The speed of manufacturing processes today depends on a trade-off between the physical processes of production, the wider system that allows these processes to operate and the co-ordination of a supply chain in the pursuit of meeting customer needs. Could the speed of this activity be doubled? This paper explores this hypothetical question, starting with examination of a diverse set of case studies spanning the activities of manufacturing. This reveals that the constraints on increasing manufacturing speed have some common themes, and several of these are examined in more detail, to identify absolute limits to performance. The physical processes of production are constrained by factors such as machine stiffness, actuator acceleration, heat transfer and the delivery of fluids, and for each of these, a simplified model is used to analyse the gap between current and limiting performance. The wider systems of production require the co-ordination of resources and push at the limits of human biophysical and cognitive limits. Evidence about these is explored and related to current practice. Out of this discussion, five promising innovations are explored to show examples of how manufacturing speed is increasing—with line arrays of point actuators, parallel tools, tailored application of precision, hybridisation and task taxonomies. The paper addresses a broad question which could be pursued by a wider community and in greater depth, but even this first examination suggests the possibility of unanticipated innovations in current manufacturing practices.
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