Manufacturing matters

Tillamook cheese factory. Source: Good Free Photos

What’s new?

As part of its series on Most Innovative Companies, Fast Company published an article titled “The 10 most innovative manufacturing companies of 2021.” These ten companies were selected for their innovations in manufacturing processes. The icons on this link take you to other specialized lists in the Fast Company series.  

What does it mean?

Three of the companies contributed to the rapid response to COVID-19. SiO2 Material Sciences developed a better process to create a glass coating inside plastic vials. Carbon’s new product of improved nasal swabs was designed and launched in three weeks. Ford was cited for moving quickly to turn its designers and manufacturing facilities to producing PPE and ventilator products.

Four of the companies use 3D printing. Gantri was cited for using 3D printing to create custom designed lamps, Arris Composites for using additive manufacturing and molding to create better composites, Carbon for designing and 3D printing a better nasal swab, and Velo3D for innovations in metal additive manufacturing.

Sustainability is improved with several of these companies, often through its choice of materials. Gantri prints its lamps from plant polymers. Okeanos produces packaging with reduced environmental damage.

Lockdowel makes hardware for easy and fast assembly of wood products such as cabinets, closets, and furniture. The company is an example of a provider in a long chain, often invisible to the final consumer, that results, if done well, in superior products and lower costs: in one application, Lockdowel hardware is incorporated into cabinetry kits bought by home builders. The company has a wonderful set of videos on YouTube, showing their manufacturing processes and the use of their products. The company feeds my fascination with fasteners, an often neglected aspect of engineering design.

Instrumental provides in process inspection of products with computerized analysis of the images to detect product defects rapidly. SendCutSend provides fast laser cutting services for various materials, from steel, through carbon fiber, to wood.

What does it mean for you?

Among Fast Company’s many lists about innovative companies, I selected the list about manufacturing companies to emphasize that innovation matters in product design but also in the design of the process for making a product (or delivering a service). Industrial engineering, which is my area of expertise, is all about efficiency, quality, and safety in making products and delivering services.

These companies indicate several trends in industrial engineering, such as additive manufacturing, improved materials, and sophistical use of information technology. They also illustrate long-standing principles of industrial engineering, especially the emphasis on improving efficiency, quality, and safety.

Industrial engineering and sustainability are, I think, increasingly merging, to create a systems view supporting the three pillars of sustainability: people, planet, and profit. Your organization can’t afford to neglect any of these three. How do you find people who can take this broad systems view? Look for industrial engineers.

Where can you learn more?

The professional organization for industrial engineers is the Institute for Industrial and Systems Engineers IISE). Notice the crucial word “systems.”  IISE has links to videos, articles, webinars and podcasts about industrial engineering.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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