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IMS's vision of the future of global manufacturing

Traditional manufacturing processes are changing and the industry must look to providing a wider package of services surrounding the manufactured product, according to the only global cooperation scheme for the manufacturing industry and manufacturing research, IMS or Intellig...
Traditional manufacturing processes are changing and the industry must look to providing a wider package of services surrounding the manufactured product, according to the only global cooperation scheme for the manufacturing industry and manufacturing research, IMS or Intelligent Manufacturing Systems.

These changes produce new challenges that need to be addressed by the manufacturing industry, and the IMS initiative aims to identify how this should be done.

IMS is an industry-driven and government-endorsed initiative that encourages international research consortia to put their combined expertise together in addressing the issues arising from the globalisation of manufacturing in the first quarter of the 21st century.

At a recent IMS forum, the concept of 'new manufacturing' was identified, where the traditional definition of the production of goods was broadened to include the whole process of satisfying customer needs through the provision of a base product. The need for the manufacturing industry to adapt and encompass the services and information products increasingly required by consumers was strongly underlined.

The Vision Forum

The IMS Vision 2020 forum in California was organised against a background of concern that the high technology sector is accounting for an increasing percentage of GDP and employment in Europe, reflecting a shift from goods-based to knowledge-based industries.

However, although the demand for services as final products is increasing, activities related to the creation, production and distribution of goods still lies at the heart of modern economies.

Summarising the forum, rapporteur Professor Ron Johnston said the future of manufacturing in the Internet age will converge with activities in the service industries. It will also be increasingly globalised, networked, customised and digitised.

'The new information and communications technologies, and the processes of globalisation which have been associated with them, have already changed the face of manufacturing,' he said.

'Much of manufacturing is now globalised, in the sense that a wide range of functions from R&D and marketing to production and distribution are now undertaken on an integrated global basis; networked, in that the coordination of these functions makes intensive use of electronic networks and of virtual and geographical clusters of expertise; customised, in that methods of production must allow for detailed customisation of products to meet the needs of individual markets and individual consumers; and digitised, in the sense that many of these processes, and particularly final production, are controlled by advanced computers systems which limit the need for human intervention.'

The professor of engineering at the University of Sydney went on to state that as public demand for services becomes increasingly knowledge and service intensive, the manufacturing industry increasingly encompasses what has typically been regarded as the service sector's territory.

'The shift is towards building a long term, strategic relationship with customers to service their total package of needs based around a manufactured product,' he said.

'Traditionally, manufacturing has been defined as the transformation of raw materials into useful goods. However it can be broadened to the general transformation of raw materials to meet human needs.

'In this manufacturing, the input to the process is land, air, etc and the output from the process is food, housing, health, etc. Although the areas of input and output are far wider than that of manufacturing by traditional definition, the process is structurally similar to the traditional manufacturing, and therefore those techniques such as production management, cost reduction and productivity improvement should be useable.'

The manufacturing industry will have to adapt to meet these new challenges, the forum agreed, providing Intelligent Manufacturing Systems with a renewed role. The experience gained from IMS will provide a foundation for addressing the challenges of 'new manufacturing'. In particular the IMS model of intellectual property rights for collaboration is expected to be particularly useful.

The Intelligent Manufacturing Systems Project

IMS is a collaborative project bringing together companies and research institutions from Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, Switzerland, and the United States. Korea is in the process of admission.

Recognising that manufacturing technologies will be expensive to produce, and that no single firm has all the expertise needed, these organisations have undertaken co-operative technology development to share costs, risks and expertise.

A unique feature of IMS is its provision of a proven, effective framework for the protection of intellectual property which offers a secure environment in global collaboration.

Since its inception in 1995, on the initiative of Professor Yoshikawa, one time president of the University of Tokyo, the project has encompassed over 250 companies and over 200 research institutions in 20 IMS projects, most of which are still ongoing. European consortia are involved in all of them. There are also around 45 new proposals at various stages of development.

Research projects developed under IMS work within a set of five technical themes. These include total product life cycle issues; product issues; strategy, planning and design tools; human, organisation and social issues; and virtual and extended enterprise issues.

Project participants stress the benefits from global collaboration which provides them with access to the latest research topics for manufacturing, a platform for benchmarking of different methods, technologies and process chains and market complementarity, and improved customer and supplier links.


The first IMS project to start, Globeman21, defined concepts for distributed collaboration in manufacturing networks and virtual enterprises. The project involved 35 organisations from Japan, Australia, Europe, the USA and Canada. The EU-funded part of the project has 9 partners.

Hannu Syntera, former director of Globeman21, said coordination of so many groups over such a diverse geographic area was the biggest issue. He said: 'It took one year or so for all the groups to come together and find ways of collaborating because it had never been done before on this scale. The main issue of the project was how to organise them all.'

The benefits of global collaboration were worthwhile however. 'The project has a global perspective, which allowed us to develop a more enduring view of things. Manufacturing is moving in a global direction so it makes sense to talk to people on a global scale.'

Completed in March 1999, the project covered a wide range of manufacturing industries, focusing on both the management of enterprises in the distributed environment, and how products are supported over their lifetimes by these enterprises.

The project created 14 industrial pilots from Australia, Japan and Europe to demonstrate how networking can take place in today's manufacturing enterprises. Some partner companies have already implemented Globeman21 results into their operative systems. They report getting closer to their customers, having more effective processes to work with, or creating new businesses.

The European Connection

In Europe, a total of 16 IMS projects were selected to receive an overall Community funding of 40 million euro under the Fourth Framework Programme (Information Technology and Industrial and Materials Technology programmes).

For the Fifth Framework programme, the European Commission published a call for proposals in the field of Intelligent Manufacturing Systems on 16 March 1999 under the Growth and IST programmes. The call has been allocated 70 million euro over the duration of FP5, and is open until 15 September 2000, with a continuous submission scheme.

To date, from the first two batches of proposals evaluated, seven proposals have been selected for funding, to the tune of 17 million euro.

Information on the IMS calls related to the Fifth Framework programme is available on CORDIS at:



More specific information will be available shortly, and will be accessible via these pages.

Source: IMS European Secretariat

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