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Navigating the Cutting Edge

The literal definition of the “cutting edge” is the finest, sharpest point of a knife. Over time, it has evolved to mean being on the front lines of change. As we have embarked on the Digital Age in manufacturing design, the biggest challenge is leaping from edge to edge. You need to be nimble to navigate the cutting edge.

As we look ahead to our 90th anniversary issue in January, Machine Design editors have been looking at the past and trying to gaze into the future of our profession. We have learned just how much actually remains the same. In one form or another about a dozen MD advertisers who appeared in that first issue 90 years ago still are in business. They’ve survived The Great Depression, World War II, The British Invasion, and the Pet Rock. Now they’re continuing to thrive in the Digital Age, where the speed to change is rapid and the challenge to stay on the cutting edge is constant.

We’ll explore the past, and we’ll look to the future in that 90th anniversary issue, but what can often get overlooked in the process of all that nostalgia is just how we are managing each day. Being productive and progressive is a tremendous challenge, and I marvel at just how skilled our professionals are at maintaining their balance. Most days, it’s like being on the cutting edge while juggling knives and standing on one foot.

Perhaps this is why the rate of adoption of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the whole possibilities of the Industrial Internet of Things has been slower than the technology experts might have anticipated. While the proof of concept has been well-established and the return on the investment in digital technologies is clear, the sticking point is the time needed to adopt these strategies. It’s hard to find the time to change while juggling out on the cutting edge.

Yet if you take the longer view, as we will in January, you see how much change actually has been achieved. We have come unbelievable distances in safety, productivity, and quality in 90 years, and yet at any moment along the line it must have seemed like progress was moving slowly. It was the industry leaders who saw the future, saw the potential of the next technology, and courageously embraced it who were the champions of those efforts.

It is a badge of honor; most people want to be at the vanguard of the future—just as long as they don’t slip off the edge. They call it the cutting edge for a reason, you know.

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