Manufacturing organizations have enormous opportunities to leverage smart factories and new technology trends to boost revenue, increase safety, and improve processes.
In this article, we’ll look at the 9 top tech trends that every manufacturing organization needs to be ready for – starting today.
1. Data, AI, and the Industrial IoT
In the future, we will have increasingly interconnected Internet of Things (IoT) devices to collect data, and manufacturing companies can use this data to enhance their processes. For example, data gathered from sensors on machines can help manufacturers understand how machines are performing, so they can optimize maintenance schedules, reduce machine downtime, and even predict when things will go wrong during manufacturing.
2. 5G and Edge Computing
The fifth generation of mobile data network technology will enable manufacturers to easily connect their IoT technology and collect and process data within devices, such as smart machines and sensors.
Edge computing, which brings more of the collection, processing, and storage of data to actual devices, will become more common. Even today, manufacturers can create private 5G networks on their premises, which will give them ultra-fast data speeds without the need for cables.
3. Predictive Maintenance
Manufacturing organizations will use sensor data to detect when a machine or part is likely to fail, so they take preventative action and maintain their equipment more effectively. Predictive maintenance isn’t something that only works on brand new machines, either. For example, Siemens has even used maintenance sensors on older motors and transmissions, and by analyzing the data, they can now fix older machines before they fail.
4. Digital Twins
A digital twin is a virtual representation that serves as a counterpart of a real-world, physical process or object. In manufacturing, a digital twin could be used to create a virtual replica of the equipment on the factory floor, so workers can see how machinery operates under specified conditions. Or a digital twin can even be used to visualize and simulate an entire supply chain.
Boeing’s CEO Dennis Muilenburg said that digital twins could be the company’s biggest driver of production efficiency improvements for the next decade.
“We’re seeing things like 40 to 50% improvements in first time quality [of parts],” said Muilenburg. “My expectation for us being able to grow the bottom line year over year cash growth regardless of some of the externals is because of the incredible ability we have now to drive first-time quality into our production systems because of the new technologies.”
5. Extended Reality Technology
Augmented and virtual reality will play an increasingly important part in manufacturing, including enhancing product design, improving production planning, complementing human abilities on assembly lines, and providing more immersive training.
At GE’s factory in Florida, for example, workers assembling wind turbines wear augmented reality glasses that display digital instructions on how to install parts correctly. Honeywell found that their passive learning experience didn't really lead to great knowledge retention – so they implemented a VR training program that improved retention to as high as 80%. As more of the word extends into the metaverse, more opportunities will arise for manufacturers to use extended reality technology.
6. Automation and Dark Factories
Dark factories are fully automated sites where production happens without direct human intervention. As robot technology advances, we will see more of these fully automated factories.
In more traditional manufacturing environments, robotic exoskeletons can help those on the production line lift heavier parts without compromising safety. We also have collaborative, intelligent robots or "cobots" that are specifically designed to work alongside humans. Nissan already uses cobots to help employees install engine intakes.
7. 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing
With 3D printing technology, we can use fewer materials and produce less waste than we do with traditional manufacturing methods. 3D printing will also drive a new era of personalization because manufacturers can create individually customized products without worrying about economics of scale. Rapid prototyping is also possible with 3D printing technology. For over 15 years, Airbus has been using 3D printing technology for localized, on-demand production of toolings such as jigs and fixtures.
8. Web3 and Blockchain Technology
With the emergence of Web3 and distributed computing technology like blockchains and NFTs, there will be opportunities for manufacturers to better monitor supply chains – and even automate many of the transactions along their supply chains. Additionally, many of the products that we will manufacture in the future will be sold with NFTs. For example, Alfa Romeo is already now selling their cars with accompanying NFTs that certify the car purchase, record essential vehicle data, and generate a certificate that can be used to ensure the car has been properly maintained.
9. Smarter, More Sustainable Production Processes
Today, there are smart versions of everything, from vacuum cleaners to thermostats to toilets – and therefore, manufacturers will continually need to explore ways of giving customers the intelligent products they expect.
Manufacturers will also offer more services alongside popular products. For example, car manufacturers already offer add-on services like maintenance, charging, roadside assistance, and even infotainment packages.
More customers will increasingly gravitate towards products that are sustainable, reusable, and recyclable along the entire supply chain. We already see smaller, pop-up factories starting to replace mega factories that produce items far away and then have extensive supply chains to get products to consumers. For instance, a British company called Arrivals has completely reimagined the manufacturing of delivery vans. They can create smaller, flexible pop-up factories in less than six months that have considerably more streamlined supply chains.