Change is perhaps the one absolute constant in manufacturing. Developments - in materials, processes, machinery, testing, products, markets and thousands of other things that affect manufacturing companies - happen every day.
To remain cutting edge, optimally efficient, positively adaptable, and highly profitable, companies need to track the trends of industry and incorporate them into their process designs and models.
Industry experts are always discussing what is current and what’s coming next. To help you cut through the noise and find the useful information within the chatter, we’ve collected the top five areas that are shaping the future of manufacturing.
For companies who want to make sure they are future-proofing their processes, these are the most important things to pay attention to.
1. Industry 4.0
Most experts say the current industrial epoch we find ourselves in, this “fourth industrial revolution” or industry 4.0, didn’t happen overnight but evolved over a couple of decades as programmable and intelligent technologies became more and more present within manufacturing processes. In some areas, this meant the introduction of efficient machines and automations.
When we speak about automation in this context, we speak about any general augmentation of labor through technology to make manufacturing more predictable and reliable.
Industry 4.0 has ushered in the ability to take measurements on the production line as a product is being produced so automatic adjustments can be made in real time and facilitate manufacturing operation decisions. The use of technology and data to more accurately define the controllable elements of production means that there can be fewer aspects left up to chance.
Manufacturing processes change based on data. The more meaningful data collected, the more intelligent the process.
When an alert can be instantly sent to a process engineer as a result of an automatic change that occurred because set parameters were plugged into a machine or sensor and that machine or sensor identified, in real time, a deviation from the specification - this is the smart factory that Industry 4.0 describes.
Companies are adopting new technologies to achieve smarter manufacturing operations all the time. These technologies are leading facilities to be more efficient and powerful as well as more connected than ever. Which leads us to the next big trend in manufacturing.
The Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT, is the name given to the network of physical sensors that are connected to the cloud which allow us to collect data about individual elements of the factory floor. This includes equipment that’s already connected or equipment that's being upgraded to be connected.
These sensors could include control units on plasma treatment equipment to know what is happening as materials are being treated. This is also the use of digital surface inspection equipment that allows manufacturers to quantify material surface quality and cleanliness for the first time.
The critical data collected by IIoT devices allow manufacturers to control inputs they previously had no ability to measure or manage.
IIoT allows a manufacturer to wring out every bit of performance and reliability from their manufacturing processes. It’s in process improvement that companies can have the greatest impact on their progress towards higher efficiency and reliability to remain competitive. Since the most recent significant advancements in materials happened in the 90’s, manufacturers are looking to improve processes through data collection and analysis.
One of the exciting aspects of this data being utilized is the predictive potential of the measurements being taken and the hidden aspects of processes being made visible. Combining data from many different sources creates a holistic map of processes that were never possible before. This enriched data allows manufacturers to stop mistakes from being made before they occur and spot new trends that they want to encourage in their processes. The sensors that make up the IIoT world can discover new efficiencies and highlight quicker paths to better products.
Automation as a concept isn’t a novel trend in manufacturing, but it’s finding its way into aspects of production and design processes that it hadn’t previously reached.
For consistency and speed, automated joining, assembling and dispensing of adhesives and coatings have been in use for years. But automated, digital surface quality inspection and plasma treatment through the use of robots are just a couple of ways that automation has extended beyond just replacing a rivet gun or a paint brush.
Automation continues to be a trend in manufacturing and specifically as manufacturing processes and materials change, the need for new measurement technology that fits into the Industry 4.0 and IIoT framework is crucial to make the smart factory a reality. As materials change to meet the demands of light weighting trends and consumer product design innovations, manufacturers have necessarily shifted to bonding as opposed to bulky fasteners.
Implementing automation within manufacturing processes where it wasn’t previously used or expected is changing what characteristics are possible for products on a massive scale.
There are many elements that can be personalized with vehicles, including paint color. For coatings, the trend of personalization means manufacturers need control of their material surfaces in order to ensure quality output.
Personalization can easily lead to a lack of consistency. If you do not know the data required for a particular paint or coating to stick properly then you won’t be able to ensure the quality of the customized product.
Customization is the opposite of standardization, but it doesn’t have to mean the sacrifice of reliability. Customers are always looking for more choices and personalization equals complexity and small runs in manufacturing. This means there aren’t prototypes, changeover happens more often and there’s less time between changeovers. In order to make this trend a viable one to keep up with, manufacturers need additional data and sensors to be flexible and change on the fly when a new choice is made.
A very recent development in materials has been finding and creating substances that are more ecologically friendly.
For example, P&G made a commitment to no longer use petroleum-based plastics by 2040. This requires major adjustment and innovation. Mushroom-based packaging is becoming a viable option for some industries.
Sustainability is involved in the discussion about water-based paints and inks or low volatile organic compounds (VOC) materials. Companies will be changing over to these types of materials more and more in the coming years and it’s important to understand and gather data on how to get the same level of reliability out of products built using these materials.
To create more sustainable production processes, more data is required from the outset to streamline processes and produce less waste.
Movement towards sustainability means removing harsh chemicals in the factory, using materials from sources that are not damaging to the planet, and needing to do more with less.
This trend involves removing primers and wet chemistry processes and replacing them with surface treatment and environmentally-friendly technologies like plasma treatment that can enable companies to remove primers and wet chemistry for cleaning operations. Plasma technology has advanced greatly in the last several years and can be applied widely in manufacturing, cleaning, coating, etching and many other processes.
Looking to the Future
Manufacturing trends will continue to come and go and companies who equip themselves with technology that allows them to adapt with the least amount of pain, downtime or overhaul will be able to withstand any changes that the future holds.
With the right sensors and data collectors, manufacturers are enabled to foresee obstacles to change, to test quickly to ensure changes have low impact on output reliability and to design flexible processes that scale to production fast.
To learn more about how BTG Labs puts predictive analytics within the reach of every manufacturer, download our free eBook: Predictable Adhesion in Manufacturing Through Process Veriﬁcation.