What is Advanced Manufacturing?

I am looking for some help to answer this question.   Seeking illumination, I recently attended a presentation offered through CCAT, a non-profit Connecticut corporation with a mission not unlike that of GBMP – “to apply innovative tools and practices to increase efficiencies, improve workforce development and boost competitiveness.”

The word optimization was used more times than I could count.  One slide in particular from the presentation, entitled “Rapid Manufacturing Scenario,” caught my eye.  The speaker described a series of two improvements (noted in the bar charts at the bottom of the slide) using “machining process optimization software tools.”   “Hmm,” I thought “interesting stuff: virtual verification of NC code, 3D part scanning and digitization, optimal tool paths, automatic program correction”.   But I couldn’t help noticing that as operational times were being slashed, the orange bar – Setup on Machine – stayed the same.   In fact, nowhere in the presentation, was there a mention of machine setup improvement.

I wondered, ‘Would this ‘improved ratio’ of setup to runtime cause a machine shop to run fewer parts or more parts?”   For a site grounded in Lean, I think the answer would be ‘always work on setup reduction in order to run exactly what is needed for the next process.”   In the absence of that grounding however, I worry that the ratio would create more over-production to “optimize’ part cost.

After the presentation, I jumped onto the CCAT website and did find a one-day course on set-up reduction (none scheduled however) and an article on Lean simulation software, not a favorite approach with me.  I think the real floor is where the action is, not the virtual floor.  Call me old-fashioned.

Investigating a little further, I discovered that the state of New Jersey understands Advanced Manufacturing (AM) to “make use of high-tech processes in their manufacturing plants including installing intelligent production systems such as advanced robotics.”   Same thing in Iowa and Georgia and, of course, my home state of Massachusetts.  In fact, this AM description appears in pretty much every reference to advanced manufacturing I could find.    Ultimately, I landed on the website of NACFAM, a non-profit who describes itself as  “the voice of advanced manufacturing in Washington, D.C.”   They appear to have offered the authoritative definition of AM, the one that everyone else is parroting:

“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.”

In June 2011 our national government announced it would spend $500 million to support advanced manufacturing.  I hope they understand what it means.  I’m still confused.  I worry that Advanced Manufacturing sounds an awful (and I mean awful) lot like Lee Iacocca’s “agile manufacturing” strategy (vintage 1990) to leapfrog Toyota’s system.  History did not validate this approach; I hope it has not been repackaged for 2012.

I recall a complaint offered by Shigeo Shingo in 1989 that while at that time nobody was paying attention to SMED (Single Minute Exchange of Dies), there were a swarm of doctoral dissertations on algorithms for optimizing economical order quantity (advanced manufacturing?)  Have we grown beyond that thinking today, or are we still squirming in quicksand?

What do you think?  Let me hear from you.


BTW:  Mark your calendar.  The Northeast Shingo Prize Conference is coming up September 25-26, 2012.  Hope we’ll see you there.

3 thoughts on “What is Advanced Manufacturing?

  1. Bob Bishop

    The definition given for Advanced Manufacturing might be better used to describe high tech manufacturing – use of advanced technology (computers, IT, high precision, automation, etc.) to optimize physical manufacturing processes. While this is important to a vast number of large, capital intensive operations, it leaves out a huge segment of the manufacturing population. I view advanced manufacturing as the systematic identification and elimination of waste (sound familiar?) in order to improve all aspects of a production operation, from the front end processes right through to delivery to the customer. Even a small shop manually producing parts and hand building products should be considered an advanced manufacturer if it has highly efficient operations allowing the company to competitively provide valuable world class products and services which meet or exceed customers’ quality, price, and delivery expectations. We need to be careful that Washington doesn’t view advanced manufacturing only as high tech operations which have been improved through the expense of huge sums of money on technology and equipment to reduce the number of workers required.

  2. Tom Warda


    Alas, but you’ve hit the nail right on the head – once again. Setup / changeover time is technically non-value added time and like Rodney Dangerfield, doesn’t ever seem to get any respect. It appears that value added time (when chips are flying) is far more attractive, so everybody lavishes attention upon finding ways to further improve it. So things like metal removal rates, machine cycle times and cutter designs get all sorts of attention. In the mean time, poor old changeover times don’t get nearly the attention they deserve. Why? I honestly don’t understand.

    I will offer one possible explanation though. In every single successful changeover reduction project I’ve worked on, the new (quick changeover) solution almost always got the same reaction when the teams first showed them off: “Yea, so what?” Said another way, everybody looked at the new, faster, simpler, more accurate setup processes and couldn’t fathom why anyone would do it any other way. Maybe it was what my favorite Japanese Sensei told me many years ago. “Complex is very easy to do. Simple is very hard to do.”


  3. Brian Logan


    My opinion, A.M. is just another tool in our “NEW” lean tool box, that we use to improve. Just like Six Sigma. Remember when that rolled out? So, when one of those guys that is smarter than I can increase productivity and improve quality by “Optimizing” a machining process, I say “God Bless you!” The part that is “waiting” to be machined next waits less with an optimized process and an optimized process may yield less defects related to tool wear or chip load. Optimized processes can also eliminate the need for secondary operations (over -processing). A.M. targets the core of our lean principles, the elimination of waste. In the shop I work at, I am very fortunate to have some smart guys and I look forward to sharing their innovative optimization accomplishments.

    I pray that Washington does not see A.M. (optimization) as high tech capital equipment as mentioned in a previous reply. It’s much more than that. It’s about smart people, problem solving, innovation, and learning. And yes, SMED get’s no respect, especially in high volume low mix shops.



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