Industrial manufacturing is somewhat unusual in the fact that it has existed for an impressive length of time, endured global financial turmoil, and has adapted to the constantly changing world. Ever since its modern inception during the Industrial Revolution, industrial manufacturing has been a catalyst of progress in engineering, technology, and science in general. The future of industrial manufacturing it bright, as 2016 is expected to be yet another profitable year full of growth and advancement in the trade. This optimism is grounded in a number of different trends and developments that many anticipate to be the driving force behind progress in industrial manufacturing. Let's explore some of the top industrial manufacturing trends to watch in 2016.
Digitalization and The Internet of Things
One of these, amongst others, is the rise of digitalization and the Internet of Things- a term used to describe the web of physical objects that are all connected to internet. Stanley Black and Decker recently implemented a system which allows administrators to monitor productivity in real time from a mobile phone via RFID tags. Due to the change, they saw equipment efficiency improve by 24%, as well as labor utilization and throughput by 10% each. Real-time tracking is only the beginning. The Internet of Things promises to expand and grow in the future. Experts suggests that the next generation of the Internet of Things will feature interconnected information platforms that calculate data and advanced analytics to provide products that are of a higher quality in multiple ways. They’ll be more precise and accurate than earlier forms of technology. This can be exemplified by a new wind turbine designed by General Electric. The turbine is embedded with 20,000 sensors, and each one emits 400 data points per second. It allows for GE to monitor the turbine, optimize its performance, and determine maintenance and part replacement issues.
Robotics and automated systems are another growing trend in industrial manufacturing. The use of robots in large-scale production facilities has increased greatly. From 2011 to 2012, the number of companies that purchased robots for their process nearly doubled. The automotive industry alone amounted to almost two thirds of robot sales in North America. Robots are not only capable of achieving higher rates of speed and precision than human workers; but they can also present a safer alternative to human operation when used in hazardous environments. It is extremely important to note that the goal of using automated systems such as these is not to replace the human worker, but rather to help the human workforce by acting as an extension of the humans themselves- a concept referred to as “coboptics”. This allows for the human workers to expand their marketable skill set by learning to work with the robots and taking on new roles. Ford utilized a robot with a laser and camera, enabling them to see exactly where to place the different parts of a vehicle. The operator of the robot can give it instant feedback to apply components like door panels, fenders, and windshields more accurately. Collaborative robots are also becoming popular. There are really networks composed of multiple individual robots, each working in sync with one another in order to achieve the task quickly and efficiently. BMW uses collaborative robots to assemble car doors, implanting a sealant to keep sound, water, and other outside elements out of the vehicle.
Then there are robot hands. Most of the final completion stages in the auto manufacturing is completed by human employees, but many have started to use exoskeletons to reduce the amount of stress and weight placed directly on the human hand. Repetitive movement can put considerable stress on one’s arm, leading to fatigue. Exoskeletons like the X-Ar arm developed by Equipois helps solve the problem and adds ten pounds of gripping force to the operator. The X-Ar arm features sensors, actuators, and simulated nerves to provide a natural feel for the user. Another task in the automotive manufacturing world that can be accomplished by robots is the painting. Robots have been used to paint for some time, but they are becoming more and more prevalent in assembly lines. Painting a large vehicle can be a difficult job for one person or a small group to accomplish quickly and accurately. In many cases, robots enable the painting to be completed with greater speed and precision. They also reduce the amount of waste created, because they are automated to only use the exact same amount of paint.
Augmented reality is yet another form of technology that has emerged as a viable tool in industrial manufacturing. Much of the augmented reality market has been focused on gaming and other consumer applications, but that shouldn’t be the case for too long. Industrial manufacturing operations have applied it to their own line of work, enabling the user to have a live view bolstered by computer-generated sensory input. Text, video, audio, graphics, and other data is displayed, often through goggles, to the engineer. Step by step instructions and training materials can be presented to aide the user in accomplishing the task. It can alert them of any quality concerns detected by the computer, and provide another level of precision and accuracy as the product takes its final form.
Like augmented reality, 3D printing is a hot topic in consumer markets, and is making its way into industrial applications as well. According to professional services giant Price Waterhouse Coopers, two thirds of industrial manufacturers had utilized 3D printing by 2014. The global 3D printing market was worth around $2.5 billion in 2013, which is expected to soar to $16.2 billion by 2018. Lux Research hypothesized that the market will quadruple over the next decade. 3D printing, especially in the industrial world, it still very much in its infancy. Many of the industrial users of 3D printing are experimenting with it and developing prototypes, but it can’t be denied that the technology will continue to grow. The ability to consistently print intricately shaped solid objects from digital designs promises to be an extremely valuable tool in industrial applications.