Mechanical robot hands undertaking CNC machining
With the 4th Industrial revolution (4IR) picking up pace, manufacturing processes don’t look the same as they did 5 years ago. With exciting new technology on the horizon, it’s likely that the face of manufacturing will change entirely again over the next five years. This will include CNC machining technology.
With the first quarter of 2018 nearly over, now is a good time to reflect on some of the hot trends in manufacturing technology that have emerged so far, and those that are likely to gain popularity over the remaining months.
You can then choose what is best for your business and make investment plans.
1. Additive Manufacturing or 3D Printing
Additive manufacturing is just a fancy way of describing 3D printing, a technique which has been around for years but is now entering an exciting new phase. We have written a number of blog articles about this: CNC Machining vs. 3D Printing: Which is the Best Choice for Your Application?
3D printing is becoming a viable option for the manufacturing industry as bigger machines can produce high-quality results. 3D printing has been used as a handy way to print and test prototypes for some time, but a new era is dawning of high-volume production using additive techniques.
An example of additive manufacturing that made the news in March 2018 was a 3D printed house that was created in less than 24 hours for under $10,000 in Texas. The completed house boasted a kitchen, living room, bathroom, bedroom and a veranda seating area. The company involved hope to use the technology to help people in developing countries with affordable homes.
2. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) refers to machines, devices, and technology such as sensors, that are connected in some way via the internet. Smart factories are revolutionizing manufacturing, enabling a 7x increase in productivity by 2022 (Forbes).
The Internet of Things (IoT) has already invaded our homes and high streets, with smart-home technology such as Amazon’s Dash buttons allowing you to order consumer goods at the touch of a button and smart washing machines that can be controlled remotely. The IoT is big business, with investments expected to reach $267 billion by 2020.
IIoT will benefit the manufacturing industry by using sensors, systems, and software that can connect all operations. Tons of data is created, that is handled by an AI system (more on AI later), and insights can be generated that will help engineers and managers to adapt and optimise their systems and processes.
IIoT devices also allow accurate quota tracking, remote maintenance checks and improved safety. Using these systems and devices creates a ‘smart factory’ that links up design, production, testing and management processes. For example, CAD software can export the designs straight to production machinery, which houses sensors and AI computer systems that check the quality and evaluate productivity.
2018 will see more and more factories using smart technology and integrating their processes. 76% of manufacturers either have a smart factory initiative in place or are working on defining one (Forbes).
3. Robotic automation
Automation isn’t a new trend, robots have been used on production lines for decades now. However, robotic automation is becoming more advanced with the use of smart technology such as sensors and AI.
The interactivity between robots and humans in an industrial setting is also increasing. Voice recognition is increasingly incorporated into the machines, making instructions easier to execute. Check out what the kids are doing at First Robotics.
Although automation displaces some low-skilled workers, it also creates jobs for technicians and operators. It also makes jobs such as handling hazardous materials safer and allows some 24-hour operating factories to operate with lights out.
4. AI and big data
Big data is revolutionising manufacturing. Never before have engineers and managers had access to such a huge volume of data, especially with the IIoT starting to take off.
So, how do you decide which data is important and how can you reach a fully informed decision with so much information available? The answers lie in Artificial Intelligence (AI) that uses complex algorithms to generate graphical representations of the data and valuable insights that can be used to optimise operations.
Sophisticated AI software systems can create plans of action and share this information with relevant parties. This streamlines the management process, meaning production can be optimised quickly. In this way, manufacturing is becoming far more lean and agile.
5. Augmented reality
Augmented reality is going to change the way we look at assembly lines. Volvo are already experimenting with heads-up displays that place instructions and technical drawings in the engineer’s field of view, leaving their hands free to assemble the products. This is especially beneficial to manufacturers of complex equipment such as electronics and intricate mechanical assemblies.
Augmented reality can also be useful in training and to raise safety awareness, as risky or dangerous scenarios can be played out without harm to the individual.
This is an exciting time for technology in manufacturing. 2018 is likely to see further innovation and boundaries being pushed. One thing is for sure; companies that invest in these smart technologies will almost certainly be the most successful in the brave new world of the 4th industrial revolution.
At Challenge Engineering, in Sydney Australia, we machine custom metal and plastic components, and pride ourselves on great customer service. We can manufacture and deliver anywhere in Australia. Please contact us and find out how we can assist your business.Sign up to Challenge Engineering’s blog, send through a Request A Quote form, email us or phone (02) 9632 0010.