Letter from the Editor: Next Up?

R.J. King

Crises often lead to changes, so what does the future hold?

Work connectivity comes home for good. Computers and data lines will be upgraded, and more people will add home studios complemented with green screens to enhance their web conferences. Such equipment also meets the growing trend of telemedicine.

Conversely, more apartments will be added at high-throughput businesses — hospitals, manufacturers, warehouses, distributors, and logistics firms — either within existing buildings or as furnished cargo containers. Key employees can keep operations humming. Check out the offerings from Three Squared Inc. in Detroit’s North Corktown neighborhood, a leader in cargo architecture.

Public transportation and venue security will expand with temperature checks, body scanners, and other health screening devices.    

New smart surfaces at offices and homes will boost connectivity. Sensors and related equipment are set just below the surface, or flat boards can be hidden under cabinets or behind paintings and other artwork.

Cabinet-sized 3-D printers will be common in homes and offices. These types of machines can produce a range of products using nylon, metals, composites, ceramics, and plastics. Apart from the basics like printed kitchenware or tools, look for digital clothing, musical instruments, camera lenses, and more.

Sophisticated ventilation systems will emerge that purify indoor air using ionizers, advanced filters, ultraviolet light, scrubbers, and cleaners.

Get ready for a manufacturing boon in the U.S. for computer chips, vital drugs, medicines, PPE, robotics, smart devices, consumer goods, vehicles, and 5G equipment (and installation). The opportunities are endless.

Exports will rise. Energy costs and shipping rates are falling. More companies are realizing they don’t need multiple factories around the world to save money.

According to Sunil Chopra, IBM professor of operations management and information systems at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, “the additional cost of a large company operating plants in different locations is often not more than the cost of having one huge plant. You may reach the limit of your economies of scale at half the size, so by running (fewer) plants you don’t give up much in efficiency, but you gain a lot in resiliency.”

Local will become hyper local, including energy. Home solar arrays will be popular, as will fuel cells. Hydrogen that powers fuel cells can be generated from solar energy, natural gas, or the electric grid. By filling a certified hydrogen tank in the home, a fuel cell can provide power for months, especially during periods when other energy sources may not be available.

Air taxis will connect airports to FAA-approved landing sites. Most open-air parking decks can accommodate a vertiport (helipad). A flight on a five-passenger VTOL aircraft, including a pilot, reduces a 60-minute drive to 10 minutes, with costs relative to executive-level ground transportation. From there, commuters can walk, arrange for car service, or connect to a bus or a train. ASX at Detroit City Airport is a leader in developing VTOL aircraft for passengers and cargo shipments.

For Amazon, there’s nothing foreseeable that would erode their business model other than the introduction of a replicator. But they’re likely working on it.

Nurses, doctors, health care providers, and first responders will continue to be heralded for putting their lives on the line for those in need, while caring for families that lost loved ones. Their heroic actions saved countless lives. May their newfound eminence inspire the young and fortify the generations to come. 

— R.J. King, rjking@dbusiness.com

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