These Three Trends are Redefining the Future of Manufacturing
With the explosive impacts of additive manufacturing, 3D printing, the Internet of Things, and automation/robotics, we are just starting to get a sense of how fast change is coming to manufacturing. It is already disruptive, with eye-opening improvements in competitiveness, efficiency, quality, cost, and most important, speed. As these disruptive technologies continue to be more integrated with manufacturing processes, traditional business models will be forced to evolve (including supply chain and operations). All these improved capabilities—as well as access to highly-engineered manufacturing materials with unique properties, such as composites—will give engineers more creative ways to design products that they couldn’t consider before.
So, what will advanced manufacturing look like in 2025?
1.Every machine will be smart
Sensors will continuously monitor production and provide machine data; data analytics, in real time, will find ways to optimize performance characteristics and identify weak points before can they become problems, minimizing maintenance and reducing shutdowns. This type of machine-to-machine communication is the heart of the Internet of Things. According to a 2015 study by Deloitte Global and the Council on Competitiveness, 4.9 billion devices were connected in 2015; that number is expected to increase to 25 billion by 2025. This also means more powerful data-crunching programs must be developed to identify process control and performance improvements.
2. Additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing rapidly evolve
Printers (and therefore products) keep getting bigger and printing keeps getting faster. Materials that can be 3D-printed include metal, plastic, mixed materials, and even human tissue. No product seems to be beyond the realm of being 3D-printed. In fact, the incredible capabilities of additive manufacturing allow for the creation of products that can be manufactured no other way, with features that were never thought possible. In fact, forward-thinking companies like Caterpillar are training their engineers to design new products just for additive manufacturing technology. Much of their research and development is conducted in Caterpillar’s unique, in-house AM Factory, an engineer’s paradise that is stocked with the latest AM equipment.
3. Automation and robotics continue to climb
According to a report by Boston Consulting Group, robots currently handle about 10 percent of manufacturing tasks; this number is expected to increase to 25 percent by 2025. Not only will robots become smarter, they will also be cheaper, meaning more companies will be able to afford them. Increased automation in the workplace could cut labor costs by an average of 16 percent across the world’s 25 largest goods-exporting nations—22 percent in the U.S. alone.
“As labor costs rise around the world, it is becoming increasingly critical that manufacturers rapidly take steps to improve their output per worker to stay competitive,” says Hal Sirkin, senior partner and managing director at the Boston Consulting Group. “Companies are finding that advances in robotics and other manufacturing technologies offer some of the best opportunities to sharply improve productivity.”
Louis Columbus, a tech writer on forbes.com, notes that combining analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning enabling contextual intelligence and insight from the shop floor to the top floor is beginning to revolutionize manufacturing. “Applying cognitive computing to the complex challenges of multi-site manufacturing, multi-tier distribution, product configuration, distributed order management, and aftermarket service also has the potential to revolutionize manufacturing with greater accuracy, customer responsiveness, and speed,” he concludes.
Ultimately, by 2025, the evolution of smart software, automation/robotics, 3D printing and other technologies, will have created a more productive, competitive landscape for manufacturers. As technologies continue to transform, so will manufacturing processes and techniques, further enabling consumer-driven rising trends like mass customization.
Mark Crawford is a Madison, Wisconsin-based freelance writer who specializes in business, science, technology, and manufacturing.