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A New Horizon for Manufacturing

Jan. 13, 2020
When trying to chart the future, it's always helpful to look back.

I think it’s our nature to get caught looking to the future. It seems sometimes that what is happening at this moment in time is the way it always will be, and that the prospects of the future look too intimidating and complicated to be possible.

That’s why it’s often helpful to look back. I think it’s important to have a perspective on how far we’ve come to get to today. It makes what’s coming next seem more possible.

Some aspects of our lives don’t change. We’re not as nice to each other as we should be, and we allow our differences to overshadow our common humanity. But that also is always how it has been, and while our immediate perspective on that reality is heightened by a faster, louder news cycle, the reality is that we have history books filled with wars, illness, famines, and natural tragedies. We are taught history; we seldom learn from it.

Despite all of this, we have accomplished many noble, useful, and amazing things when we work together. Speaking from a technological perspective (and at the risk of aging myself), I’ve seen space travel, the computer age, and self-driving cars. My work has gotten faster and my work tools have gotten smaller. I can communicate with the world in seconds, and my network of contacts stretches across the globe.

The once dirty and dangerous work of manufacturing is now clean, fast, safer, and far more productive—just in time to meet the needs of a global population clamoring for more and faster.

No longer science fiction fantasy, robots are useful tools in our manufacturing operation. We have imagined a day when they might take on the onerous work, and now that day has arrived. Robots today can to anything from rapid assembly to vacuuming a floor. Our imagination is the only thing limiting our progress.

And perhaps that’s the key to this 90th anniversary issue of Machine Design. In 2010, we might not have imagined how rapidly our world would change as we contemplated how we were going to work our way out of a devastating recession. We felt stuck in that moment in time.

Yet we imagined better things. And in 2010, the iPad was introduced, and the revolution has changed our work in just a decade. We were in the infancy of cloud computing, and our ability to analyze data was growing by the day. The age of 3D printing started to emerge from the laboratories to the mainstream, and the last five years have seen an explosion of new materials and new applications.

If you stand on a boat in the ocean and look around, you cannot see from where you launched. But you know it’s there. You cannot see where you’re headed. But you know it’s there. There’s always a new horizon to aim for. The only way to get there is to keep moving forward.

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