The development of manufacturing-software standards to foster cooperative research among US companies heralds a nascent industrial revolution.

"The last time there was a big deal like this was in the 1860s when we switched" to using mechanical drawings, says Malcolm Spence of Digital Equipment Corporation.

That shift allowed the mass-production of products using interchangeable parts. Where once a craftsman would replicate a product using calipers to take measurements, mechanical drawings allowed complex tasks to be broken down into pieces. Parts from different factories came together to make a sewing machine. In this latest revolution, information has moved from paper to computers, where it can be transferred directly from a designer's workstation to the factory.

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