Fundamental Manufacturing Process Innovation Changes the World

rethinking the basic strategy for organizing and executing a series of manufacturing steps – represents a significant opportunity to enhance our future.

scalability can propel *qualitative*change because the magnitude of the decrease in cost or increase in de- ployment can be so large – effectively infinite compared to that previously possible. Continuous changes can lead to discrete differences

scalability can propel *qualitative*change because the magnitude of the decrease in cost or increase in deployment can be so large – effectively infinite compared to that previously possible. ::If you define product loosely, changing any process becomes a FMPI::

Three reasons process innovation is overlooked

  • Transiency. FMPI rarely leaves an enduring mark in history. Materials and products, on the other hand, can remain visible long after their production. Tacit Knowledge
  • Specialization: Today, when FMPI is considered, it usually occurs within a specific discipline or technical domain::Isn’t this what Arthur D. Little did across domains? Other consultants?::
  • Trivialization. FMPI is thought to be ‘just’ a rearrangement of steps,

::Cool history:: Evidence from the Terracotta Army unearthed in Shaanxi Province, China suggests that these ideas emerged as early as the 2nd century BCE [12]. The Venetians applied modular and standard parts to revolutionize ship building during the early 16th century [13],

Eight Case Studies

  1. Newcomen -> Watt Production Process
  2. The Fourdrinier process for continuous papermaking.
  3. The Bessemer process for steel manufacturing.

    Cut cost by factor of five in five years and allowed production of steel to increase by three orders of magnitude
  4. The Houdry process for the catalytic cracking of crude oil.
  5. The planar process for fabricating integrated circuitry.
  6. The shotgun process for sequencing of DNA.
    • The polymerase chain reaction for DNA amplification.

  1. 3-D printing:

  2. FMPI often unlock scalability

    • This is at least in part because it clearly defines the problems to be worked on
  3. The process innovation, because it provides a path to scale-up, also marshals resources along a well-defined trajectory.
  4. S-curve behavior - early process innovations are often worse than what they were replacing. Anecdotes from Bessemer and
  5. Technological innovations often can’t compete on conventional metrics (Clayton Christensen)
  6. During the innovation uptake phase, new bottlenecks are often recognized.

Positive externalities of FMPIs

  • Compounding benefits. FMPIs lead to subsequent innovations that compound the benefits of the original. `
  • Introducing different biases.A FMPI often establishes a new set of biases within or across technologies ::Biases are just which metrics matter?::
  • Catalyzing new science and engineering. - “To the lab” behavior
    • New process forces disciplines to combine (photolithography)
    • Process requires new science and engineering that enables process to reach maturity (Thermodynamics)
    • Process enables undoable science and engineering (DNA engineering)

Open Questions

    • How frequent are FMPIs and what is their range of impact? ::the way its defined, isn’t basically everything a FMPI?:: Probably a fractal thing
  • What is the breadth of disciplines and technical domains in which FMPI operates and how is it distributed among them? Again, the way it was a defined, isn’t it everything?
  • *Are there other schemas by which FMPI occurs?
  • Do impactful FMPIs emerge more frequently from certain schema?
  • In all cases, how useful are the schemas for a priori driving FMPI?*
  • How does FMPI interact with the science and engineering that enable it?
  • Can we predict FMPIs, from where they will emerge, or their ultimate importance?
    • ::Can’t see exogenous shocks obv::
    • You can point out where systems are more or less robust
    • S-curves are hard to predict
    • It might be more useful to classify and think about alternatives
    • Science fiction?


  • Text only is a terrible way to transmit process knowledge
  • Merging often gets short term gains at the expense of long term modularity, splitting is the opposite
    • Process operations are often coupled to political pieces
  • It would be interesting to see S-Curve behavior against other factors like how good the process is - % capability etc.
  • The fact that new bottlenecks are recognized only during use is why it’s important to actually implement the systems


  • Are there non-fundamental manufacturing process innovations?
  • Is Factorization splitting into serial components vs parallel components?
  • With Bessemer process (and others) was the scaling due to moving down the supply-demand curve or was it that creating a superior product created ore demand?
  • By biases, are just meant metrics that matter




Fundamental Manufacturing Process Innovation Changes the World by Michael A. Filler, Matthew J. Realff :: SSRN

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