Manufacturers produce almost all of the products we use every day, including computers, cars, and coffee machines. Manufacturing is often referred to as the foundation of society.
Over the centuries manufacturing has changed from human-centered processes to machine-reliant assembly lines and to highly automated factories that we are beginning to see more. The industry is still evolving. A number of trends combine to transform manufacturing. Let’s look at the seven most important trends that are driving Industry 4.0.
Trend 1 – The Industrial Internet of Things
You may have heard of the Internet of Things. Now we have the Industrial Internet of Things. This is where interconnected devices are used within manufacturing and industrial settings in order to collect data. Data that can be used to improve the manufacturing process.
These interconnected IIoT devices are best illustrated by sensors. Manufacturers can use data gathered from factory machines to understand the performance of their machines, optimize maintenance processes, reduce downtime and predict when things might go wrong. This brings us to the next big manufacturing trend…
Trend 2 – 5G & Edge Computing
Manufacturers will be able to connect to their IIoT technology with ease using the fifth generation of mobile network technology (5G). This technology allows them to use data collection and processing in devices like smart machines and sensors (what is known as edge computing). A private 5G network can be created by manufacturers on their premises. This will allow them to have superfast data speeds and greatly improved data security.
Trend 3 – Predictive maintenance
Predictive maintenance is used in manufacturing to identify failure patterns in components and machinery. Manufacturers can identify when a part or machine is most likely to fail and take preventative actions to ensure that their equipment is maintained more efficiently.
This applies to all equipment, not just newer ones. Siemens has tested these sensors on older motors, transmissions, and it is able to analyze the data and determine the condition of a machine, detect irregularities, and fix machines before their failure. This shows that predictive maintenance can be applied to older machinery.
Trend 4 – Digital twins
You can use digital twins to model any physical process. A digital twin can be used in manufacturing to create digital copies of equipment and simulate the product’s dimensions. The digital twin technology can be used to simulate and visualize entire supply chains. This trend is expected to transform the industry by 2022. It is possible that 70% of manufacturers will be using digital twins for simulations and evaluations.
Boeing was able to improve the quality of its first-time parts by using digital twins. Dennis Muilenburg (then CEO of Boeing) stated that digital twins would be the largest driver of productivity improvements in the next decade.
Trend 5 – Extended Reality and the metaverse
Extended reality technologies like augmented and virtual realities will play an increasing role in manufacturing. These include enhanced product design, better planning, augmenting human capabilities on assembly lines, as well as more immersive training. Manufacturers will have more options as the metaverse grows.
Trend 6 – Automation and dark factories
Machines can now perform more tasks than previously possible thanks to AI. It makes perfect sense that machines are able to perform more manufacturing tasks.
Manufacturers can reap the benefits of automation, such as higher productivity (machines aren’t tired), greater accuracy and lower costs. There may be more fully automated factories, or so-called black factories –fully-automated sites in which production takes place without human intervention.
Trend 7 – Robots and cobots
Robotics is a key enabler of automation. It’s important to remember that robots don’t all have to be able to replace humans. Many are designed to improve the work of human workers. We have exoskeletons that allow workers on the production line to lift heavier parts while ensuring their safety. We also have intelligent, collaborative robots (or “cobots”) that can work with humans.
Manufacturers can achieve greater efficiency with robots and cobots. Nissan was one of the first to use Universal Robots’ robotic arms in Japan for its motor production plants to overcome labor shortages and improve production times. Nissan also used cobots to assist employees with engine intake installation, among other tasks.
Trend 8 – 3D printing
As 3D printing becomes cheaper, more efficient, and scalable, manufacturers can increasingly make products using 3D printers. These methods use less material and produce less waste than traditional manufacturing processes. Because individual products can be produced without having to worry about economies of scale, I believe 3D printing is also going to drive personalization. 3D printing is a great way to encourage innovation through rapid prototyping.
Airbus, which has been 3D printing for over 15 years, is a pioneer in the industry. The company extensively uses 3D printer to produce toolings on-demand locally, such as fixtures and jigs.
Trend 9 – Web3 and Blockchain Technology
Web3 and distributed computing technologies such as Blockchains or Non-fungible Tokens will allow manufacturers to monitor their supply chain and automate many transactions. Many products that will soon be produced in the future will come with NFT digital certificates.
Trend 10 – Smarter, more durable products
Smart connected IoT devices are changing not only how products will be manufactured, but what products will be manufactured. There are smart versions of everything, from vacuum cleaners and toilets to name a few. The trend towards smart products is not slowing down. Manufacturers will need to find ways to provide intelligent products for their customers.
I also believe that customers will gravitate to products that are recyclable, reusable, sustainable, and renewable. Manufacturers will need to consider this factor as well.