bands of our internet and our cell phone. Everything is powered by electricity.
  • And the internal combustion engine – providing reliable, portable, movable power — today, cars & trucks and airplanes on the move dominate our lives, don’t they? Speaking of the last….

Henry Ford banging on soybean fender in the 1940s.

Henry Ford banging on soybean fender in the 1940s. In the early 20th Century, The Great Tinkerer, Henry Ford brought together many scientific advances in glass, metallurgy and development of materials such as plastics, instrumentation, rubber for tires, the internal combustion engine…and more… to mass produce cars & trucks.

Henry Ford invented the efficient modern factory with his idea of bringing the work to the worker. His advances in the innovations related to motor cars brought about great progress. He was also a…farmboy at heart.

And thanks to the farmboy in him — Ford Motor Company has been making certain parts out of soybeans. This is both a 20th Century and 21st Century story.

The Industrial Farm of the Future?

Founder Henry Ford planted 6,000 acres of soy on the company farms. In the 1930’s he worked with soybeans to develop early versions of plastics, paints, and other products familiar to us today.

He actually made very sturdy car fenders out of soybeans and was photographed banging on such a fender with a sledgehammer — more than 70 years ago. Those old, collectable brown Ford stick gearshift knobs? Oh, yes — they are a soybean extraction!

One thing he invented in his laboratory for us to use every summer — the charcoal briquette. This came out of his “Industrialized Barn Concept,” his idea that future farmers might use their barn for production in the cold winter months!

And now to 2017 — in mid-October, Ford Motor Company celebrated the 10-year anniversary of using soybean-based-foam in its car seats. That practice saved 228 million pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere — equivalent to CO2 consumed by 4 million trees in sequestering carbon emissions.

William Clay Ford, Jr. – Chair of Ford Motor Company with Mustang in 2015

You can see the soybean seats in Ford Mustangs of the last 10 model years. More than 18 million vehicles produced in North America have soy-derived foam seats, proudly notes Great-Grandson / Ford Chair William Ford – an MIT grad. And he is Great-Grandson as well of Harvey Firestone, the rubber tire innovator. And he drives a Mustang with soy seats. And Firestone tires!
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Tinkerin’ away:  The Ford Company’s lab tinkers today with such materials as wheat straw; rice hulls; trees; coconut; kenaf; tomato peels; chopped up US dollars; dandelions; algae; agave…you know, the stuff of tequila! The derived materials may be going into tires and gaskets.

That is truly 21st Century Corporate Sustainability in action!

The Spirit of Old Henry-the-Tinkerer & Innovator lives on. As does the Spirit of Thomas Edison. And Alexander Graham Bell. And many other tinkerers.

This is for us clear demonstration of the spirit at the heart of science, of scientific discovery…and of Innovation. And the outcome: the Progress we make!

Another great 19th Century invention I mentioned was the harnessing of Electricity: This new power source drove wired transmissions; think of the telegraph as electrons whizzing through wires to carry dots & dashes. Then telephony evolved with voice-over-wire; then came electrons driving radio waves, then television waves, then wireless telephones. What comes next?

Think about the little and very powerful cell phone, our wire-less telephone that we take for granted — we carry the device around and depend on it for many things every day. The amount of processing power far exceed the capacities available to “tinkerers” like the early space astronauts in their space-borne vehicles.

Radio Shack Advertisement. Electronic miracles of that day.

Speaking of Innovation and Interation…remember Radio Shack? Kids-in-the-garage of Silicon Valley invention fame shopped at Radio Shack for parts — the Steves, Jobs and Wozniak of Apple fame. Radio Shack is gone. Apple thrives.  There is great irony here for us…

The fourth word for us to keep in mind for the 21st Century is very important: Disruption.

Iteration, Innovation, Progress…leads to Disruption.

Economist Joseph Schumpeter described the concept of creative destruction almost 80 years ago.

This is the process in our Capitalistic society of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, destroying the old / creating a new structure.

Applying this to Radio Shack: Technology writer Steve Cichon in Huffington Post in March 2014 mused about the February 1991 Radio Shack ad that highlighted electronic items from the ubiquitous storefront – well-known for several generations as “America’s Technology Store.”

This was before the debut of the World Wide Web (in 1994, by tinkerer Tim Berners-Lee), tiny cellular phones and other goodies in our lives that we take for granted today.

To explore the pace of innovation / and the resulting disruption – and the impact on our everyday lives, please do think about right now:

• The pioneering Tandy 1000 personal computer in the 1980s;
• the little “microthin” calculator;
• home telephones (copper wires!);
• stereo player;
• tape recorder;
• CD player;
• phone answering machine;
• earphones;
• microphone;
• speakers;
• photo camera,
• camcorder/video camera;
• weather station;
• AM-FM clock radio.

All that was listed in an ad at about $3,000 in 1991 dollars. That is $5,400 in 2017 dollars.

And all of those modern electronic miracles of 26 years ago are right here in the 4-oz Apple iPhone! At in one hand, at a fraction of the price, all portable, all in your pocket.

Think about the progress that is made, step-by-step, an iteration or discovery (one at a time), that lead us to miracles in our lifetime. There is such an exciting future ahead for the Millennial Generation, isn’t there.

I’ll leave it here for now. We will be exploring all through our day together the marvels and miracles — and hard work — that leads us to ….

Iteration / Innovation / Progress! And the now very familiar… Disruption!

This is what the 21st Century will be all about.