Manufacturing is no longer simply about making physical items and transferring X from A to B. Changes in global consumer demand with more emphasis on customization, engagement, speed to market, quick delivery, coupled with modifications to the economics of production, and the shifting supply chain have all resulted in a fundamental shift in the way most companies do business.
Indeed, the line between consumer and creator continues to blur and only time will tell how far this amalgamation goes.
“In 2019, manufacturers will have to deal with the increased customer demand for personalization, faster completion, and maximum transparency," explains Cory Neal, COO of The Word Point.
"Therefore, businesses will need to integrate their processes and choose more cost-effective solutions which will help them become more efficient and productive."
Recent improvements in manufacturing technology are a direct reflection of today's concerns. A few of those concerns include:
- Increased efficiency: Becoming more energy efficient is the ultimate goal of any manufacturer, since energy consumption can come at great cost. Technology helps businesses determine where power can be saved.
- Improved product quality: The right technology can eliminate errors and discrepancies across the same product (if the goal is consistency). It can also alert the manufacturer to issues with quality, securing a business’s reputation and its ability to meet the demands of today’s intense consumer demands.
- Reduction in the need for downtime and breaks: Technology is able to work consistency and continually, preventing production delays and lower product quality.
- Greater awareness: Thanks to technology, manufacturing companies are able to monitor the state of every intricate part of their businesses, from staff rotas and order numbers to product statistics and order forecasts.
In this blog post, I'll highlight other areas influencing the trends we see in manufacturing technology today.
The Role of AI
Artificial intelligence (AI) will play an increasingly important part in manufacturing technologies in the future. In fact, the AI market is predicted to grow from $8 billion to $72 billion between 2016 and 2021.
AI enables automated workflows based on predictive analytics, improves recruitment processes, optimizes equipment usage, and increases overall workforce efficiency.
There are countless branches of AI that can be used within the manufacturing sector, including:
- Machine learning
- Computer vision
- Natural language processing
- Speech recognition
- Rules-based systems
- Automatic planning and scheduling
Speaking at Insider's Northern Powerhouse Advanced Manufacturing Conference last month in Manchester, Simon Keogh, UK Siemens' head of automation, said there will be even more emphasis placed on automating the unpredictable as time goes on.
In other words, the robots of the future will not only be told what to do, they will independently decide how to do it too. Simon explains:
Traditionally, you'd automate those processes that are repeated time and time again. Where AI comes into its own is the ability to automate the unpredictable. We've developed a neuro-processing unit that sits inside our standard automation controllers. We can use it to train robots rather than programming them.
How 3D Printing Comes Into Play
CEO of Chicago-based additive manufacturer Fast Radius, Lou Rassey, believes the lines between manufacturing and supply chain are becoming harder and harder to distinguish; inventory can exist virtually in the cloud, and is ‘activated’ by on-demand manufacturing as soon as it is needed in a precise global location.
Rassey told Forbes:
In addition to transporting goods by land, water and air, we can now move parts via the Internet at the speed of light. That’s the fourth modality. The things we make have the power to advance and transform the way we live, and the way we make things is on the brink of a fundamental paradigm shift.
Additive manufacturing provides us with new and powerful tools to make things we could once only imagine and bring them into the lives of people who will use them.
The 3D Printing market is predicted to grow from $13 billion in 2016 to $36 billion in 2021. By 2020, 75% of manufacturing operations worldwide could use 3D printed tools, jigs, and fixtures for the production of finished goods. What’s more, 50% of manufacturers expect to increase 3D Printing spending in the next 12 months.
A recent paper from Deloitte predicts that automotive designs, aerospace and defense parts printing will be the largest manufacturing segments to utilize 3D printing. The fastest growing segments within the industry include:
- Dental printing
- Medical implant/device printing
- Product creation
- Prototype printing
As manufacturing specialist Cathy Morrow Robertson believes:
As supply chains digitize, additive manufacturing will simplify historically cumbersome processes, provide more attractive economics, and perhaps most importantly, it will drive innovation with new products and business models.
The Future of Manufacturing Technology and Processes
Going forward, manufacturers must harness the latest opportunities when evaluating and adopting technologies to enhance their current and future business. It will be imperative to capitalize on emerging technologies, look into AI, consider 3D printing, listen to the consumer and invest in research and development.
To reach its full potential, the manufacturing industry will need to continue to embrace new technology, be open to revolutionary ways of thinking and consider a future it never thought possible.