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The manufacturing industry has always had an appetite for technology. From big data analytics to advanced robotics, the game-changing benefits of modern technologies are helping manufacturers reduce human intervention, increase plant productivity and gain a competitive edge.
Sophisticated technologies, such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things and 3-D printing among others, are shaping the future of manufacturing by lowering the cost of production, improving the speed of operations and minimizing errors. Since productivity is critical to the success of a manufacturing plant, every manufacturer is expected to make significant investments in these technologies.
Here are five technologies that are positively impacting the manufacturing industry.
The capabilities of the internet of things (IoT) are rapidly being implemented in the industrial and manufacturing domain, providing plant owners with a way to increase productivity and decrease the complexities of processes. By 2020, the number of IoT-enabled devices is expected to reach the 25 billion mark.
The industrial internet of things (IIoT) is an amalgamation of various technologies, such as machine learning, big data, sensor data, cloud integration and machine automation. These technologies are being employed in areas like predictive and proactive maintenance, real-time monitoring, resource optimization, supply-chain visibility, cross-facility operations analysis, and safety, enabling plant managers to minimize downtime and enhance process efficiency.
For instance, regular maintenance and repair are essential for smooth plant operations. However, not all equipment and devices need maintenance at the same time. The IIoT allows plant managers to employ condition monitoring and predictive maintenance of the equipment. The real-time performance monitoring helps them plan their maintenance schedule around when it is actually necessary, reducing the likelihood of unplanned outages and the ensuing loss of productivity.
Similarly, IoT-enabled and sensor-embedded equipment can communicate data that helps the supply-chain team track assets (using RFID and GPS sensors), take stock of inventory, forecast, gauge vendor relations and schedule predictive maintenance programs.
Big data analytics can offer several ways for improving asset performance, streamlining manufacturing processes and facilitating product customization. According to a recent survey by Honeywell, 68 percent of American manufacturers are already investing in big data analytics. These manufacturers are able to make informed decisions using productivity and waste performance data provided by big data analytics, lowering operating costs and increasing the overall yield.
For several decades, robotics and mechanization have been employed by manufacturers to increase productivity and minimize production costs per unit. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning seem to be the next wave in manufacturing. AI is helping production teams analyze data and use the insights to replace inventory, reduce operational costs and offer seamless quality control over the entire manufacturing process.
The era of unintelligent robots engaged in cyclical production tasks has ended. AI and machine learning are making it possible for robots and humans to collaborate with each other, creating agile manufacturing processes that learn, improve and make smart manufacturing decisions. Consequently, manufacturers can employ industrial robotics and smart automation to manage mundane tasks and focus their time and resources on revenue-generating tasks such as research and development, product line extension and better customer service.
The 3-D printing or additive layer manufacturing technology is set to make a huge impact on high-end industries such as aerospace, mining machinery, automobiles, firearms, commercial and service machinery, and other industrial equipment. This revolutionary technology allows manufacturers to create physical products from complex digital designs stored in 3-D computer-aided design (CAD) files.
Materials such as rubber, nylon, plastic, glass and metal can be used to print real objects. In fact, 3-D bioprinting has made it possible to manufacture living tissue and functional organs for medical research.
Unlike the traditional manufacturing process, 3-D printers can create complex shapes and designs at no additional cost, offering greater freedom for designers and engineers. Moreover, the increasing applications of 3-D printing in manufacturing are giving rise to manufacturing as a service (MaaS), enabling companies to maintain an up-to-date infrastructure that caters to multiple clients and negating the need to purchase new equipment.
Virtual reality (VR) is simplifying the product design process by eliminating the need to build complex prototypes. Designers and engineers are using VR to create realistic product models, allowing them to digitally see their designs and troubleshoot potential issues before starting production. Clients can also review and interact with these digital designs, simulations and integrated devices, significantly reducing the time needed for designing to manufacturing the finished product.
For instance, automobile manufacturers are now using virtual reality to ensure their cars are tested at an early phase of the vehicle development process, decreasing the time and cost involved in modifying the designs, tolerances and safety features.
Since predictive analytics are critical to a manufacturing facility's operational efficiency, plant managers are expected to increasingly depend on VR to review workflows, improve benchmarking processes and maintain compliance through training protocols.
As manufacturers continue to implement these modern technologies to control all aspects of the manufacturing process, improvements can be expected in overall productivity and profitability. Companies aiming to stay relevant in the ever-competitive market cannot afford to ignore the positive influence of each of these technologies.