Digital technologies are refining and even remaking certain manufacturing processes. Monitoring systems give workers real-time remote access to machinery. Technological advances have lowered costs and allowed manufacturers to develop new models of fabrication. "The future is not going to be about stretched-out global supply chains connected to a web of distant giant factories," says Michael Idelchik, head of advanced technologies at GE's global research lab. "It's about small, nimble manufacturing operations using highly sophisticated new tools and new materials."