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/

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