There’s no question, the world as we know it is about to change in many ways. What with the likes of machine learning, AI, automation, advanced robotics, big data and analytics, renewable energy and more efficient, smarter processes abound, the world of tomorrow will look nothing like the world of today.
That’s true no matter what industry you look at.
So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone involved that manufacturing will also be seeing something of a modern revolution. Advanced robotics and automation, for instance, will replace just about all manual labor, providing more accurate and more efficient developments.
The good news is that this doesn’t necessarily mean everyone will be losing their jobs. In fact, these technologies may introduce many new opportunities for workers in the industry. But it will undoubtedly free humans from doing the rote and endless work, leaving them available for more critical tasks. By 2020, robotics growth will have created the need for more work opportunities, boosting salaries by as much as 60 percent. Manufacturers, on the other hand, will see benefits of their own in the form of operating cost savings, increased productivity and safer work environments.
What exactly are these changes, though? What technologies are coming, especially when it comes t newer, smarter robotics?
Welcome to the Plants of the Future
Plants will soon be rife with smarter, more automated machines and robots that work alongside their human counterparts to create a more efficient production environment. Collaborative robots — or cobots — will become increasingly common. By the end of 2018, 30 percent of all new robotic deployments will be collaborative in nature, operating up to three times faster than previous generations.
These devices help boost operational efficiency and productivity, but they also make environments much safer for human workers. Amazon is a notable example of a company making regular use of cobots in their fulfillment centers. The company has established smart, automated shelving systems that move about their warehouses with little input, keeping workers safe and boosting their service rates.
These new robotics systems are designed to make everyone’s lives easier, especially plant and operations managers. Many of the technologies are outfitted with real-time data reporting and processing devices that can help keep overseers informed. Cloud-based robots will also see a rise in popularity as a result. By 2020, 60 percent of robots will require cloud-based software to outfit them with new skills, programs and access to cloud services — such as a marketplace filled with additional support and skill opportunities.
This will introduce an entirely new market of software and hardware services, in the form of RaaS or Robots as a Service. Imagine smaller manufacturers outright leasing equipment and hardware from more capable owners and distributors. This model is becoming more prevalent and will soon be commonplace among many smaller businesses and local manufacturing centers.
Technologies like RaaS and 3D printing allow for entirely new forms of manufacturing and development with more customer personalization and involvement. Factories and plants can also be located closer to the customer, allowing for faster development and delivery cycles. However, this also opens up the opportunity for customers to influence how their goods are created. It’s often referred to as mass customization or transparent customization. Consumers can control the design of a product or item, changing colors, materials or even visual styles.
Traditional Manufacturing Is Not Going Away
It’s important to understand that many of these modern technologies — and by proxy changes — will not eliminate the need for traditional manufacturing. Instead, they will serve to augment or add-on to older forms to introduce new opportunities. Traditional manufacturing, development and mass production processes will mostly remain the same. The most significant transformation will be increased efficiency and accuracy thanks to modern tools and platforms.
Think of it as a step toward improved processes, operations and manufacturing environments. In fact, a recent PEW Research study revealed manufacturers are now producing more than ever, with fewer workers behind the helm.
Manufacturing is as strong as it has ever been, and much of that is thanks to the robotics and hardware the industry is gaining.