Frans Van Niekerk, MD, Atlas Copco India
Frans Van Niekerk, MD, Atlas Copco India, elaborates on the 5 technological interventions that are driving growth in the manufacturing industry

The manufacturing industry has always been driven by technological advancements and innovations. From big data analytics to advanced robotics, the revolutionary advantages of mode, technologies are helping manufacturers reduce human intervention, improve plant productivity, and gain a competitive advantage.

Sophisticated technologies such as AI, Internet of Things and 3D printing, among others, shape the future of manufacturing by lowering production costs, improving speed of operations, and minimizing errors. Productivity is critical to the success of a manufacturing plant; and individual manufacturers are expected to make significant investments in the following technologies:

Industry 4.0: The internet of things (IoT) is rapidly being implemented in the industrial and manufacturing domain, providing plant owners with an opportunity to increase productivity and decrease complexity. In 2020, the number of Internet-connected devices will reach 25 billion. IoT is an amalgamation of various technologies, such as machine learning, big data, sensor data, cloud integration, and machine automation. The technologies are used for predictive and proactive maintenance, real-time monitoring, resource optimization, supply chain visibility, cross-facility operations analysis, safety, and for enabling plant managers to minimize downtime and enhance process efficiency.

It is essential for plants to operate smoothly and undergo regular maintenance and repairs. However, not all equipment and devices require the same amount of maintenance. IoT enables plant managers to monitor equipment conditions and perform predictive maintenance. Their real-time performance monitoring enables them to plan maintenance when necessary, reducing the likelihood of unplanned outages and loss of productivity.

Big Data Analytics: Big data analytics can provide many ways to improve asset performance, streamline manufacturing processes, and facilitate product customization. A recent Honeywell survey found that 68% of American manufacturers invest in big data analysis. These manufacturers can make informed decisions using productivity and waste efficiency data provided by big data analysis, reduce operation costs, and increase overall performance.

AI and machine learning: For several decades, manufacturers have used robotics and mechanisation to increase productivity and reduce production costs per unit. Machine learning appears to be the next wave in fabrication. AI is helping production teams analyse data and use the insights to replace inventory, reduce operational costs, and offer seamless quality control over the entire manufacturing process.

The era of unintelligent robots engaged in cyclic production tasks has ended. AI and machine learning are making it possible for robots and humans to Collaborate, and create agile manufacturing processes that learn, improve, and make smart manufacturing decisions. Manufacturers can now use industrial robotics and intelligent automation to manage routine tasks and focus their time and resources on income generating tasks such as research and development, expanding product lines, and improving customer service.

3-D Printing: 3-D printing or additive layer manufacturing technology is expected to have a huge impact on high-end industries such as aerospace, mining, machines, automobiles, firearms, commercial and service machines, and other industrial equipment. This revolutionary technology allows manufacturers to build physical products from complex digital designs stored in 3D Computer Aided Design (CAD).

Materials such as rubber, nylon, plastic, glass, and metal can also be used to print real objects 3D bio-printing allows manufacture of living tissues and functioning organs for medical research. Unlike the traditional manufacturing process, 3-D printers can create complex shapes and designs at no additional cost. Moreover, the growing applications of 3D printing in manufacturing gives rise to manufacturing as a service (Maas), enabling companies to maintain an infrastructure that meets the needs of multiple clients and eliminates the need to purchase new equipment.

Virtual reality: VR simplifies the product design process by removing the need for complex prototypes. Designers and engineers use VR to create realistic product models, enabling them to see their designs digitally and solve potential problems before starting production. Customers can also review and interact with these digital designs, simulations, and integrated devices, greatly reducing their time to design. For example, automotive manufacturers are now using virtual reality to ensure that their cars are tested early in their development process, reducing the time and costs associated with changing designs, tolerances, and safety features.
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