Living in the Future: 7 Real Items That Were Once Science Fiction

One thing that makes manufacturing so interesting is that there is always new technology.  The research and development sector of manufacturing can, for the most part, be credited with the technological breakthroughs necessary to make science fiction a reality.  In fact, manufacturers in the United States perform more than three-quarters of all private-sector research and development (R&D) in the nation, driving more innovation than any other sector. ( Sometimes these technological breakthroughs are used to support the advancement of the manufacturing process itself (3D printing is a good example of this) and sometimes it is the breakthroughs are the products being manufactured.

Below, we talk about seven items that were at one point just ideas in science fiction novels, television shows, and movies that are now used everyday.

1.  Smart Phones & Smart Watches:  If you were a Star Trek fan, you were pretty much watching a technology filled crystal ball. So many inventions in the last decade can be found in Star Trek (albeit slightly different versions) episodes from around fifty years ago! The Star Trek communicator and the NCC-1701 Watch were things of fantasy, but now almost everyone we know owns a smart phone and more and more people are jumping on the Smart Watch (also depicted in The Jetsons in 1967) bandwagon.  Not only are these things super cool and pretty much necessity these days, they have completely changed the way the world interacts with one another.

Wand_Communicator_7appale watch







2.  3D Printers: Another invention that was predicted by Star Trek is the 3D Printer… only aboard the Enterprise it was known as “The Replicator”.  It worked a little differently than the 3D Printers we have today, but our modern 3D Printers can get almost the same result.  There are actually multiple manufacturers throughout Southwest Virginia that use 3D printers on a daily basis.  For example Universal Fibers in Bristol, VA has an entire room filled with different kinds of 3D printers and they have created filament to be used for printing.

Replicated_martini3d printer


3.  Tablets: The tablet is incredibly similar to the Star Trek PADD (sound familar?). This technology can be found in homes, in classrooms, and on the plant floor of many Southwest Virginia manufacturing facilities!  Manufacturers are moving away from paper-based reporting and production information systems to using tablets that can easily send and receive the necessary information.



4.  Google Glasses: So far there has been a common theme to this list… Star Trek. This is the last Star Trek invention being mentioned…we promise.  The Star Trek Virtual Display Glass is eerily similar to Google Glasses. Although the purpose of the two are different – in Star Trek they were used to view the outside of the ship to better defend themselves – the real life version is used for less ominous tasks… like checking emails.



5.  Hover Boards: Any skateboarder or surfer who watched Back to The Future was immediately filled with envy.  Now, hover boards are not only real, they are affordable!  They may not be quite as cool as the on-screen version yet… but they are most certainly heading in that direction!



6.  NASA Canadarm: 2001: The movie, A Space Odyssey, had a mission robot that is incredibly similar to the NASA Canadarm.  The Canadarm has helped move equipment as well as astronauts for over thirty years.



7.  Robot Vacuum Cleaner:  In the 60’s, The Jetsons was one of the coolest cartoons there was.  The technology in the show made everyday mundane tasks (such as vacuuming) a thing of the past.  And now, a lot of those tasks really are things of the past.  Robot floor cleaners now cleans floors whenever you set a timer for it to do so. And they’re now affordable enough to become fairly commonplace.  



Honorable Mentions:

Things that are in the process of being created but aren’t quite finished.

  1. Jet Packs                                              Jetpack_Gorge
  2. Star Wars Speeder Bike -> Aerofex Aero-X  aerofexhoverbike-3
  3.  Iron Man Suit -> Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS)  16-TALOS
  4. Bionic Man -> Titan Armtitan-arm
  5. The Jetsons Robo Chef -> 3D Printed Food3d-print-food.jpg


5 Ways to Respond to the Retirement of the Baby Boomer Generation

The United States is currently facing an issue it has yet to see before.  The generation that was at one point the largest generation in the American workforce is now reaching the retirement age.  This will have an impact on the entire workforce, but studies show this will have the greatest impact on the manufacturing industry.  Over the next decade, it is predicted that over 3.4 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled.  It will be difficult finding enough workers to fill those positions,  but what will be even more difficult to deal with, is the loss of the job knowledge that Baby Boomers will be taking with them when they retire.  To try and address this issue, we have scoured the internet for research about how to best handle this situation.  Below we have listed the best five ways to respond to the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation:

  1. HAVE A PLAN: This one may seem a little obvious, but it is too important not to mention.  A poll recently done by AARP found that nearly 50% of companies have not done any strategic planning in relation to the impact that the retirement of Baby Boomers will have on their business. First, it is important to know exactly how your company could be affected by this.  As previously mentioned, a large percentage of manufacturing employees are part of the Baby Boomer generation; therefore, your company will more than likely feel the impact of this in some form or another.  To understand the potential effects, perform a workplace analysis.  Once you know exactly how many employees could potentially retire over the next few years, you can begin planning a response to this in a way that is tailored to your company specifically.  There are a lot of “how to’s” out there, but none of those will fully understand the needs of your company like you do. 
  2. FLEXIBLE RETIREMENT PLANS: In response to the potential mass retirement of employees, some companies are now offering more flexible retirement plans.  In some cases this comes in the form of a half-retirement plan. With this retirement plan, retirees work part-time while drawing a portion of their retirement funds. This allows a company to phase out retiring employees while phasing in their replacements in a way that is not a drastic change to the organization. This proves to be a strategic way of skill transfer as well.
  3. JOB SHARING: Job sharing is when one job that consists of around 40 hours a week is split between two people.  This can be done in any number of ways: two people work 20 hour weeks, one person works 30 hours while the other works 10 hours, each person works a certain amount of days, or maybe even splitting the day.  Many companies use this method so the older employees can work less hours, but the same amount of work is still done.  Others companies use this method as a way to phase in new employees that are okay with working part time while they learn from seasoned employees.  Many members of the millennial generation prefer shorter and more flexible hours anyway, so it is a win-win.
  4. LOOK FOR CERTAIN SOFT SKILLS WHEN HIRING:  There are certain soft skills that members of the Baby Boomer generation have that contribute to them being such great employees.  However, it is important to remember that those skills are not exclusive to members of the Baby Boomer generation.  When hiring new employees, place an emphasis on things like loyalty, competence, track records, and common sense. These qualities often lead to higher quality work and greater attention to detail.
  5. IMPROVE THE IMAGE OF MANUFACTURING:  One major concern of large amounts of manufacturing workers retiring is not having enough young, skilled workers looking to fill those spots.  Many members of younger generations have an outdated viewpoint of working in manufacturing and are quick to dismiss it as a viable career path.  If this outlook can be updated to show the benefits of working in manufacturing, the workforce will strengthen and hopefully the skills gap will become smaller and smaller.  One way companies can help to achieve this is to invest in STEM programs at the middle and high school levels.  Another way is to participate in facility tours for students and teachers so that they can see for themselves that manufacturing is an exciting industry to enter.


Although this issue is a difficult one to navigate, we believe that with proper planning and a strategic approach, the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation can be dealt with in a manner that will guarantee a positive outcome.