How technology is transforming manufacturing
There is no doubting the transformative effects of technological advancements on businesses. The main developments that affect manufacturing are the Internet of Things (IoT), which describes the way objects use the internet to communicate, and artificial intelligence (AI) programs, which compiles massive amounts of data for intelligent machine learning. Both these advancements have improved manufacturing systems and efficiencies and are well-received in the sector.
By the end of 2018, there will be more than 1.3mn robots on production lines globally. However, the rise of technologies is accompanied by concerns that robots will render manufacturing jobs redundant. I believe the contrary - the development and implementation of these technologies will open many doors for businesses, with human and robot collaboration being at the forefront.
As this trend is set to continue, it is worth looking at the ways that these technologies are fundamentally changing the manufacturing industry as we know it.
Manufacturers have always wanted to ensure every product is perfect, and this seemingly impossible task is now within reach. With the increased implementation of AI in the production line, it is now much easier for businesses to spot areas of improvement, whether it be in terms of efficiency, productivity or error rates.
Through IoT technology, machines can seamlessly talk to each other and react to any problems that arise. If a machine spots an issue, it can quickly alert other machines and employees – allowing the problem to be addressed in real-time. Additionally, machines can detect miniscule defects missed by the human eye. The enhancement in precision manufacturing by these smart technological systems lowers error rates and product failures, overall reducing huge costs historically faced by manufacturers.
- GE Additive partners with the University of Sydney to accelerate metal additive manufacturing
- Vivo aims to invest Rs 4,000 crore in a new manufacturing plant in India
- Mitsubishi Motors reenters its partnership with Nissan and Renault
A clear example of how the industry has been impacted by AI and IoT is its impact on predictive maintenance. The sector suffers from machine breakdown and malfunction: a recent study by The Wall Street Journal found that unplanned downtime due to breakdowns in equipment cost businesses in the US$50bn per year. Technology has the power to make these expensive interruptions a thing of the past.
AI provides a system that constantly learns and evaluates how a machine is running – analysing data and minor shifts in performance. The technology will be able to forecast when an issue may be occurring faster than any human. In doing so, AI technologies can flag any issue at an earlier stage, so businesses can foresee the problem before it worsens.
According to a McKinsey report, businesses who have already implemented predictive maintenance within their factories have seen downtime of machines reduced by 50 percent and maintenance costs reduced by between 10% and 40%. In the next few years, we will see the increase in use of predictive maintenance, with businesses reaping the rewards of lower maintenance costs and improved efficiencies.
Improved customer engagement
IoT and AI is fundamentally changing traditional customer engagement – a critical area for the industry. The improved service offering can help in negating angry or disappointed customers by creating clear communications in real time between manufacturing businesses and their customers. If updates need to be made remotely, then this can be done through IoT, and if a product is showing a potential defect, customers can be made aware much quicker.
The ability to provide data and an understanding of how a product is being used allows for remote support to be offered to customers. All this contributes to a more efficient and effective way of advising and supporting customers and provided an improved service.
The manufacturing sector will greatly benefit from the continuous adoption of advanced technologies. Many fear the implications of these developments on job opportunities but I firmly believe the industry has so much to gain from AI and IoT, and in fact, they will increase the number of manufacturing jobs available. Ultimately, it provides a win-win scenario, and I look forward to seeing what happens in 2019.
First Solar to Invest US$684mn in Indian Energy Sector
First Solar is about to set up a new photovoltaic (PV) thin-film solar manufacturing facility in Tamil Nadu, India. The 3.3GW factory will create 1,000 skilled jobs and is expected to launch its operations in Q3 of 2023. According to the company, India needs 25+ gigawatts of solar energy to be deployed each year for the next nine years. This means that many of First Solar’s Indian clients will jump at the chance to have access to the company’s advanced PV.
Said Mark Widmar, First Solar’s CEO: ‘India is an attractive market for First Solar not simply because our module technology is advantageous in its hot, humid climate. It’s an inherently sustainable market, underpinned by a growing economy and appetite for energy’.
A Bit of Background
First Solar is a leading global provider of photovoltaic systems. It uses advanced technology to generate clear, reliable energy around the world. And even though it’s headquartered in the US, the company has invested in storage facilities around the world. It displaced energy requirements for a desalination plant in Australia, launched a source of reliable energy in the Middle East (Dubai, UAE), and deployed over 4.5GW of energy across Europe with its First Solar modules.
The company is also known for its solar innovation, reporting that it sees gains in efficiency three times faster than multi-crystalline silicon technology. First Solar holds world records in thin-film cell conversion efficiency (22.1%) and module conversion efficiency (18.2%). Finally, it helps its partners develop, finance, design, construct, and operate PV power plants—which is exactly what we’re talking about.
How Will The Tamil Nadu Plant Work?
Tamil Nadu will use the same manufacturing template as First Solar’s new Ohio factory. According to the Times of India, the factory will combine skilled workers, artificial intelligence, machine-to-machine communication, and IoT connectivity. In addition, its operations will adhere to First Solar’s Responsible Sourcing Solar Principles, produce modules with a 2.5x lower carbon footprint, and help India become energy-independent. Said Widmar: ‘Our advanced PV module will be made in India, for India’.
After all, we must mention that part of First Solar’s motivation in Tamil Nadu is to ensure that India doesn’t rely on Chinese solar. ‘India stands apart in the decisiveness of its response to China’s strategy of state-subsidised global dominance of the crystalline silicon supply chain’, Widmar explained. ‘That’s precisely the kind of level playing field needed for non-Chinese solar manufacturers to compete on their own merits’.
According to First Solar, India’s model should be a template for like-minded nations. Widmar added: ‘We’re pleased to support the sustainable energy ambitions of a major US ally in the Asia-Pacific region—with American-designed solar technology’. To sum up: Indian solar power is yet the next development in the China-US trade war. Let the PV manufacturing begin.