Three Tech Trends in Industrial Manufacturing
The Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0, is constantly and rapidly evolving. New technological advancements in industrial smart factories seem to be happening all the time. This article will take a look at some of the biggest current tech trends in industrial manufacturing.
1. IoT is Growing
Though the Internet of Things (IoT) has already established itself as an increasingly common staple in industrial manufacturing, the number of applications for the technology continue to reveal themselves. In many cases, the IoT has become the technological lynchpin responsible for driving many industrial innovations and is a vital analytical component. By providing the real-time data that stakeholders need to make strategic decisions essential to the success of the business, the adoption of IoT technology is more inextricably linked than ever to things like cost management, process efficiency, and enhanced safety of plant operations.
As common as IoT applications are today, there is still plenty of opportunity for the technology to grow in an industrial manufacturing setting. The MPI Group, sponsored by Rockwell Automation, BDO, and QAD, published an IoT study in 2016 that examined the readiness of 350 U.S.-based manufacturers to leverage IoT technology in their plant operations. Surprisingly, some of the key takeaways of the study identified a limited understanding of the role IoT can play in their business. While nearly half of the participants (46%) indicated that IoT would have some impact on their business by 2020, only 17% claimed the impact would be significant. Interestingly, the views held by the participants of the MPI Group study have likely changed a bit since 2016, given that the estimated IoT market in manufacturing is expected to surge from $221 billion in 2019 to more than $575 billion by 2025 with North American manufacturers leading the charge. A few of the trends driving this expected investment growth include an increased desire for transparency in supply chain management and the collection of manufacturing information (dates of manufacture, expiry dates, etc.) using things like RFID tags.
Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought inestimable damage to the global economy, but things like right-sizing teams/organizations and the requirement for social distancing has bolstered additional interest in IoT applications in the manufacturing sector. Remote monitoring of equipment and systems using IoT-enabled devices for example, is just one aspect of IoT that is drawing renewed interest.
2. 3D Printing
A neat hobby to some, 3D printing is becoming an increasingly important component of the manufacturing process. Prototyping and product design can be a very costly and time-consuming process particularly when multiple prototype iterations need to be developed to address troubleshooting issues. Having the ability to 3D print prototypes on demand is a much more cost-effective method to design and test new products.
Prototyping, however, is not the only manufacturing activity that 3D printing can make less costly. Mass production of products requires molds and jigs to be custom-made, something that has been historically left in the able hands of a trusted tooling company. Depending on the complexity of the mold and the location of the tooling company, it could take months for the mold to be delivered. With advancements in the 3D printing technology, manufacturers in the automotive and aerospace manufacturing sectors now have the option to produce high-quality molds and jigs on site for a fraction of the cost in less time. Employees may need to be trained in this area, resulting in an influx of specialized job opportunities and a chance for growth within their field.
3. Manufacturers Plan for a Post-COVID-19 World
Post-COVID-19 planning isn’t in and of itself a trend in tech, but the duration and severity of the global pandemic will almost assuredly alter the ways in which a manufacturer operates, and how it prepares and adjusts to a similar event in the future. While the pandemic is far from over, many manufacturers are already thinking about what their transition back to normal operations will look like and face some difficult questions.
For those manufacturers that have suffered financially more than others COVID-19 might be the excuse needed to modernize operating models that are more fluid, adaptive, and more capable of weathering a metaphorical storm.
There are also manufacturers that saw production spike during the pandemic due to a surge in demand for their products. For some, this demand may set a new watermark for production while other manufacturers expect production to reduce back to pre-pandemic levels. For others still, the need to reinvent themselves at an organizational level is very real. Employees skilled in one area may need to re-skill themselves by taking some electromechanical courses or enrolling in another tech-based program. Ultimately, while having a post-COVID-19 strategy will likely be hashed out in meeting rooms in head offices around the globe, no two plans will be identical.
COVID-19 has certainly made a lasting impression on industrial manufacturing, these tech trends will inevitably continue to prosper but manufacturing as a whole will recover quickly and continue to push the envelope in terms of innovation; the trends listed above are certainly indicative of that.
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