The top three trends driving the factory of the future
All around us, technical innovation is reshaping traditional industries - take BIM’s impact on construction planning and smart devices in the energy sector. Manufacturing has experienced its own transformation, but the factory itself hasn’t fundamentally changed since Ford’s Model T production line in the 1920s.
While machinery has drastically changed since then, the factory itself hasn’t quite caught up. For example, the typical factory often lacks the functionality to synchronise advanced machines, fully exploit machine data and control factory assets. But new technology is starting to come down the line in three key areas, which will help manufacturers to transform how factories are run. Together these three trends will form the backbone of the factory of the future…
1. Programmable manufacturing machines
Customisation, a trend that’s prevalent in the consumer market, is encouraging a new direction in industrial manufacturing. Customers are willing to pay more for quality and bespoke parts and manufacturers are seeking different ways to take advantage of this. 5-axis CNC machines, robots and additive manufacturing are helping manufacturers to make this possible.
With 5-axis machines, manufacturers can create complex shapes faster compared to other common CAM solutions. Using design software, high-quality toolpaths can be pre-programmed to keep the production lines running overnight. Tasks that were previously manual and physically demanding can be performed more efficiently by machines, freeing up time for more complex and creative work. For example, tooling company Formaplex has been using 5-axis machining to meet time critical deadlines, maintain quality and improve efficiency. In the future, this will mean the engineer’s role will change even with humans and machines working together to create unimaginable new products in a 24-hour factory
By working collaboratively with machines, we’ll be able to further techniques that are already having a huge impact on how things are being made. Additive is a key area here. The aerospace and automotive industries are leading the way in this technique, with parts being printed using multiple materials, combining their properties into something greater than the sum of their parts. What’s more, the future will see us being able to even print whole circuit boards, which will be integral for the development the industrial IoT.
2. Improved tools for planning and managing factory facilities and assets
For many manufacturers, production planning is often a live exercise, driven in part by bespoke, complex and last-minute requests disrupting regular schedules. To consistently deliver to high standards, manufacturers are investing in agile tooling and design processes. While this can slash production times, there’s more to be done when it comes to perfecting planning tools to work your assets.
Manufacturers can learn from the advantages of incorporating simulation in the design process by applying the same technique for managing factory facilities. These tools aren’t available yet but soon manufacturers will be able to create a simulated digital twin of the factory. In doing so, bottlenecks and inefficiencies can be smoothed out to improve the working factory.
This development isn’t too far away - take the BIM (Building Information Modelling) approach that’s completely revolutionised construction. Soon we’ll be able to simulate the entire manufacturing processes. This will lead to manufacturers and designers working more closely together as the entire workflow, from design to manufacture, will be pre-imagined and perfected before the work takes place.
3. Connected devices and the Internet of Things
Connected devices are a pillar of the next step in the industrial revolution and the factory of the future will be driven by innovation in this area. Customer demand is accelerating this and early adoptive industries such as automotive are reaping the rewards. Manufacturers are already using sensors to perfect and monitor how things are made and are even inserting connected devices into the end product to track its performance afterwards.
We’re only scratching the surface of what can be achieved. To harness all this data and use it to its full advantage, designers and manufacturers will need to come together to test what is possible in the factory of tomorrow. Designers and manufacturers will also need to work closely with software development and data analysis teams by having connectivity in mind from the very start. Without these close relationships and new ways of working, the IoT and factory 4.0 won’t be able to reach its full potential.
Manufacturers will truly start to see the benefits when they look to combine all three trends to create the factory of the future. The tools and technologies are out there now, or are currently in development and forward thinking manufacturers must plan for these opportunities. 2017 will be the time to take the first steps towards reinventing the factory as we know it.
Pete Baxter, Vice President Worldwide Digital Manufacturing Sales at Autodesk
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IMF: Variants Can Still Hurt Manufacturing Recovery
After a year of on-and-off manufacturing in the US, UK, and the eurozone, demand for goods surged early last week. Factories set growth records in April and May, suppliers started to recover, and US crude hit its highest price point since pre-COVID. As vaccination efforts immunise much of the US and UK populations, manufacturers are now able to fully ramp up their supply chains. In fact, GDP growth could approach double-digits by 2022.
Now, the ISM productivity measure has surpassed the 50-point mark that separates industry expansion from contraction. Since U.S. president Biden passed his US$1.9tn stimulus package and the UK purchasing managers index (PMI) increased to 65.6, both sides of the Atlantic are facing a much-welcomed manufacturing recovery.
Lingering Concerns Over COVID
Even as Spain, France, Italy, and Germany race to catch up, and mining companies pushed the FTSE 100 index of list shares to a monthly high of 7,129, some say that UK and US markets still suffer from a lack of confidence in raw material supplies. Yes, the Dow Jones has made up its 19,173-point crash of March 2020, and MSCI’s global stock index is at an all-time high.
Yet manufacturers around the world realise that these wins will be short-lived until pandemic supply chain bottlenecks are solved. If we keep the status quo, consumers will pay the price. In April, inflation in Germany reached 2.4%, and across the EU’s 19 member countries, overall prices have increased at an unusual pace. Some ask: Is this true recovery?
IMF: Current Boom Could Falter
Even as Elon Musk tweeted about chip shortages forcing Tesla to raise its prices, UK mining demand skyrocketed; housing markets lifted; and the pound sterling gained value. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), however, cautioned that manufacturing recovery won’t last long if COVID mutates into forms our vaccinations can’t touch. Kristalina Georgieva, Washington’s IMF director, noted that fewer than 1% of African citizens have been vaccinated: “Worldwide access to vaccines offers the best hope for stopping the coronavirus pandemic, saving lives, and securing a broad-based economic recovery”.
Across the globe, manufacturing companies are keeping a watchful eye on new developments in the spread of COVID. Though US FDA officials don’t think we’ll have to “start at square one” with new vaccines, the March 2021 World Economic Outlook states that “high uncertainty” surrounds the projected 6% global growth. Continued manufacturing success will in large part depend on “the path of the pandemic, the effectiveness of policy support, and the evolution of financial conditions”.
Mathias Cormann, secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) concurred—without global immunisation, the estimated economic boom expected by 2025 could go kaput. “We need to...pursue an all-out effort to reach the entire world population”, Australia’s finance minister added. US$50bn to end COVID across the world, they imply, is a small investment to restart our economies.