Author – Tim Smith
More than half a century ago one of the most influential books of the 20th century was published by the University of Chicago Press. Many if not most lay people have probably never heard of its author, Thomas Kuhn, or of his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, but their thinking has almost certainly been influenced by his ideas. Thomas Kuhn describes scientific progress as discontinuities – a set of alternating “normal” and “revolutionary” phases in science, politics, technology, etc. plunging adherents into periods of turmoil, uncertainty and angst. Their response leads to great conceptual breakthroughs that lay the basis for a succeeding phase of business as usual. Today, no one would ever think that the Internet was a paradigm shift. In October 1969, a student typed ‘LO’ on a computer – and the internet was born. What followed was a frenzy of philosophical, scientific, engineering and political debates and posturing to own the Internet. Today, we see the Internet as a virtual super highway for every possible idea, product, vice, and form of communication. People have even started to give more credence to an individuals avatars than their flesh and blood counterparts. During the last couple of months while the world has been placed in lock-down, affecting billions of people and impacting the economies of every country in the world, a paradigm shift has occurred shifting the balance of economic power for a generation to come. France’s Institut Montaigne think tank discusses the Geo-political world stage and COVID-19 as a game changer. It’s a good perspective since it’s not colored by patriotic bi-part-ism. The paradigm we are living through today is stripping realities. Kuhn, like Karl Popper, thought that science was mainly about theory, but an increasing amount of cutting-edge scientific research is data- rather than theory-driven. The world has witnessed that compiled data around COVID-19 has plunged conventional wisdom, theory and position into the abyss. Where the accepted attitudinal world-view is based on relativism, hard facts are clearing out the cobwebs hindering rational, hard facts thinking as it pertains to manufacturing. Conventional “cost” based accounting is giving way to “throughput” accounting. If North American manufacturers are going to survive and thrive they need to jettison the concept that large production belongs to other nations and embrace the new way of thinking which dictates that the playing field has been leveled and for the next short while is in their favor. Inroads made today will capture critical business but this can only be achieved by rapid adoption of digital manufacturing. By leveraging data and analysis to vastly improve throughput, labor costs are minimized and what drives profitability becomes efficient process, reduced raw material costs and nimble supply chains. China suffers from inefficient supply chains. Chinese manufacturing has been compensated and underwritten by their government as they jockey to take ownership of global standards and control of markets. It isn’t surprising that Wuhan was the only real victim of COVID-19 within the confines of China, yet the multi-national impact has been unprecedented. If North American manufacturers do not accelerate adoption of digital manufacturing and leverage value from their production in short order, then the paradigm shift will inevitably be in China’s favor.