Technology continues to evolve, but gaining and keeping skilled workforce remains a challenge.
The saying “nothing worth having comes easy” truly applies to the manufacturing industry this year. Manufacturers have windows of opportunities in 2018. But with every opportunity comes a hurdle to jump. Technology has been a big profit booster (and challenge to implement) for years, which will keep evolving. With the Internet of Things taking off, there may come a day where manufacturers must use connected machines just to survive in the market.
According to Macola, technology drives the most change in manufacturing. Macola’s 2017 Business and Technology Trend Report showed that most manufacturers (72%) changed their business model due to new technology/IT innovations. But besides technology, industry experts say that distribution techniques, workforce changes and the presidential administration will impact the industry this year and beyond.
Although nothing is known for certain, manufacturers should learn these trends to stay ahead of the game.
1. Companies use automation software to boost productivity and profit.
According to AEM, many manufacturers these days are starting to adopt robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning for automation purposes. The challenge is deciding which functions to automate. Macola has found that many manufacturers automate administrative tasks like data entry, plant and order management, and payroll. Using automation software on repetitive, mundane tasks is fast, accurate and frees time for employees to do more important jobs. Other commonly automated functions are marketing, sales, customer service and onboarding. When it comes to predictive maintenance, Computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) automation software reduces downtime, which reduces operating costs. The system keeps a database of the organization’s maintenance operations
Manufacturing automation software is useful both in and out of the office. For example, more manufacturers are adopting driver-less trucks. Rio Tinto uses 69 automated dump trucks manufactured by Komatsu, each with GPS tracking. Drivers don’t have to be inside automated trucks, which is safe and convenient. The truck’s sensors detect vehicle defects and report this data to a central board, while also minimizing delay and fuel use. Komatsu has also manufactured the world’s first semi-autonomous dozer (D61i-23), which they say increases productivity up to 13%.
Inside the facility, digital twin manufacturing is on the rise. A digital twin is a sensor based replica of a machine or equipment. Digital replicas provide real time data on product conditions, even eliminating unimportant information and presenting the most critical data to humans. Humans better understand how the machine works and intervene before failure occurs.
2. Companies better adapting IoT implementation.
The Internet of Things (IoT) has been useful in manufacturing for a few years, but can be hard to implement. When implemented correctly, IoT has been proven to reduce operating costs, increase safety, and improve compliance procedures in manufacturing plants. According to Digitalistmag, about one third of today’s manufacturers have created an organizational strategy to apply IoT to either their products or processes. About one third of manufacturers already use IoT technology for multiple processes and for their equipment. The article also stated that document management, shipping and warehousing, and assembly and packaging are the most commonly used IoT applications in manufacturing.
Example:Duke Energy in Florida has developed a system to auto-fix power outages. The self healing grid systems uses machine learning algorithms and embedded sensors to detect and reroute power outages in a home without human intervention . The sensors sit on power lines and communicate data back to a central network. The switches then isolate the damaged line and determine the best way to reroute power in less than a minute.
3. Companies and customers explore distributed manufacturing over traditional techniques.
Mass producing parts in one central facility is becoming an outdated practice. With distributed manufacturing, companies use technology that distributes materials to many small facilities. This way, customers across the globe receive their orders faster than when products are shipped from one spot. 3D prototyping is likely to completely replace mass production one day for its ability to produce high quality parts. According to Harvard Business Review, the biggest global brands are using 3D prototyping these days as 3D printers become more affordable.
Example: Using 3D printers for medical devices is becoming more common. Dr. Jason Chuen of Austin Health predicts that one day, warehouses will no longer need pre-packaged medicines. He believes that hospitals and pharmacies will use digital design files that print on demand with raw materials. This way, hospitals all over the world can access medicines. However, Dr. Chuen says that one hurdle is implementing quality control procedures in facilities that manufacture devices rather than suppliers. But overall, he feels that people in the medical field will learn a lot with 3D printing technologies to better serve their patients.
4. Manufacturers get creative to recruit urgently needed workers.
Baby boomers are retiring from the skilled trades, and up to two million manufacturing jobs can go unfilled unless more young people get involved. Unfortunately, the media portrays factory jobs as dirty and dead end, especially to Millennials. Manufacturing.net recently stated that adopting and promoting technology in manufacturing jobs helps break the stigma among the tech-savvy generation. For example, since more young people work offsite these days, cloud solutions let employees update, complete and store work related tasks and data from any place and at any time. Data analytics solutions are also used to optimize work schedules so employees can avoid working too much overtime. Lastly, tech-enabled communication lets employees to speak with colleagues and bosses without constant in person contact. Manufacturers these days reach out to potential workers at career fairs, trade shows, and conferences.
These are just some of the biggest trends for the manufacturing industry in 2018. Manufacturers have a lot to consider this year when deciding how to conduct business. From technological to workforce changes, it’s critical to adjust to stay ahead of the game and adapt fast to these changes. Any newly implemented operational process or technology can bring great advances to a company, but must be strategically implemented to succeed.