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According to a study released last month, 2016 is set to be a watershed year for manufacturing, with the industry to be ‘reinvented’ by trends in areas including automation, 3D printing and data. Brent Balinski reports.
The annual Technology Landscape report by US-based software company Citrix analyses the impact and trajectory of technologies, predicting what the next five years might bring for people’s workplaces and lives.
“A number of things are going to happen over the next few years as the industry changes,” Guy Bieber, Citrix’s Director of Strategy and Architecture told Manufacturers’ Monthly.
“For instance, 3D printing in many materials and simple electronics will enable customisation and manufacturing to come closer to the point of consumption, leading to more distributed and custom manufacturing work.”
Improved resolution in 3D printing, the ability to print in newer materials such as graphene, and increasing affordability (for example in energy costs and materials) will all have a huge influence.
“The breakthrough moment,” said Bieber, “would be when one customised part costs the same per unit to produce as a million of the same part.”
The year 2016, says Citrix, would be a “tipping point” for manufacturing.
Another influence on the industry’s “reinvention” would be increasingly affordable general-purpose robotics, such as the Baxter machine.
Such robots would be within the reach of smaller businesses, and would see the more basic parts of manufacturing be handed over to automated processes.
“By 2016, manufacturing jobs will start to shift around more intricate work, including the training and maintaining of robots, as well as working on optimising manufacturing processes,” said Bieber.
The trend towards automation is an employment concern for some in the industry, especially at the production line level. Sales for factory robots are at their highest, and in 2013 more than half of those sold worldwide were installed in this region.
The International Federation of Robotics predicts that the number of installations will only continue to rise into the future.
According to Citrix, further investment in robotics won’t mean a massive reduction in employment. Bieber predicts adaptation to newer roles created by the automation trend.
“While general-purpose robotics will help increase output, there will still be a significant human element,” he said.
The Technology Landscape recommends ways for businesses in general to adapt to the changing landscape, which is themed in this year’s report around “Joie De Vivre”.
A Software as a Service (SaaS) first approach will be useful, as will a divestment of devices and data centres and a reinvention of facilities (which were underutilised). Talent could be accessed remotely.
Two other recommendations were that businesses be data-driven and “compete on experiences”.
Data harnessed from machines would be captured and made useful as the Internet of Things develops.
Sometimes referred to by other names such as Industry 4.0 (usually by German companies such as Bosch and Siemens), the IoT will connect over 30 billion machines in 2020 and create $1.9 trillion of added value by that time, according to tech research firm Gartner.
At the factory level, harnessing data – and most importantly, making sense of and making decisions based on it – will see real value created.
Benefits highlighted before have included in predictive maintenance of machinery, supply chain visibility, and “bridging the gap” between production and those at the corporate level.
“As organisations increasingly look to use IoT and create applications for it, such as how connected devices can be secured, how they will communicate, and how they will work together to do greater things, the hype around IoT will convert into real value,” said Bieber.
Another recommendation, “Competing on experiences”, might sound like an empty marketing slogan to some, but Bieber explained that there are concrete examples of where it’s successful.
“Ultimately if people don’t enjoy the utility of your product they will cease to purchase it or recommend it to others,” he said.
“Ever since Apple demonstrated how great design could create amazing experiences through functionality rather than just aesthetics, many industries have taken notice.”
Differentiating from competitors by user experiences through “disruptive innovation” to “deliver delight” might also sound like something from a TED Talk parody, but it’s already an essential part of success, argues Citrix.
“Consider the mp3 and smartphone markets before Apple,” said Bieber.
“Design thinking has become a common mantra in corporate ideology.
“The important thing here is the customising of experience. For example, if my manufacturing process allows me to customise my clothes to create a better fit, or a more comfortable hearing aid, it makes for a better experience.”