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Following the Digital Thread: The Digital Thread Takes Flight

  • Video | Runtime: 0:06:17

  • Read Time: 1 min 

In Part 8 of our eight-part video series, we examine how the digital thread — and its companion, the digital twin — could revolutionize not only the way we design and develop products, but the way we manufacture and service them as well.


Following the Digital Thread: Creating a Smart Part and Managing Its Life Cycle

  • Video | Runtime: 0:06:37

  • Read Time: 1 min 

In Part 2 of our eight-part video series, we explore how technology affects product and component design. The digital thread not only streamlines product design via the ability to digitally scan an existing part or design a new one using computer-aided design (CAD) software, it can also accelerate the development process by affording previously unattainable levels of transparency and input.

Following the Digital Thread: Revolutionizing Supply Chains

  • Video | Runtime: 0:05:53

  • Read Time: 2 min 

In Part 1 of our eight-part video series, we explore the real power of the digital thread, which lies not just in a “cradle-to-grave” virtual rendering of the manufacturing process, but also in the possibility of taking the lessons learned from analyzing product performance and applying them to future generations of the manufacturing process and product design.


Manufacturers Can Also Win in the Sharing Economy

The sharing economy isn’t all bad news for manufacturers of big-ticket items such as cars. Research from Carnegie Mellon and UC Berkeley says that manufacturers will sometimes be able to charge higher prices to customers who are planning to rent out those goods. In a Q&A, one researcher says that when there’s heterogeneity in the market, meaning both a high-usage population and a low-usage population, circumstances are ripe for “a win-win-win for the borrower, the owner, and the manufacturer.”

Winning With Open Process Innovation

Managers in manufacturing companies often keep process innovation activities tightly under wraps. Some companies have good reasons for keeping process innovations concealed. However, the authors’ research suggests that for most manufacturers, such defensiveness deprives companies of a valuable source of ideas for productivity improvement. Many manufacturers, they argue, can benefit from sharing process innovations rather than keeping them secret.

Leading to Become Obsolete

Zhang Ruimin, the CEO and chairman of the Qingdao, China, white goods giant Haier Group Corp., has done what most chief executives dare not even dream about. He blew up nearly the entire administrative structure of a global manufacturing enterprise, eliminating the 10,000 management jobs that once held it together, and reshaped the organization into a network of entrepreneurial ventures run by employees.

Supply Chains Built for Speed and Customization

Thanks to emerging technologies like 3-D printing, manufacturers can offer consumers customized products and do so with unprecedented speed. Intrigued by a new product you saw in a YouTube video? Well, someday soon you may be able to personalize it, order it via the company’s website, and have it in your hands in a matter of days. But to enable this phenomenon at scale, an entirely new model of supply chain is required.

The Importance of Structured Management Practices

  • Research Highlight
  • Read Time: 4 min 

New research suggests that a particular set of management practices, which the authors call structured management, is tightly linked to performance and success. For instance, consistent hiring, performance review, and incentive practices are as important to productivity as research and development investments, and more than twice as important as IT implementation. The research shows that manufacturing plants using more structured management practices have higher productivity and profitability.


From the Archives: How to Reshore Manufacturing Successfully

  • Blog
  • Read Time: 3 min 

The Trump administration has an aggressive stance about finding new American manufacturing jobs, which could pressure some companies to consider bringing overseas operations back to the U.S. But the task is complex. “While the macroeconomic data on comparative labor and factor costs may be compelling, the actual process of reshoring — bringing assembly work back from abroad — is hard work,” wrote Harvard Business School’s Willy C. Shih, in a 2014 article in MIT Sloan Management Review.

Monitor, Measure, Incentivize: Is Management as Simple as That?

Nicholas Bloom, William Eberle Professor of Economics at Stanford University, conducted an extensive study of 30,000 US factories, and found that two practices, underpinned by innovative software and IT systems, stand out in highly effectively managed operations: monitoring and incentives.

Why Learning Is Central to Sustained Innovation

Many managers think they can create better products just by improving the development process or adding new tools. But it’s skilled people, not processes, that create great products. So-called “lean” organizations invest heavily and continuously in the skills of product developers, and rather than developing single products, they think in terms of streams of products. By making people the backbone of the product development system, companies can achieve a triple win: increased innovation, faster time to market, and lower costs.

The Revolution Will Be Customized (and Recycled and Solar-Powered)

The director of Michigan Tech University’s Lab in Open Sustainability Technology, Joshua Pearce, says that while the manufacturing revolution offered by 3D printing may be in its infancy, the time isn’t far when printers — already available open-source — will be solar-powered and use 100% recycled raw materials. “I think people are going to start producing a lot of their own things, whether it’s kids’ toys or scientific instruments, purely based on the economics,” he says.

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