Manufacturing technology is driving advancement in the industry and causing significant changes to industrial operations. Smart technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence (AI) have ushered in the industry 4.0 era for the manufacturing sector. These advanced manufacturing technologies have helped manufacturers increase productivity, improve quality, and optimize production operations.
Adopting manufacturing technologies has had such a considerable impact that it is actively shaping the future of industry. Learn more about the effects of these industry advancements.
Manufacturing Technology Drives Connectivity
Automation technologies have helped manufacturers drastically increase productivity. Whether it be implementing robots, cobots, or automated processes, this smart technology offers a great return on investment for companies. Due to this, automation is often the first advanced manufacturing technology adopted by industrial businesses.
Once manufacturing companies have automated some production operations, the next step is to collect data from these machines and software. This requires manufacturers to add smart sensors to their automated machines and equipment. These sensors collect performance data that can be analyzed to determine potential areas for improvement within production.
Though implementing smart sensors is a great first step to optimizing production, they often collect so much data that it’s impossible to efficiently sift through. This is where AI and machine learning come in. These technologies can be used in a manufacturing environment to analyze data and then seamlessly adjust automated operations to continually optimize production. This is an example of an interconnected manufacturing facility.
Some manufacturing facilities are just starting to see the benefits of automation, whereas others may have scaled down versions of connected operations. Very few manufacturers are at the point of lights-out manufacturing, where a factory doesn’t require any human workers on the production line because everything is automated. Though lights-out manufacturing is still in its infancy, these smart, fully-automated factories are where manufacturing facilities are heading. As a prominent manufacturing technology, automation is a steppingstone for companies on their way to the factory of the future.
Additive Manufacturing Technologies
Alongside automation, another popular advanced manufacturing technology is 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing. Today, 3D printing is mainly used for designing and prototyping products. 3D printers allow designers to quickly create product prototypes and 3D scanners can be used to easily upload product specs and change the design. This has made it faster than ever for designers to make changes to prototypes.
Since these technologies have significantly decreased time spent on the design and prototype process, it has helped speed up production. Faster production allows products to go-to-market sooner. This is the most common use for 3D printing in manufacturing, but there are so many other advancements happening in additive manufacturing.
Researchers are exploring 3D printing with all kinds of materials, from metals to biomaterials; construction companies are experimenting with 3D printed houses and buildings; and pharmaceutical companies are working to create personalized medicine with 3D printed customizable drugs. There are so many unique use cases for additive manufacturing that it will continue to be a bigger part of not just the manufacturing industry, but every industry in the future.
Though there is a lot of innovation within 3D printing, the technology is still not viable for mass production. It is sometimes used for small product batches and can be used during supply chain back-ups to manufacture parts in-house for a short timeframe. However, as products become more customizable and personalized, 3D printing will increasingly become a part of production processes.
Workforce Training with Manufacturing Technology
The manufacturing industry is currently facing a workforce shortage that is predicted to worsen in the near future. Though many are retiring from the industry, there is also a skills gap in manufacturing. Many manufacturing workers need to be upskilled in certain areas before they are able to advance within the industry. New workers often need specialized training before being self-sufficient within their position.
This has forced a lot of experienced manufacturers to manage work deadlines as well as training schedules. Fortunately, there are advanced technologies that can make it easier to train the manufacturing workforce. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are becoming more prominent in workforce training. Virtual environments allow experienced manufacturing professionals to teach regardless of their location. Since there is a limited number of manufacturing experts in certain sectors the learning opportunities made possible by VR are invaluable.
In addition to VR, AR is also used to enhance workforce training. Manufacturers can use AR to train employees on machinery, equipment, and even inventory layouts. Using tech, such as a tablet or goggles, to virtually impose images and directions over a manufacturing environment allows employees to easily learn what they need to do and makes them comfortable with new equipment and processes.
VR and AR training techniques offer manufacturing employees improved training experiences that help them better retain information. Aside from enhanced trainings, these technologies also provide a safer learning environment. When learning in a virtual environment, manufacturing workers can make mistakes without risks. Previously, mistakes were unavoidable, especially during training periods, but virtual situations help to effectively train employees while keeping them safe.
As the benefits of AR and VR become more well-known in manufacturing, the industry will continue to see increased use of these technologies for workplace training and workplace safety. The use of virtual environments will drive the manufacturing industry to become even more connected.
To learn more about manufacturing technology and meet with advanced manufacturing businesses, attend EASTEC.