We are in the midst of a technological revolution that will affect all sectors of the economy. That’s not an overstatement. While there is an element of marketing to all the hype surrounding AI, we are beginning to see how AI and other cutting-edge technologies can actually be useful in business. It’s not all about text and image generators.
These new advances have led to applications in all sectors, including manufacturing. When you think of AI for manufacturing, you might imagine autonomous robots doing complex tasks on an assembly line. While those concepts are still several years away from being a reality, there is so much new tech for manufacturing that has the potential to increase productivity, equipment uptime, and supply chain transparency, among other benefits.
Manufacturing is changing in profound ways. Manufacturers—even small organizations—that stay on top of changing technological trends will claim competitive advantages. Technology that was once the purview of the largest, richest corporations like Amazon are now available to everyone. Adopting the right ones and implementing them intelligently are the keys to future success. Let’s take a look at some of the tech that is at the heart of manufacturing of the future.
Internet of Things
While the “Internet of Things” was supposed to usher in the era of the smart home, it hasn’t quite taken off in the realm of consumer goods. Where it has found its most powerful expression is in the manufacturing sector. IoT is about devices and systems with onboard sensors communicating with one another over Wi-Fi networks. Integrated into manufacturing equipment, such sensors can monitor the status of different parts, aiding in cost-saving preventative maintenance efforts. IoT-enabled equipment can also monitor factors such as temperature and speed, ensuring that employees are using machines safely.
For years, blockchain was a technology looking for its use case. It may just find it in supply chain visibility.
In manufacturing, blockchain technologies can bring clarity to a major point of uncertainty: the supply chain. A blockchain is basically a fancy spreadsheet that anyone can view. New entries must be approved by everyone with access to the spreadsheet, but once entries are made, they can never be edited or deleted. Because everyone involved has access to the same information, and because entries cannot be changed, the issue of trust is removed. It is a transparent system.
That brief description might already give you an idea about blockchain’s usefulness to the supply chain. Traceability, visibility, and provenance are all hurdles for businesses at every level of the supply chain to overcome. Tracking raw materials and individual parts through multiple countries and different shipping companies, from the mine the metals were extracted from to the final product on a store shelf, is a time-consuming, cumbersome, and costly task, but it is of vital importance to businesses and consumers alike. Blockchain technology can get every business involved on the same page, sharing the same information, with no opportunity for fraud along the way. This is especially important in industries where provenance and sustainable practices are causes for concern.
3D Printing in the Cloud
3D printing is another technology that has become increasingly affordable for smaller manufacturing companies. The latest innovation in 3D printing is cloud-based software. In the past, 3D printers were not typically connected to the internet and had to rely on their own onboard operating systems. Now, manufacturers using 3D printers can easily send designs to all of their printers and operate printers from one place. This capability is particularly useful when testing new designs, which might work perfectly on one machine but not another. Cloud-based software also allows for more complex designs that require greater CPU usage and storage.
Manufacturing Automation Using Robots and Cobots
Automation doesn’t have to be about deskilling or even replacing human workers. A growing manufacturing technology trend is the use of “cobots,” or collaborative robots. Like Ripley in Aliens, workers at Ford are using robotic exoskeletons to help get the job done, though in this case the job is reducing repetitive stress injuries, not throwing a murderous alien into space.
More commonly, small manufacturers will use small, multipurpose robots to assist workers in completing a variety of tasks. Tabletop robots are more powerful and affordable than ever, providing maximum utility without taking up too much precious floorspace. Imagine a single worker has to assemble a printed circuit board. A multipurpose cobot might assist them in placing surface-mounted devices on the board and then tightening tiny screws on other components.
Staying Ahead of the Curve
These technologies have already given large manufacturers an advantage, and as they become more affordable to smaller organizations, the ones that understand the technology, determine which tech is right for them, and implement new tech will get those same advantages before their competitors.
Technological progress is necessary to stay competitive. It is also very possible, even for a small manufacturer. StrategyWerx is here to assess your business’s technological needs, from manufacturing automation to AI for manufacturing, and help you get those systems running.
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