DEARBORN, Mich.  — Innovation is the new buzzword and, some would say, the tech media darling for fixing the worst economy in generations. 

It’s been a hot topic found on many major news sites, in newspapers and on television newscasts. So to keep the manufacturing and the larger community well informed about what’s radical and revolutionary in innovation, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) recently showcased its annual list of Innovations That Could Change the Way You Manufacture at the recent Breaking Through: The SME Annual Conference held earlier this month in Philadelphia.  

The list includes:

  • High-Speed Sintering
  • Buckypaper
  • Synthetic Gecko Tape
  • Micro-Laser-Assisted Machining
  • Wireless Power Transfer
  • Personal Fabrication


“SME’s Manufacturing Enterprise Council of members chose these innovations largely because they are available now and they work now rather than in the distant future,” says Lauralyn McDaniel, SME event manager.  

Complementing this year’s list is also the 2009 Tech Watch List featuring self-healing polymers and liquid lens imaging. Self-healing polymers have the capability of repairing themselves after damage, while liquid lens imaging captures 250 pictures per second and could revolutionize how cell phones and automobiles are made.

“We also chose these technologies based on usability across manufacturing industries and positive impact on manufacturing,” adds Terry Wohlers of SME’s Manufacturing Enterprise Council, foremost expert on additive manufacturing and president of Wohlers Associates Inc. 

“High-speed sintering made the Innovations list because it promises to dramatically speed up the additive manufacturing process to the point where it’s even more compelling to consider for production applications.”

Buckypaper, or a thin sheet made from tiny nanotubes, is already showing promise as a material in building aerospace vehicles and body armor.  

Synthetic gecko tape borrows from the animal kingdom to create an adhesive which can support higher shear stress (36 N/cm2), eliminating the need for high-heat soldering. Synthetic gecko tape will soon be used to create new and lighter materials.

Beyond materials like gecko tape or buckypaper, processes like micro-laser-assisted machining will also revolutionize manufacturing because materials that were previously impossible to machine can now be done with absolute precision.

While high-speed sintering or micro-laser-assisted machining will change how they get things done on the shop floor, the last two innovations — wireless power transfer and personal fabrication — will present revolutionary changes for not only manufacturers but also for the everyday consumer. 

“For manufacturers, wireless power transfer will completely change the way large machines and complex products like cars and planes are designed and built. And for the consumer, it will make it possible for small electronics and other products to draw power from one central, wireless source. Imagine never having to plug in to recharge your cell phone, iPod or laptop again,” says Wohlers.

Also, personal fabrication will make prototyping and manufacturing easier, from the shop floor to the consumer. “It differs from traditional forms of additive manufacturing because it’s affordable for use anywhere, whether it’s a company, school, or individual.”

“The idea of personal fabrication will allow almost anyone to make almost anything anywhere. It will forever change the way we view manufacturing,” he says. 

For more in-depth descriptions of each of these innovations, please visit