The manufacturing industry is once again seeing a transformation that’s as important to the future as the one that happened during the Industrial Revolution. This shift is happening in a more digital and data-oriented landscape and has been brought about thanks to IoT and connected devices, sensors and technologies. It’s the birth of the modern smart factory, or at least one that’s more efficient and aware.
The industry is poised to see some truly innovative and fresh ideas in the year ahead. Here are some of the trends we think will really take hold.
- The Rise of Artificial Intelligence
AI is the primary driver of modern automation, as it will allow manufacturers and project managers to better predict trends, allocate resources more efficiently, lower costs and maintain smoother operations. Of course, to make such a difference, the AI platforms need access to multitudes of data and information which the newer, more connected factories now provide.
Things like automated quality control, adaptive manufacturing through predictive algorithms, predictive and more preventive maintenance, and demand-driven production all become possible thanks to the adoption of AI. These processes require a precise and real-time stream of data and decision-making to pull off, just the kind of thing AI is designed for.
- Advanced Robotics
Traditionally, robots have been used to automate rote or menial tasks, many of which are tied to the assembly line. Today’s robots, however, are much more capable and advanced, able to take on incredibly complex tasks and can even work alongside human counterparts. They can be used to substitute for people in dangerous situations or work alongside them to deliver more efficient and speedier results.
Furthermore, when coupled with IoT and smart sensors, robots can tell us a great deal about the environments they operate in and the conditions in which they are successful. This will introduce a host of new data and information for warehouse managers to pour over.
- Additive Manufacturing
Additive manufacturing is a relatively new form that relies on 3-D printing technologies and devices to create a finished product, as opposed to just prototypes or concepts. Traditionally, these rapid-printing technologies were used to whip up a prototype or early model of a product, but not for full-scale manufacturing and production.
That’s no longer the case, as 3-D printers have become cheaper, faster and more accurate than ever before. They also can be configured to work with a wide variety of materials, including production-grade goods. More importantly, this will open up the door to personalized manufacturing, where an item is made to the specifications of a consumer.
One of the most common forms of consumer wearable is the fitness tracker, designed to measure a host of health statistics. The idea is that the owner can keep a close eye on their own health and activity, and be better prepared to get or stay active.
Imagine the same technologies used in manufacturing to monitor and protect workers. Already, companies like Star BlueScope Steel are creating IoT devices that measure safety and risk for field workers. The wearables in question can be embedded within worker helmets, wristbands or even jackets, and then used to monitor and transmit important data. In this way, supervisors can be made aware when their workers are either in severe danger or are not following proper safety protocols.
Some may be hesitant to adopt these newer technologies, which is understandable. That doesn’t mean the trends will slow or dissipate, though. Many of the technologies discussed here are already in full force, if not slowly being adapted for the industry in their current state. It won’t be long before the smart factory of the future is the only factory in operation across the entire sector.