IMTS Insider

There Is No Substitute for Speed

Category: Supply Chain Jun 30, 2021

By David Burns
Senior Advisor, AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology
Principal and Founder at Global Business Advisory Services LLC

As we spend time reflecting on the events of 2020 and early 2021, themes such as “We need to fix the supply chain” or “We need to reshore manufacturing” have emerged in manufacturing. As broad philosophical precepts, it is hard to disagree with those ideas.

The thing is, how did we get here in the first place? We, as a country, decided to “offshore manufacturing” and “lengthen the supply chain” for clear, economic reasons. In simple terms, we created a long, unresponsive supply chain for economic gain. It is not sufficient to simply say that we should undo those economically based decisions. Is there a driver – a compulsion – that would cause us to reverse the supply chain decisions that we previously made?

I believe that there is such a driver. 

If we can create sufficient business velocity – in this case, speed of manufacturing – then we will have a justifiable prerogative to reshape our supply chains. The emerging system of dynamic digital manufacturing technologies have the potential to do just that – to radically increase the velocity of manufacturing.

Early in my career, I learned about velocity in an odd way.  On one of my first visits to Germany (now 30 plus years ago), a colleague gave me the opportunity to drive his BMW on the Autobahn, in a speed free zone. Imagine my delight at getting in the left lane and getting that car to its top speed of 236 km/hr. I was basking in this amazing opportunity when, suddenly, my colleague began yelling at me to “PULL TO THE RIGHT…PULL TO THE RIGHT!” As I moved to the right, a Maserati went by us at least 30 mph faster than I was driving.

And a truth hit me like a bolt of lightning.

On the road, there is only one driver that does not need to look behind or alongside themselves when they drive. That one driver is the driver of the fastest car. Every other driver needs to be looking behind them, with divided attention, worried about things in the rearview mirror. The fastest driver can focus all their energy on only one thing – the road ahead.

Can we apply this story to manufacturing? I believe that we can. When we consider the power that is inherent in the combination of emerging manufacturing technologies, we can create immense velocity in our supply chain. Once the process is mature, we can take the sequence of procuring parts, beginning with part conceptualization, through part materialization and finally to part utilization, with unprecedented speed. And I am confident the speed – the velocity – of that sequence will begin to make the low cost/long supply chain that we have today obsolete.

It will take a commitment of investment to elevate the chain of dynamic digital manufacturing technologies to be like that Maserati. But, when we get there, pure velocity will reshape the supply chain and move us one more step up the productivity curve.

What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Have you seen productivity increases after implementing digital manufacturing? Share your thoughts or stories, write to

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