A report of the ASME Global Technologies Committee in 1999 stressed the need to inform government agencies about the importance of the activities of mechanical engineers. In particular, while government agencies and the public in general seem to understand the romantic idea of concept generation (inventors and scientists), they do not comprehend the efforts that go into realization of an idea into a usable product (engineering and manufacturing) and the benefits of this activity to the global society. In fact the product realization process makes the cutting edge products affordable and available to every strata of the society. In spite of current success, engineering and manufacturing functions are continuously challenged by the changing demands and business environment. Specifically, opening of world markets and industrial globalization require that manufacturing functions are not only flawless and efficient, but also be compatible with the global business environment. The goal of this panel is to showcase past contributions to the field of manufacturing and build a case for continued support of future manufacturing research and education.

The panelist will begin the discussion by addressing five topics/questions. Comments and question from the audience are encouraged. The five topics/questions of focus for this panel discussion are

1. Innovative products of last century like cars, planes, computers, etc. remain accessible to masses only due to the revolutionary manufacturing technology at the time. Which of the past manufacturing technologies will you attribute this tremendous success to? Are any of these technologies obsolete or are on the verge of extinction?

2. During past few years most of the world has opened up to international trade and business. Global marketplace is not just a dream; it is a reality and is here to stay. Besides, the business drivers and associated economic advantages, supporting engineering and manufacturing technologies have played a vital role in keeping the global business afloat. In your opinion what key technology drivers (including any manufacturing technologies) are behind this success? Do any of the technical issues need immediate attention?

3. During the 20th century we have witnessed tremendous growth in manufacturing technology. Traditional research and development focused on getting the product out i.e. development of manufacturing and assembly processes and their optimization. The next big thing was to get the product out in an efficient and cost-effective manner. It fueled research in material flow and inventory management, resulting in techniques like JIT, Kanban, supply-chain management, etc. More recently eManufacturing initiatives (B2B, B2C, B2E, etc.) have made a tremendous impact in seamless integration of business operations (suppliers-purchasing-engineering-manufacturing-marketing-service), resulting in productivity gains. What’s next?

4. As resources are geographically distributed and scarce; consolidation, collaboration and leveraging often become key issues in a global industry. Research and Development may not be any different. In your opinion, are the days for “lone researchers/developers” over? If yes, how do you envision future R&D activities to function? If no, how to incorporate individual R&D efforts?

5. Commercial success of technical breakthroughs depends on the workforce that can implement the new technology and consumers who can utilize it. Often the term “technology overload” is used when either of these groups fails to comprehend the new technology. To avoid this trap, it is necessary for future manufacturing leaders and innovators to have a unique skill set. What kind of educational training and experience will be required of future manufacturing engineers/researchers?

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