New platforms

Three practical steps need to be taken to plug knowledge gaps and enable smart manufacturing.

Establish networks to define problems. Consortia of private corporations, foundations, academia and governmental entities should set up online forums where practitioners and researchers can discuss, develop and publish specifications of emerging industrial problems. Many corporations have internal sites for soliciting ideas. Ways to integrate services and manufacturing processes would be worthy topics to start with. Different modes of operations and financial support ranging from crowdsourcing to licences and fees for service should be considered.

Develop platforms for modelling, sharing and innovation. As the world becomes more complex, a gap is opening up between those who understand industrial needs and those with the skills to model and solve problems. Online or physical spaces should be provided by consortia involving industry, academia and government, in which experts and practitioners can interact to develop technical solutions and models. These platforms might mirror ‘maker spaces’ or the innovation hubs promoted by the US National Science Foundation and companies that do research, such as SRI International, Procter & Gamble and Google.

Parties must overcome issues of trust and reticence to reveal information. Collaborative structures should support transparency and openness as well as diverse ideas and cultures. It is essential that small and medium enterprises are involved. The consortia should develop schemes to allow modellers to access private data.

Enact smart manufacturing policies. Although industry will drive much of the shift to smart manufacturing because it makes business sense, governments should fill gaps or support areas too risky for private investment. For example, a 2016 report3 by the Information & Technology Innovation Foundation, a policy think tank in Washington DC, called on the US Congress to expand federal resources for training and to help small- and medium-sized businesses to adopt smart manufacturing technologies. Incentives might include an investment tax credit for updating machinery and equipment.

By acting as one to deliver the tools, industry, government and academia can make the next industrial revolution a reality.

Nature 544, 23–25 (06 April 2017) | doi:10.1038/544023a