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At Davos 2016 in a few weeks, the world’s top business, political and intellectual leaders will learn more about how factories of the future could reshape global economies in the next decade or two and create trillions of dollars or euros or yuans in new economic wealth for those companies and nations that take advantage of this coming industrial revolution.

Many industry gurus have been awaiting and predicting this coming revolution for several years now.  UCLA CIO Jim Davis Godfather of the U.S. Smart Manufacturing movement first conceptualized and socialized this coming tsunami of change in a 2008 National Science Foundation workshop titled Smart Process Manufacturing: Toward Zero Emissions and Zero Incidents.  Seminal April 2008 Workshop   A couple years later, Dr. Davis and Rockwell Automation’s CTO Dr. Sujeet Chand further prioritized plans for this revolution in collaboration with about 40 thought leaders from major Fortune 500 manufacturers.  What is Smart Manufacturing? I helped popularize this concept of Smart, Safe and Sustainable Manufacturing and co-found an organization that might move the marketplace beyond high level engineering prototypes toward the tipping point. Smart Mfg Coalition, Inc.


Thus far, Smart Manufacturing has quite frankly been an economic disappointment.  My concerns outlined in earlier posts are that the looming global industrial recessions will further delay its the revolution.  Other factors equally weigh heavily on the wrong side of the tipping point like CyberSecurity, the shortage of Smart people, and the massive forces of inertia that intentionally keep factory production as stable as possible while speeding along today with only incremental improvements.

Revolutions are by nature destabilizing events.  Certainly Baby Boomers who manage or operate most factories today don’t want any upsets as they coast  toward retirement in the next few years.  Baby boomers are clever enough at this age to give lip service senior management that they’re getting ready for this Revolution with small prototype projects and test beds, just like they did with  whole corporate social responsibility movement to save energy, water and elminate waste in their factories.

At some point, historians will naturally look back and point to some event or invention as the tipping point for the next Industrial Revolution.  Could the DAVOS 2016 summit be it as the world’s best and brightest breathe that rarified Swiss mountain air and consult with Oracles of wisdom today?

As one bit of hope that this top-heavy event could be the tipping point, I met with  ASQ CEO Paul Barowski a couple years ago to learn what he felt was the “tipping point” for the great Quality Movement in the 1980’s — which was the last big shift in manufacturing that quietly drove annual productivity gains in America for a historic two decades and finally reached the point of diminishing returns a few years ago.  Many people don’t realize how the much a big factor the Quality Movement was in improving our nation’s standard of living for everyone.

Anyway, the tipping point for the 1980’s Quality Movement according to Barowski and apparently other ASQ historians was a major CEO Summit in New York City in 1981 where President Ronald Reagan’s new Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige called together the then captains of industry, especially leaders of the Big Three Automakers, that resulted in their epiphany and conversion to this new religion called Quality One…  with it’s subsequent offshoots like TQM, Six Sigma, Kanban, etc.

Of course, this CEO Summit was in response to high-quality Japanese cars, electronics and other products taking over U.S. markets and the historic belief by U.S. manufacturers that Japanese companies would always make cheap products and compete on lowest prices.  A major news documentary in 1980 asked the big question “If Japan can… Why can’t We?”

Although most social revolutions start from the bottom up, industrial revolutions can begin from the top down…  like the Quality Movement.  In addition to the Davos 2016 summit, maybe we need a major news document next year that asks the big question “If China can compete with robots and smart manufacturing… Why can’t We?”