Manufacturing technology advances help businesses compete. IT provides the infrastructure that lets technologies like robotics and artificial intelligence work
What’s behind the growth in manufacturing output and employment? One factor is the advance of manufacturing technology. This enables productivity growth that lowers costs and lets US-based manufacturers out-compete those overseas. Historically, manufacturing technology meant machines, processes and equipment. Today, advances in manufacturing technology are linked to the emergence of new information technology (IT) capabilities.
Picture the blacksmith’s anvil and the spinning wheel. These are examples of early manufacturing technologies. Metals were cast, forged and milled or turned to their final shape. Threads were spun into yarns for weaving into cloth. Mechanization and stronger materials increased speeds and boosted productivity. And then automation arrived.
Considered the third industrial revolution, computerization led to PLCs, robots and automated processes. Controllers and software ran manufacturing equipment. Humans moved to supervisory roles and those not amenable to automation like jobs needing dexterous manipulation. Productivity continued to climb, but where was the next advance?
The last two decades have seen an explosion in manufacturing innovation. Novel fabrication methods, enhanced sensor capabilities, new communication technologies and advanced data analysis capabilities promise another era of rising productivity.
In truth, many of these first appeared towards the end of the 20th Century, but were held back by limited IT capabilities. Today computers run orders of magnitude faster and data storage is fast and cheap. Ethernet, wireless and cellular networks are everywhere and artificial intelligence is moving onto the factory floor.
So what are these new manufacturing technologies? Here’s a partial list.
Colloquially, “3D printing,” although that’s just a subset of additive. This is about making parts by putting things together rather than machining away. Early systems used only polymers but today metal additive is growing rapidly, with the promise of making actual production parts.
These are proliferating rapidly across every industry and in every factory. They find inspect products more consistently than any human, they measure and control processes, and they provide the “eyes” that let robots pick and place parts in unstructured environments.
Computer-Aided Design, Computer-Aided Manufacturing, virtual and augmented reality: just some of the tools that take design concepts to reality faster than before. There’s less need for physical prototyping and testing because much is done in software, and the end product delivers higher performance than previously.
These have sensor and safety systems that can eliminate the need for guarding. Less expensive and easier to use than traditional robots, cobot numbers are growing rapidly in manufacturing as well as test labs and R&D.
Manufacturing is a competitive business and it’s vital to stay ahead. By utilizing advanced manufacturing technology, businesses small and large can increase productivity and cut costs.
Today’s manufacturing technologies rely on IT support. IT provides the infrastructure and capabilities that are enabling these step changes. Data Magic Computer Services understands what’s needed and can help you move forward. Contact us at 469-213-6508 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.