February 26, 2019

Advanced Manufacturing Techniques in 2019 (2023 ‘Rise of AI’ Edition)

This updated article, originally from 2019, now reflects the current state of advanced manufacturing. It covers advancements in AI, software, hardware, and machine learning. By reading it, you'll understand not just the current tech but also see how the industry has evolved over the years. It's a great way to gain a well-rounded view of manufacturing progress.

The digital revolution has become well and truly entrenched in our daily lives today, both as consumers and professionals. Unfortunately, the manufacturing industry has traditionally been slow to adopt digital technology at scale due to the highly efficient tried-and-tested techniques that have worked well in this sector for so long.

However, the benefits offered by the digital revolution have now become compelling enough to justify the massive costs and teething pains of adopting an entirely new paradigm in manufacturing methodology. As the sector modernizes, it finds itself on the verge of a new age in the world of manufacturing, sometimes called Industry 4.0.

2023 Refresh: The manufacturing industry has accelerated its digital adoption, especially due to the push from the COVID-19 pandemic. What was once slow adoption has turned into a rapid integration of digital technologies, making the industry more agile and efficient. The costs of digital adoption have significantly decreased, making it easier for even smaller manufacturers to modernize. Industry 4.0 is no longer on the horizon; it's the current standard, with technologies like AI and IoT becoming integral parts of the manufacturing process.

Broadly speaking, advanced manufacturing refers to various combinations of new technologies and doctrines that add value to the manufacturing industry in ways that were not possible under previous methods. The benefits usually come in one (or more) of these three areas

  • Software: Production lines today generate vast amounts of data. This data can be used to optimize processes and find new efficiencies, but this requires advances in software capabilities like machine learning in order to process the vast amount of data effectively.

2023 Refresh: Software now goes beyond just data processing. AI and machine learning are used for predictive analytics, real-time decision-making, and even automated quality control.

  • Hardware: This can refer to everything from robots to forklifts, and widespread adoption of sensors that generate the raw data for industrial analytics.

2023 Refresh: Hardware has evolved to include more energy-efficient and miniaturized sensors. IoT devices are now common, collecting more types of data than ever before.

  • Processes: Increased automation will create new processes that are faster and less wasteful than previous methods while improving the quality of output.

2023 Refresh: Automation has reached new heights with drones in warehouses and AI in quality control, making processes even faster and more efficient than before.

There are significant factors driving this process that are only going to get stronger with the passage of time. As mentioned before, industrial manufacturing lags other sectors in digital adoption, which makes it well-placed to benefit from rapid digitization. Furthermore, the demand for skilled labor is on the rise while supply cannot keep up, creating the need for technology to fill this gap. 

Finally, the cost of digitization is falling as sensors, computing power, and data bandwidth become continually cheaper on a per unit basis. These factors will drive the industry towards digitization at an increasing pace. Here are the three most significant developments in advanced manufacturing that we can expect in 2019.

2023 Refresh: The cost of digital adoption has dropped, making it more accessible for smaller manufacturers. The labor gap is still there, but technology is effectively filling it. Digital adoption is no longer a future prospect; it's the current standard in manufacturing. The industry has already embraced digitization, driven by advancements in AI, IoT, and other technologies. What was expected in 2019 is now a reality, and the pace of innovation continues to accelerate.

3D Printing

3D printing has been around for a few years now and most people will at least be familiar with the concept at this point even if they have never seen it in action. 3D printing refers to a variety of additive manufacturing techniques, where the desired output is created by layering material on top of itself rather than starting with a block of material and then shaping the desired piece out of that.

3D printing allows for a far more efficient manufacturing process that minimizes waste material and energy usage compared to traditional techniques, leading to significant cost savings. Furthermore, they allow manufacturers to create designs that were not possible under old methods, allowing for lighter and more intricate designs that also perform better.

This technology has already caused a mini-revolution in industrial manufacturing with the spread of rapid prototyping techniques that leverage the benefits of 3D Printing. However, we are now seeing widespread use of 3D printing in heavy industrial applications as well, notably in the auto parts and aerospace industries. We expect this trend to ramp up in 2019 as 3D printing becomes more viable for industrial applications.

2023 Refresh: 3D printing has moved beyond prototyping and is now a mainstay in various industries, including healthcare and food technology. It's not just for auto parts and aerospace anymore; it's versatile and more cost-effective than ever, making it a standard tool in modern manufacturing.

Related article: Your Quick Guide to 3D Printing in China

Edge Computing

Edge computing allows industrial data to be processed and analyzed close to where it is generated at faster speeds than in far away cloud computing servers, as is currently the case. The increasing deployment of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) in factories and production floors worldwide is generating vast amounts of data. This data needs to be processed quickly and efficiently so that manufacturers can act upon these learnings fast enough to benefit from them.

To aid this process, some of the largest tech companies in the world (including Amazon, Google and Microsoft) are working on edge computing solutions that allow faster and more accurate on-site data processing. This would significantly reduce network traffic requirements for manufacturers and allow them to save on the cost of data management solutions. This also insulates manufacturers from any outages in connectivity or lack of bandwidth.

Software solutions in edge computing are still new and untested. However, the pace of development in this field has picked up quickly so we can expect to see innovative deployments of edge computing in 2019 that will determine the direction of this emerging field in the coming years.

2023 Refresh: Edge computing has matured, becoming more reliable and secure. It's now a standard part of industrial setups, backed by big tech companies for faster, on-site data processing. This has reduced costs and made operations more resilient against connectivity issues.

Hardware and Robotics

Sensor technology has come a long way over the last few years and we can expect manufacturers’ appetite for data to only increase as AI software capabilities improve. These sensors will get smaller and more versatile as their use cases expand and users demand a wider range of capabilities. Meanwhile, a similar revolution is underway in the area of industrial robotics. 

While robots in manufacturing are not a new development per se, growing computing capabilities aligned with improved robotic functionality are creating newer, ever more versatile robots for various industrial uses. Cobots (short for collaborative robots) is a great example of this kind of technological development. Cobots are robots designed to physically interact with humans in a shared workspace, with easily programmable arms that can do a variety of tasks.  This is in contrast to traditional industrial robots that were largely designed to operate autonomously.

Cobots allow for a wider range of uses and help supplement human intervention with mechanical processes. This field is still in its infancy, but industries have already begun deploying them in areas like e-commerce piece-picking, manufacturing, and commercial 3D printing.

2023 Refresh: Sensors and robotics, including cobots, have become more advanced and versatile, driven by improvements in AI. They're now integral in various sectors, from e-commerce to manufacturing, making processes more efficient and collaborative between humans and machines.

1. Inventory Management: Sensors track inventory levels, ensuring that stock is replenished as needed. This helps e-commerce companies avoid overstocking or understocking issues.

2. Automated Sorting and Picking: Robots equipped with sensors can sort and pick items much faster and more accurately than humans. This speeds up the order fulfillment process.

3. Quality Control: Sensors can quickly scan items for defects, ensuring that only quality products are shipped.

4. Packaging: Robots can package items more efficiently, reducing the time between an order being placed and it being shipped.

Conclusion: The Power of Synergy

Each of the technologies described in this article is potentially groundbreaking by themselves. However, the true force multiplier effect will be seen when these technologies (and others!) work together to create new and unexpected synergies. For example, increased deployment of sensors will lead to better data processing capacity. The learnings from this will allow for the design of better industrial robotics perfectly suited to the specific requirements of manufacturers. Such a virtuous cycle would be the catalyst driving the manufacturing industry into the modern age.

At MorphoMFG, we are fortunate to operate at the cutting edge of the manufacturing industry, giving us a first-hand view of these developments. We are very excited by the possibilities on offer with this new wave of technology and are convinced that there is no better time than today to be a creator, designer or manufacturer.

2023 Refresh: The synergy between these technologies has only intensified. For instance, better sensors feed more accurate data into AI algorithms, which in turn improve robotic functions. This creates a cycle of continuous improvement, making manufacturing more efficient and innovative. At MorphoMFG, we're not just observers but active participants in this tech-driven transformation, and it's an exhilarating time to be in this industry.

About the author

Josh Fairbairn

CEO of MorphoMFG, fluent in Mandarin, Blogger, and Youtuber. Josh loves interesting materials and the craftsmanship that goes into creating innovative products - watches, tech, games, whisky, leather, wood, blockchain & electronics. Josh and his team in Guangzhou, China are striving to create (& consume) the world’s highest quality products. Partnering with entrepreneurs globally to help solve the world's problems - whether small or large.

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