The manufacturing industry is undergoing technological changes that are unlike any they’ve seen in the past. Advancement in the areas of robotics, technology, automation and artificial intelligence are leading the charge in what Professor Klaus Schwab deems the fourth industrial revolution, or industry 4.0. Manufacturing plants are integrating methods and techniques that allow for cheap and autonomous production of goods. It’s undeniable that manufacturing is taking a step into new, uncharted territory, but what is the technology driving this change?
It may sound strange at first, but mobile is helping manufacturing plants take the next step in innovation. The traditional plant has computers and monitors that employees use to input data, communicate and solve problems. As manufacturing moves toward autonomy and increased productivity, computers alone are not efficient enough. Plants that equip employees with mobile devices allow these workers to solve problems on the floor faster, streamline processes and take notes. Mobile devices use applications to provide employees with all of these capabilities.
Mobile allows companies to decrease the number of devices they need to manage, which reduces the cost of technology. Furthermore, companies that standardize the mobile device employees use make it easier to train, troubleshoot and maintain equipment. The ultimate goal of mobile use in manufacturing is increasing visibility while allowing for innovation.
3D printing is not a new invention, considering that MIT invented this technology in the 1980s. However, manufacturing plants are utilizing it in ways previously unseen. Traditional manufacturing uses computer numerical control (CNC) to carve out parts from large blocks of materials. On the other hand, 3D printing creates products by adding a single layer at a time until the product is complete. 3D printing differs from CNC by reducing wastefulness of materials, increasing accuracy in production and allowing for full customization of a product.
CNC is still a viable option for manufacturing plants because it’s much faster than printing and can quickly produce a large product. However, it’s continuing to advance through efforts to allow for mass production of goods at higher rates of speed. Currently, the medical field utilizes 3D printing to produce prosthetics, but as 3D printing improves, it will not be uncommon to see it in manufacturing facilities across multiple industries.
Blockchain creates a universal data structure that can pull information from all of a company’s processes and participants to organize it. In manufacturing plants, it’s easy for resource planning to become involved and vastly complicated. Companies spend much time and money on systems to manage their vast amount of data. Blockchain is made to compile data, organize information into an easy-to-read format and allow for process improvements through blockchain reports.
This technology has the unique ability to impact every part of a manufacturing company’s business. It can track the materials, record inventory and improve supply chain management, and that’s just scratching the surface of its capabilities. It won’t be long until blockchain is capable of handling machine-to-machine communication, managing cybersecurity and decreasing a company’s data footprint.
Embedded metrology is the tracking of parts within the manufacturing process. Traditional factories spend considerable resources on quality control to ensure the factory is safe and up to date. However, conventional quality control is unreliable and completely random. Individual parts of a machine test separately from the machine as a whole, and machines pass the test based on whether a single part passes.
Factories are already using embedded metrology to an extent. However, it’s not fully automated or fully integrated. As technology and capabilities advance, embedded metrology will monitor and asses every piece of equipment in factories. It’s the next step in quality control for manufacturing plants looking for fast, automated and cost-effective processes.
The factory of the future is going to be unlike any seen to date. The smart factory will incorporate technology into every process that’s performed. Artificial intelligence, augmented reality, 3D printing, robotics and many other valuable pieces of technology will be tied together to provide automated, efficient and seamless production of goods. Smart factories are expensive in the beginning, but they have tremendous value for decreasing labor costs and increasing productivity.
These factories embody the revolution that’s being called Industry 4.0. These factories of the future are bringing in a new age of manufacturing. Smart factories will improve quality control, cut costs and become more environmentally friendly. They’re the ideal factory that will benefit both consumers and producers.
Is Future Technology for Your Factory?
The simple answer is yes. The technology a manufacturing plant utilizes relies on the industry and the specific products. However, the factory of the future will look different for each business. Change is a constant in the manufacturing industry today, but it allows for improvements to be implemented. Owners and investors need to choose the path they wish their factory to take. In many cases, it’s either invest in new capital to keep up with the trends or risk falling behind.