"Although today's digital manufacturing machines are still in their infancy, they can already be used to make (almost) anything, anywhere. That changes everything," said Neil Gershenfeld, Director at MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms. Autonomous robotics, 3D printing, cloud computing, Internet of Things and sensor technologies are driving a paradigm shift in manufacturing. The new era of industrial production builds on the concept of cyber-physical systems. Consumers are expected to play an ever greater role in this new model.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is essentially a network of physical objects connected via the Internet, a buzzword for a new technology landscape that is reshaping the way we live and work. But is its potential understood and are we prepared for a new wave of industrial revolution?
In February Elon Musk boldly predicted Tesla motors would go where no car company has ever gone before, to a $700 billion market valuation by 2025. To put that in perspective, Apple became the most valuable company in history when it reached a $700 billion market valuation in November 2014. Compared to the automobile industry, $700 billion dwarfs the market value of the five biggest public automobile companies. Together, Toyota, Volkswagen, BMW, Ford and Honda have a market cap of just $522 billion. Is Elon Musk crazy? Or is he planning something only he can see?
3D printer manufacturing technologies are not new, but what is new is increasing accessibility that follows suit to marketing of small printers at affordable prices. This democratization both fascinates and worries creators and designers as well as decision makers. Often described as the vector for a 3rd industrial revolution, 3D printing, however, does raise questions when it comes to intellectual property rights that the technology may undermine. Certain already existing technical and legal solutions could accompany more extensive use. Nonetheless, there will necessarily be a change in paradigm.
In industrial spheres, the trend towards circular economy is drawing increasing closer attention. Some companies have identified in the recycling business an opportunity to develop new activities, while others see eco-design as a means to raise profit margins, while yet others see a way to re-think their corporate organization. Corporate image is part of the changing scene, but the circular economy concept is now a real industrial concern. Nonetheless, a lot remains to be done to make it fully operational. The challenge is now to see the concept reach maturity.
Electronic devices have become pervasive in our household equipment, our cars, our communication tools and indeed in almost every object that surrounds us in our private and professional spheres. Not only do they multiply, but they continue to decrease in size, to use less energy and cost less. To assemble such devices, the semi-conductor industries have perfected silicon-based technologies. However, they will soon be approaching the physical limits of solid state physics. To go beyond this barrier, they are already working on new approaches for nanometric level electronics.
In countries that have based their wealth on production, every discovery and innovation that potentially lower production costs attract very strong attention. Since 2007, the discovery and exploitation of shale gas and oil have put the USA energy industry back on the track to competitive procurement faced with competing nations who have been low costs champions for decades. The new question on the table is to ascertain whether 3D printing can have a comparable impact.
MEMS are to the world of smartphones and tablets what transistors were to consumer electronics in the 1960s. They're everywhere! A series of technological breakthroughs and industrial gambles paved the way to a flourishing market. An insight into this revolution by one its key players, STMicro's Benedetto Vigna.
Ever since the electronic properties of silicon were discovered in the United States in the late 30s, it has been a well-known fact: a new material can change the world. Perhaps because it weighs less, is sturdier, provides better thermal and acoustic performance, lasts longer, or makes production and assembly easier. Every now and then, the scientific community announces a new miracle material successor to silicon and the 2010s already rustle with announcements about a very serious candidate: graphene, a two-dimensional crystal consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms, which is credited with exceptional potential.
Just as the Internet enabled anyone with a computer to become an entrepreneur, today's newest technologies have spawned a do it yourself micro-manufacturing movement, so anyone can be both inventor and manufacturer. Chris Anderson's new book, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, explains how all the pieces are coming together - from more affordable 3D printers to crowd-sourced designs - to create the conditions for a new way of manufacturing. In this interview with Knowledge@Wharton, Anderson talks about the ways in which technology is changing the limits of what inventors can do, what the Maker Movement is, why he started DIY Drones and how the new technologies will drive the global economy.
It's been less than fifteen years since the issue of green chemistry has become a matter of public debate, yet it now seems to prove strategic for that industry. Far from being a mere compliance with standards dictated by regulations, this is a matter of strong industrial choices - choices by no means limited to developing new processes, but truly involving a major overhaul of the chemistry industry.
To build a sustainable economy, consuming fewer natural resources, we need to think in terms of growth, not otherwise. The issue of sustainability should be tackled in a dynamic way. By setting a new model for the lifecycle of materials, we can project what the future's economic model could look like.
The world is on the brink of yet another technological revolution: "the Internet of Things". Just as the networking of computers led to multiple changes in our lives, the growing networking of things - connecting cars, power grids, even toilets to the Internet - may lead to other profound adjustments. Many forecasters say these changes will make us healthier, wealthier, and safer. But as with any new technology, there are also risks.
More objects are becoming embedded with sensors and gaining the ability to communicate. The resulting information networks promise to create new business models, improve business processes, and reduce costs and risks.