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Advanced manufacturing is the use of innovative technology to improve products or processes.
One of the most widely used definitions of advanced manufacturing involves the use of technology to improve products and/or processes, with the relevant technology being described as “advanced,” “innovative,” or “cutting edge.” For example, one organization defines advanced manufacturing as industries that “increasingly integrate new innovative technologies in both products and processes. The rate of technology adoption and the ability to use that technology to remain competitive and add value define the advanced manufacturing sector.” Another author states: “Advanced manufacturing centers upon improving the performance of US industry through the innovative application of technologies, processes and methods to product design and production.” Finally, a recent survey of advanced manufacturing definitions by the White House states: “A concise definition of advanced manufacturing offered by some is manufacturing that entails rapid transfer of science and technology (S&T) into manufacturing products and processes.” (PCAST, April 2010.)
One organization characterizes advanced manufacturing products as follows:
The manufacturing process technologies described in definitions of advanced manufacturing include:
A number of organizations also included business or management methodologies in their definition of advanced manufacturing. For example, one organization defines “advanced manufacturing as the insertion of new technology, improved processes, and management methods to improve the manufacturing of products.” (National Defense University, 2002, as reported in PCAST) Another organization lists advanced manufacturing as “encompassing lean production techniques, enhanced supply chain integration, and technology assimilation.” In fact, the Wikipedia definition of “advanced manufacturing” is “advanced planning and scheduling” described as “a manufacturing management process by which raw materials and production capacity are optimally allocated to meet demand.” Overall, the following business or management methodologies were listed as being a part of advanced manufacturing:
There are also definitions of “advanced manufacturing” that are used by one or few sources.
In one report, the distinction between traditional sectors of manufacturing (listed as auto, steel) and others (listed as aerospace, medical device, pharmaceutical) is the basis for a definition of advanced manufacturing, with the characteristics of the two differing in terms of volume and scale economies, labor and skill content, and the depth and diversity of the network surrounding the industry. (New England Council and Deloitte, as referenced in PCAST document)
Other sources define advanced manufacturers as those that “succeed” in today’s competitive environment. One source states that: “What differentiates certain companies is a unique ability to create a competitive advantage in this environment. These manufacturers think and do faster and, by definition, these advantages make them advanced.” (Industrial College of the Armed Forces) The White House survey lists some experts as defining advanced manufacturing “solely by advances that led to decreased cost or increased productivity.” (PCAST)
One organization listed “aggressive research and development” as being part of the definition of advanced manufacturing. (Purdue University) Although research and development was not explicitly included in most definitions, the innovative technologies listed by many are most likely the result of extensive research and development.
Finally, several sources pointed out that any definition of advanced manufacturing will need to change with the changing times, and that the definition will vary for different companies and different industries. The White House survey states: “Most discussants agree that an appropriate advanced manufacturing definition should be dynamic in nature and be treated as more of a benchmark. That is, there is a constant iteration of improving manufacturing frontiers...Therefore, what is classified as “frontier” is constantly changing, and, likewise, advanced manufacturing is constantly changing.” (PCAST) Another source stated that: “Advanced manufacturing is like a chameleon. It changes in response to the needs of whichever company has incorporated it into its manufacturing process.” (St. Louis, C.B. Adams) A final expert is quoted as saying: “Advanced manufacturing, by its very nature, defies definition, because it is going to be different for the chemical industry than it is for the metal fabrication industry and any other industry.” (Tom White, as quoted by C.B. Adams)
The term “advanced manufacturing” encompasses many of the developments in the manufacturing field during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, including high tech products and processes and lean, green, and flexible manufacturing, among others. No one definition captures everything said about advanced manufacturing, although the majority of definitions found on the web include the use of innovative technology to improve products and/or processes, and many also include the use of new business/management methodologies. Accordingly, the definition that probably comes closest to being comprehensive is that given by Paul Fowler of the National Association of Advanced Manufacturing (NACFAM), celebrating its 20th anniversary this year:
“The Advanced Manufacturing entity makes extensive use of computer, high precision, and information technologies integrated with a high performance workforce in a production system capable of furnishing a heterogeneous mix of products in small or large volumes with both the efficiency of mass production and the flexibility of custom manufacturing in order to respond quickly to customer demands.” (Quoted in PCAST)