2015 Manufacturing Trends

Last year was pretty big for the American manufacturing industry. Milestones both big and small made headlines: the White House hosted a Maker Faire; scientists achieved firsts in 3D printing technology by printing living human tissue and printing in zero gravity; President Obama announced his commitment to supporting American manufacturing through the creation of research hubs in key U.S. cities; a resurgent labor market has continued to fuel an “onshoring” trend with manufacturing jobs returning stateside; we figured out how to 3D print pizza, chocolate and sugary treats.

3D-printed chocolate confections are a real thing. Photo by Choc Edge.

As important as all of the strides made in the U.S. manufacturing space were in 2014, we’re most excited about what might be around the corner. We’re confident this is only the beginning of an exciting new era in our industry. Here are a few trends we’re keeping an eye out for this year: Continue reading

DMLS lugs help build the ultimate urban utility bike

San Francisco is an ideal backdrop for a bike culture to thrive. Its temperatures remain consistently mild year-round, and its landscape seamlessly blends hills, streets and shoreline. Bicyclists commute to work, run errands, transport groceries (and their kids), and climb rugged bike paths to Bay Area overlooks. And that’s just a Monday.This fusion of task- and recreationally minded biking activities amidst the natural and man-made architecture of San Francisco was the inspiration behind Huge Design’s recent entry into Oregon Manifest’s Bike Design Project. Along with the California-based design firm, organizers of the national competition asked teams from Chicago, Portland, Seattle and New York to create an urban bike that most represented their city. Teams included both a design firm and frame builder — the San Francisco team being composed of Huge Design, bicycle fabricator Forty One Thirty Cycle Works and engineering partner PCH Lime Lab.

Medical Device Prototyping With A Manufacturing Hand From Proto Labs

Modern science has allowed surgeons to fix the human body amazingly fast, yet leave behind only small traces that repairs were performed. One of the more commonly used methods to achieve this is by a minimally invasive technique called laparoscopic surgery, where small incisions are made into a patient’s skin, a laparoscope is inserted to provide a magnified view of the patient’s organs, the procedure is performed, and the incision is closed by stitching or surgical staples. You can have your gallbladder removed before breakfast and be binge-watching Netflix from the comfort of your couch by dinner.

Typically, the small openings created during laparoscopic surgery are closed in one of two ways: manually stitching subcutaneously (beneath the skin) with a bio-absorbable, thread-like material and a curved needle that moves from one side of the hole to the other to close it tight, or with a surgical stapler that inserts metal staples into the skin to close the wound. The first technique is more time consuming, but leaves less surgical evidence. The latter method is faster, but can cause scarring and infection. Chuck Rogers, Ph.D., and Kenneth Danielson, M.D. of Massachusetts-based Opus KSD are nearing the launch of a device that combines the best of both worlds: the ease of a stapler with proprietary bio-absorbable subcutaneous fasteners. Continue reading

Keeping it in-house: U.S. manufacturing continues its resurgence

There’s a bit of a renaissance happening in domestic manufacturing across the United States and the proof is found in a number of recently published reports. In December 2013, manufacturing grew at its second-fastest pace in more than two years and the Institute for Supply Management’s factory index held firm at 57 (over 50 indicates growth), according to Bloomberg. Growth is being spurred by spending in construction, automobile sales and an increase in demand in most major industries, which in turn, has led to investments in equipment and added jobs.

In fact, The Wall Street Journal says manufacturing employment in the U.S. has grown nearly 5 percent to 12 million jobs since 2010, as many U.S. companies want to stop relying so heavily on foreign plants, where quality and delivery times are hard to control. Continue reading

Lean is in these days

lean (lēn), adj. 1. Thin, esp. healthily so; having no superfluous fat.

Lean is in these days, at least for individuals if you believe the labels in the frozen food aisle. The same is true for business, partly due to constrained budgets coming out of recession but also due to the demands of hungry markets and hungrier competition. Manufacturing has been “lean” for a couple of decades, and in 2001 a new approach to programming was officially dubbed “agile” (more-or-less another word for lean). The concept of lean startup, however, is relatively new—described just two years ago by Eric Reis in his book The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. To say that the concept has caught on would be a colossal understatement.

In the past, products were painstakingly planned and designed, were manufactured in huge quantities, and were expected to have some longevity on the market. Change tended to be slow and superficial. Today, the large production run is still a goal, but long life in the marketplace is a vanishing dream. Even Apple, the champion and model of meticulous design, supplants its own products almost as quickly as it introduces them.

The lean startup concept can be applied both to new companies and to the new products of established companies. It overlaps product development with production and sales, encouraging introduction of a “minimum viable product” (MVP), something that previously might once have been considered a step on the way to a market-ready product. Marketing a MVP serves two functions: it brings in revenue by selling what would previously have been considered a prototype, reducing the need for startup capital. And it generates market feedback from early users, which can be incorporated into ongoing development of the product.

In a sense, operations like Kickstarter are an extreme form of lean startup, in which products are introduced to the market, and in some cases sold, before they even exist. But the early introduction and sale of physical product was only made possible by changes in technology. Processes like laser cutting of metal and Protomold’s injection molding of plastic using aluminum molds have enabled speedy, low-volume production of market-quality products. And when the market evaluates those products and demands more or different capabilities, CAD lets developers quickly make changes and put the redesigned products right back into production.

In the short time it’s been around, lean startup has developed an enormous fan base. It has been a cover story on Wired magazine. There are over 900 lean startup meetup groups in over 300 cities and over 50 countries around the world. And while these groups have over 200,000 members, it is reasonable to assume that there are many more who are applying the principles of lean startup without attending meetups. You can find more information on lean startup at http://theleanstartup.com/.

Greg Kagan is an independent writer specializing in technology marketing, and is author of his own blog, www.techammer.com.