3 Cutting Edge Trends Changing Manufacturing
Computer-aided design is thoroughly entrenched in the design aspect of manufacturing. In addition to software developments, the Internet of Things, robotics systems, 3D printing, virtual/augmented reality, and connected manufacturing processes are forming the direction of the industry.
Following are three emerging technologies that are influencing the future of the manufacturing industry:
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- Virtual/augmented reality:
Cutting edge CAD designers use virtual reality (VR) headsets and technologies to design parts, and that has become a natural fit. Verizon and many other companies are using VR to train technicians and workers. In fact, VR could eventually eliminate the need for most 3D-printed prototypes. While physical prototyping will continue to be used to some extent, companies can save money on materials by using a virtual experience to scrutinize parts top-to-bottom and inside-out. VR and augmented reality (AR) give manufacturing engineers real-time insight into every aspect of a manufactured part. Boeing uses AR glasses to guide technicians as they wire planes, resulting in 30% shorter production time and 90% increase in first-time quality. The work of a manufacturing engineer may evolve from a low-tech workplace activity into increasingly existing in a virtual design space.
- Internet of Things:
The Internet of Things (IoT) is the concept of connecting all objects in the world through networked sensors, intelligent devices and signals. IoT is becoming pervasive. A Wired Insider article reported that 79% of US homes have at least one connected device. When used on the manufacturing floor, Industrial IoT (IIoT) enables “smart manufacturing.” IIoT technologies can collect data during manufacturing and drive analytics and machine learning. IIoT can provide several advantages when all the elements of a manufacturing plant are connected:
- A single operations center can be used to manage all the operations in real time.
- IIoT sensors can analyze temperatures, vibrations and sounds to predict when preventive maintenance is needed before a machine breaks down.
- Sensors can quickly identify where the problem is located when a machine does stop working.
According to statista.com, worldwide shipments of industrial/manufacturing robots in 2020 was 384,000 units, down slightly from the annual peak of 422,000 in 2018. The number is expected to reach 518,000 by 2024.
But the future may not feature as many all-robot scenarios as that number might suggest. A 2020 article on the Autodesk Inventor blog related, “The days of completely robotic factories, while still here, seem to be fading.” Reportedly, the reasoning among manufacturers is that fully automated processes hinder innovation. If it were all robots, there would be nobody left to innovate. This mindset is more supportive of collaborative robotics, where factory workers perform in concert with robotic machines for enhanced strength, safety, productivity, and efficiency.
The combination of just these three cutting edge technologies in the manufacturing industry will contribute to highly efficient connected plants. With robotics, IoT and AR/VR, the hands-on factories of the past are being transformed for the better.
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