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What the biological cell can teach us about the future of manufacturing

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Biological cells run complicated and sophisticated production systems. The study of the cell's production technology provides us with some insights into how industrial manufacturing may evolve. When comparing cell metabolism with manufacturing techniques in industry, the authors find some striking commonalities, but also some important differences. Like today's well-run factories, the cell operates a very lean production system, assures quality at the source and uses component commonality to simplify production. While we can certainly learn from how the cell accomplishes these parallels, it is even more interesting to look at how the cell operates differently. In biological cells, all products and machines are built from a small set of common building blocks that circulate in local recycling loops. Production equipment is added, removed or renewed instantly when needed. The cell's manufacturing unit is highly autonomous and reacts quickly to a wide range of external changes. And all this happens within a dominant design that allows for continuing fast-paced innovation. It is not too difficult to imagine a manufacturing technology that operates on these same principles. The vision of manufacturing that the authors thus develop is very different from what exists today.

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