Manufacturing businesses are now little more than information machines that only incidentally make products, according to findings from US management guru Joseph Coates.
Coates runs a US consultancy, Coates and Jarratt Inc in Washington, dedicated to studying future prospects for business and technology.
His team analysed around 1,500 forecasts of the future of science, technology and engineering, carried out since 1970 by business, government and academia in Europe, the US and Japan.
IT, which combines low-cost computing with telecommunications, heads Coates’ list of the five areas likely to have most impact on our lives up to 2025.
In order of importance, they cover IT, genetics, materials, energy and the environment, and brain technology.
On the IT front, Coates says real-time management will bring ‘drastic’ reductions in business cycles. The combination of robots, automation and imaging the latter covering a broad range of activity from barcodes to virtual reality will make it possible to supply products anywhere in the world without anyone touching them, he believes.
Soon nothing will be manufactured until it has been designed, planned, built, tested, evaluated and revised in cyberspace.
He cites the Boeing 777, which was engineered in cyberspace to be right first time with no need for design or manufacturing fixes.
Under genetics, Coates includes microengineering, which he says will have the second biggest impact on our lives. Tiny genetically programmed biological organisms will be used to control miniature factories producing exotic materials or even commercial chemicals, he says.
On the materials front, he forecasts more fuel-efficient designs in buildings, structures, devices and industrial processes. The use of alternative energy sources, such as the sun and wind, will become widespread.
Brain technology will have an impact on the processing and pharmaceuticals industries, through the development of new drugs such as Prozac.
Coates’ findings are published in the October issue of Physics World.