Once perceived as strictly a blue-collar industry, the manufacturing industry today is now a hub for exciting new technology and innovation and never has there been more exciting technology transforming the manufacturing than there is in 2016.
The implementation of advanced technologies in manufacturing has brought about change that would have been unimaginable just a decade ago resulting in increased speed, customization, precision, and efficiency.
Here is a look at six revolutionary technologies that are changing the look of manufacturing as we now know it.
1. 3D Printing
After revolutionizing the world of product design, 3D printing is now making waves in the manufacturing industry. The ability to design and create virtually anything using metal, plastic, even human tissue will obviously change the way we build... everything.
Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing brings a mixed bag of benefits that make it worth the investment:
● Drastically reduce design-to-production times
● Drastically reduce manufacturing lead times
● Easier to produce individual and small lot products from machine parts to prototypes
● Greater flexibility in production
● Less waste/more cost effective
And the best part is 3D printing is still new. It's only going to get better in the upcoming months and years which makes now the perfect time to start incorporating it.
2. The Internet of Things (IoT)
Since the early days of the Industrial Revolution, one of the main goals of manufacturing plants has been interconnectivity. The Internet of Things takes this goal to a whole new level though with machines, sensors, and humans working closer together than ever before. More connectivity means better communication, faster response times, and greater efficiency across the board.
For example, suppose a manufacturing company owns a piece of equipment that should never drop below 100 gallons of fluid in the system. A meter is attached to the equipment, and the IoT enables the meter to transmit data wirelessly. The data is transmitted into a Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) which is turn generates a work order when the fluid level drops below a certain level. This enhanced interconnectivity helps the manufacturing facility reduce maintenance cost, increase efficiency, and prevent costly downtime.
This is just one of many examples, however, of how the IoT will enhance and improve manufacturing operations in the years to come.
Admittedly still a few years off from mainstream integration, nanotechnology is still relevant enough today to make the list.
Nanotechnology refers to the manipulation of matter on atomic, molecular, or supramolecular level. For traditional manufacturing fields, this means enhancing materials to make them last longer or give them new properties like clothes that can feel warmer or cooler. For the computer industry, nanotechnology offers faster processing and better memory.
At the moment, nanotechnology is mostly used in space engineering and biotech. However, it is now headed in the direction of manufacturing. The next step is Atomically Precise Manufacturing (APM), which could very well change everything about manufacturing. Just imagine building a product from the molecular level up.
4. Cloud Computing
Already a staple in other industries, the cloud is now starting to have a huge impact on manufacturing. Manufacturing has been late-to-the-game mainly due to connectivity and security issues, but as cloud computing advances, these concerns fade away.
While the IoT improves connectivity within a single plant, cloud computing improves connectivity across multiple plants. Companies can share data across the globe in a blink of an eye, reducing both costs and production times. The shared data also goes a long way in improving product quality and consistency between plants.
5. Next-Level Robotics
Just last year, China's trailblazing efforts in the world of robotics paid off with its Dongguan factory replacing 650 humans with 60 robotic arms. Everwin Precision Technology, the owner of the plant, hopes to replace 80% of its manufacturing with 1,000 robotic arms by next year.
Robotics raises too many philosophical concerns for it to be blindly adopted. Full automation may benefit general productivity, but theorists claim it hurts innovation.
The West is having a somewhat opposite response to robotics with more focus on the accomplishments of the individual. Outside China, robots are still thought to complement, not replace, human workers -- what's called "cobotics."
Whatever side of the fence you fall on, there's no denying the greater role robotics will play in manufacturing in the near future.
6. Augmented Reality
Despite the failure of Google Glass, the concept of augmented reality eyewear is practical enough to survive. In manufacturing, the technology has widespread potential including
● Real-time instructions/guidance
● Real-time notifications
● Real-time monitoring of worker tasks
● Improved safety warnings
● More effective training
● Data retrieval
● Reduce necessity for on-site maintenance/technical support
Like others on the list, augmented reality is still a young technology, and it will be exciting to watch it grow and evolve in the next few years.
Calling All Futurists
Did we leave anything out? Can you predict the next big manufacturing technology? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section now.