Here are five key tech trends that will change manufacturing for good.
Some of these trends are already affecting how business is done, while others are expected to become more prominent in the years ahead.
The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) explores emerging trends and technologies through several thought-leadership initiatives, including CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365 online.
What are the five trends? AEM provides a snapshot.
1. Industry 4.0: Taking technology to the next level
It's the consensus opinion of both economists and technology experts that the world is entering a fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0), with the growing digitization of processes and the interconnectivity of the goods they produce.
When Industry 4.0 solutions are properly implemented, manufacturers can offer new value, including:
- Improved resource productivity and efficiency
- Increased speed to market
- Agility and customization to meet changing and individual customer needs
- Value opportunities through the development of new services
Companies that best position themselves to capture the value of Industry 4.0 can expect to see growing success.
2. Internet of Things (IoT): Welcome to the data-driven world
The Internet of Things (IoT) is ever evolving and more manufacturers are incorporating smart devices or embedded intelligence into their production (and non-production) processes as well as equipment.
Manufacturers are realizing the value in taking advantage of the numerous benefits of IoT to develop smarter and more innovative products, increase workplace safety, improve operational efficiencies, and tackle organizational waste.
One of the biggest challenges manufacturers face is determining how best to invest in and leverage IoT longer term and strategically to achieve their business goals.
3. Augmented reality: More than a game gimmick
Augmented reality (AR), which allows virtual reality graphics to interact with the physical environment, from a user's perspective, shouldn't be dismissed as a futuristic technological gimmick.
It's simply the next step in the ongoing evolution of how people interact with computers.
Wearable-technology devices to improve safety and performance are just one aspect.
Within the next 3-5 years, experts predict mixed reality technology will become more common in business settings. Possible manufacturing applications for AR include complex assembly, maintenance, expert support, quality assurance and automation.
4. 3D Printing: It’s here to stay
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has slowly but surely developed into a disruptive technology that is convincing manufacturers to overhaul a number of expensive and archaic processes.
Many manufacturers are looking into using 3D printing to making a replacement part without having the inventory in place, saving them the significant overhead costs of warehouse space.
The production of molds, jigs and fixtures used in the mass production of heavy equipment presents an even greater opportunity to leverage additive manufacturing to increase operational efficiency.
Using 3D printing for final production applications may become common over time.
5. Automation: Mobile robotics on the rise
Groundbreaking advancements in technology are propelling manufacturing into a new age of automation.
In one area, the ever-worsening skilled-worker shortage, manufacturers are increasingly looking to mobile robotics technology as a possible solution.
Technology makes it possible to automate tasks not only on the on the shop floor, but also jobs in other areas of a business, such as maintenance, management and administration. In many cases, machines are able to match or exceed the productivity output of their human counterparts.
The key for manufacturers will be to approach automation strategically with an understanding of what factors are most important to them related to investing in artificial intelligence, robotics and other technology.