The Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us. Manufacturing is evolving at a faster and faster pace. The sector has been hearing buzzwords for the past few years. There is automation, cyber-physical systems, data exchange, cognitive computing, and so much more. At its core, the center and circumference of this revolution is connecting industrial logistics, products, and processes with the digital technology that will enhance it. For any manufacturer who is trying to keep up, it can be difficult to wade through all of the new technologies and concepts. But instead of trying to become an expert in each and every new technology, they need to pay attention to the trends and predictions for Industry 4.0. This will help them pinpoint the technologies they need to concentrate on and invest in.
When it comes to AI in manufacturing, the key is cyber-physical production. What AI will begin to look like over the next year is a collaboration between robots and humans. This will enable two significant changes in manufacturing. First, the sector will be able to move its factories to urban areas, allowing for faster shipping. Second, the sector will be able to create individualized customization and personalization in products. In short, manufacturing will take less space because machines will have a wider flexibility in the products that they manufacture.
But there are much broader implications for AI in manufacturing. Not only will machines use AI to be better learners, and therefore better collaborators on the manufacturing floor, but artificial intelligence will enable increased agility through real-time production planning, predictive maintenance abilities, personalized training for the workforce, machine-to-machine communication, and the provision of more accurate material planning and ordering.
Over the next year, AI will change every aspect of manufacturing, from the expansion of workforce specialization and increased efficiency in the supply chain to enhanced strategy in manufacturing business models and the disruption of traditional workflows.
2. On-Demand Manufacturing
As previously mentioned, manufacturing is going to be more customized and personalized. Gone are the days of only big retailers, who have big orders, being able to approach manufacturers with a product they need. Now, individuals, small businesses, and startups can have access to ordering in low volumes at competitive prices. Inventors will be able to get a single prototype made professionally by a manufacturer rather than scraping something together by hand. Individuals who love design will be able to design their own creations and get them made.
And this is not simply because the robots that manufacturers will use have a wider skill-set. It is also because of software developers. They have created platforms that offer instant quotes and connect individuals and businesses with the suppliers and manufacturers who are ready and have the right prices.
3. Additive Manufacturing
Additive manufacturing is simply another name for 3-D printing. The fact is that additive manufacturing will see slow implementation into industry practices. The reason for this is that 3-D printing is not developed enough to provide the manufacturing capacity it needs. This is due to the fact that the raw material used in 3-D printing is still too expensive, as is the process in general. It is also too slow compared to traditional manufacturing methods. These issues will likely be addressed and fixed over the next couple of years.
Until then, however, 3-D printing will still be utilized by manufacturing companies. It will just be used in alternative ways. They will rely on it to make prototypes. The reason they can do this is that it is a lower time and money-spend to create a 3-D design and print it than to re-program robots to make a product that is still being developed and optimized. Additionally, manufacturers will rely on 3-D printing for individual components. These components might be parts and tools that the manufacturer needs on the factory floor or it could be small orders of customized products that have a complicated design or need to be lightweight.
4. Human Machine Interface
The goal behind HMI is to allow for business leadership to identify methods of improving efficiency in each and every manufacturing process. This technology monitors the machines, systems, and workforce in a factory, or across multiple factories. It collects data, shares it, and creates visualizations out of it in the cloud.
In order to comprehensively collect data, HMI relies on sensors and connected devices. It then shares this data using wireless systems. Finally, it creates visualizations out if it with machine learning, smart devices, and augmented reality. At its core, in any situation where a human needs to interact with a machine or device, HMI is the software and hardware systems that allow the human to gain insight into the device.
Many thought this buzzword would never make it to manufacturing. It does not seem to have a place in a factory. Some manufacturers believe otherwise, though. The reason for this is that manufacturers are facing significant challenges when it comes to human labor. No matter how advanced the robotics and AI become, human labor will still be needed.
One of the main challenges is that in younger generations interest in pursuing a career in manufacturing is waning. Some experts in the sector believe that utilizing gamification in recruitment could help to turn things around.
Beyond recruitment, there are other areas were gamification holds promise for the industry. The first place is training. Manufacturers could implement gamification to better connect with younger members of the workforce, as well as making the training process more engaging and entertaining. In the end, this would increase the retention of training material and boost employee morale.
There is also the potential of harnessing the power of gamification and integrating it into everyday systems and processes. In other industries gamification has been seen to increase productivity. Why shouldn’t it be used for the same purposes in manufacturing? Companies could identify various tasks that employees most dread, such as reporting or low-value, repetitive duties, and implement gamification.
The Bigger Picture Of Technology In Manufacturing
When technology is discussed from the lens of manufacturing, it is often looked at from an efficiency point of view. It helps to make processes and systems faster and more effective. However, manufacturers need to start looking at the broader implications that technology can bring to their operations.
One such broader implication is security. The newest technology, especially at the manufacturing level, is expensive. And it is not just a single new technology that is expensive. The entire industry, as previously mentioned, is in the midst of a digital revolution. This means that there are countless new connected devices, all of which are associated with an additional cost.
Yet this expense is minimal compared to the lack of security that old systems offer. Out of date equipment and inferior network design lead to downtime, which then leads to loss of profits alongside the cost of maintenance. Additionally, the older systems are simply not as effective as new technology at tasks such as quality control, creating significant waste over time.
In other words, while it can be expensive to implement new technology into manufacturing processes, it will end up creating significant savings and it will do so in a much shorter amount of time than usually anticipated.
Manufacturing is quickly changing. Those that keep pace with Industry 4.0 will see significant benefits over the long-term. For help making the necessary adjustments, please contact us.