The long-term direction of the equipment manufacturing industry is in the midst of being shaped by cutting-edge industry trends. These trends are expected to have a significant impact in 2018 and beyond, so it's critical for industry professionals to develop a strong understanding of what they are, how they will evolve, and how they can affect a company's operations both now and in the future.
Let's take a look at five of the top manufacturing trends for 2018:
The Internet of Things (IoT)
One of the biggest challenges manufacturers face today is determining how best to implement IoT to achieve operational goals such as reducing costs, improving efficiency, increasing safety, supporting compliance or spurring product innovation.
However, companies are beginning to recognize the value of thinking strategically and operationally, as well as better understanding the importance of data management. They are gathering operational data, analyzing it and leveraging valuable information gleaned from manufacturing processes to spark transformative organizational change.
According to a recent article from Digitalistmag, about a third of manufacturing production processes and non-production processes, as well as equipment, currently incorporate smart devices or embedded intelligence. Furthermore, roughly a third of manufacturers today have an organizational strategy in place to apply IoT to their processes or embed the technology into their product offerings.
While IoT may seem like a trend in its infancy, the truth is it’s already arrived in full force. More and more manufacturers are starting to take notice -- and benefit from -- the fact that IoT offers the necessary tools and technology to help them lower costs while simultaneously boosting output.
The rise of Industry 4.0, or smart manufacturing, has provided manufacturers with the opportunity to utilize advanced manufacturing capabilities and information technology (IT) throughout the product lifecycle.
Experts have called Industry 4.0 the next Industrial Revolution, and for good reason. It can improve production processes, increase efficiency and improve safety on the factory floor, because it provides manufacturers with better abilities to monitor and analyze assets, as well as offers them improved monitoring and simulation to help them gain better intelligence about their systems.
When Industry 4.0 solutions are implemented, manufacturers can benefit in a number of ways: improved resource productivity and efficiency, agility in meeting customers' business needs, value opportunities through the development of new services, as well as increased speed to market.
Industry 4.0 is definitely a trend on the rise, but manufacturers must be committed to identifying critical business needs when looking to adopt technology, building organizational capability and actively adapting processes and culture over time. It does no one any good to invest in technology without a framework in place to take advantage of the efficiencies Industry 4.0 provides.
An ever-increasing acceptance of additive manufacturing processes has led to their widespread adoption in the manufacturing industry in recent years. Companies have seen the value of employing additive processes for prototyping, tooling and even final production applications to help positively impact time and cost efficiencies.
For example, heavy equipment manufacturers produce machinery with product lifespans measured in decades. As a result, they are forced to invest heavily in maintaining large inventories of spare parts, ready for when a customer places an order. Many manufacturers are looking into using 3D printing to making a replacement part without having the inventory in place, saving them the significant overhead costs of warehouse space. Furthermore, the production of molds, jigs and fixtures used in the mass production of heavy equipment presents an even greater opportunity to leverage additive manufacturing to increase operational efficiency. Lastly, using 3D printing for final production is becoming more and more common with time.
From its humble beginnings as a plastic prototyping process, additive manufacturing has steadily grown and developed over the course of the last 30 years or so. As a trend, it’s here to stay. Now all the manufacturers need to do is figure out how to use the technology to best meet their individual business needs.
Groundbreaking advancements in technology are propelling manufacturing into a new age of automation. Robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence are poised to disrupt the industry in the years to come, and the continued evolution of these technologies will literally shape manufacturing’s long-term future.
The challenge for companies is to decide what to automate (and what not to automate) in order to best obtain value. What is evident, however, is there’s a tremendous opportunity for manufacturers to automate certain activities and jobs within their organizations. Technology makes it possible to not only automate tasks on the show floor, but also to automate jobs in other areas of a business, such as maintenance, management and administration. Furthermore, in many cases, machines are able to match or exceed the productivity output of their human counterparts.
The key for manufacturers will be to approach automation strategically, and doing so requires an understanding of what factors are most important to them as they relate to making decisions about investing in AI, robotics and other technology.
The concept of augmented reality (AR) is nothing new, but the technology is still in its earliest stages and its potential impacts on the manufacturing industry have yet to be realized.
Possible applications for AR include complex assembly, maintenance, expert support, quality assurance and automation. However, experts suggest the industry has only begun to scratch the surface for what it can do.
AR is a trend on the rise, though. Many companies are currently exploring the use of wearable technologies, including head-mounted devices integrated with AR, which overlays virtual reality over real objects. These devices provide the wearer with a wealth of data to help him or her perform a task and stay safe on the job.
While the technology may seem futuristic, that's really not the case. AR is currently being used in manufacturing facilities across the United States and around the world. And companies utilizing it are experiencing a number of benefits, including cost reduction, speed increases, fewer errors, and overall improved safety.
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