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Future is Today : Re-imagining manufacturing

Future is Today : Re-imagining manufacturing

TA News Bureau

Global competition is getting tougher, and the industry needs to continually increase productivity and press down cost. Over the years industrial evolution and revolution have been steadily contributing to manufacturing growth.

Since the beginning of the first industrial revolution during 1700s and early 1800s, which was brought about by the steam engine, we have progressed to reach the early stages of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, described as Industry 4.0. In place of steam, the driving power now is digital technology.

Intelligent automation and artificial intelligence (AI) using digital tools have started to gain momentum in the manufacturing sector. These are facilitating the effective management of all kinds of data leading to improvements of 30% or more in cost savings and quality. It is now possible to drive growth, profitability and efficiency as never before.

Through digitalization and disruptive technologies such as AI, robotics, machine learning and sensors, the manufacturing processes are being improved to gain competitiveness. Innovation is in the fast lane because of information technology (IT) deployment in a rapidly evolving ecosystem where 3-D printing is making dramatic impact.

It is noted that manufacturing has experienced a decade of productivity stagnation and demand fragmentation. A recent Gartner report has said that more than one-third of manufacturing executives have said that growth is their top priority. Yet manufacturing is still focused on the present. Obviously these need to be corrected and changed.

Now, enterprises are studying how they should deal with the expected technological disruptions in the coming years. Gartner has developed four scenarios for manufacturers in 2023. These are all influenced by customer requirements and the internal intention to change, including the strategy of the corporate leadership.

The CEOs should be willing to guide the transitioning to Industry 4.0 norms through innovation powered by digitalization. Such disruptive changes will be shaped by data and analytics that would impact R&D and advanced manufacturing. Production will be based on convergence of 3D printing, AI, Internet of Things and next-generation robotics which will enable intelligent, flexible, customer-oriented production systems and new business models.

Let us imagine how the factories of tomorrow will look like. There are no simple ways Industry 4.0 norms can shape manufacturing under technology deployment.

Helena Leurent, Head of the Shaping the Future of Production System Initiative at the World Economic Forum, says “lighthouse factories are found in companies large and small, in all industries and regions.” Rather than replacing operators with machines, lighthouse factories are transforming work to make it less repetitive, more interesting, diversified and productive.

Lighthouses factories are those enterprises that have taken Industry 4.0 technology and practices from the pilot stage to integration at scale enabling such firms to improve bottom lines and add improved efficiency.

Scaling up innovation

After scanning more than 1,000 leading manufacturers, Leurent has reported that her team has found that lighthouses have managed to adapt new operations in several key areas of manufacturing. Industry 4.0 is found to be essential to breaking out of the productivity stagnation.

There is an emerging feeling that innovation is long overdue across industries. It is reported that those enterprises that have scaled up innovation beyond the pilot phase have reported unprecedented increase in efficiency with minimal displacement of workers.

What is disconcerting is that most C-suite leaders are nervous to go the full hog in implementing digital strategies, including AI and robotics, across the plant level. Leurent thinks if governments and enterprises collaborate, it would hasten Industry 4.0. It would lead to sizeable increase in global wealth production, benefitting people throughout the society.

There is no doubt that big data and algorithms would ensure more efficiency and productivity. It is not worth waiting for cheaper or better technology to come along. CEOs should encourage industry-academia interaction to push ahead with Industry 4.0 as there are limitations to expect innovation to stem from in-house efforts alone.

If the CEOs seek to turn the organisations agile in order to be at the head of the competition, they should go for manufacturing flexibility that driven by the convergence of AI, 3D-printing, virtual and augmented reality, Internet of Things and robotics that are programmed to be flexible and customer-oriented production systems.

It is inevitable that that the manufacturing practices have reached an inflection point where established business models are undergoing transformation driven by disruptive innovation.

It is forecast that Industry 4.0 is projected to create up to $3.7 trillion in value by 2025. This will be due to an enabling cyber-physical systems that would allow companies to produce what exactly the consumer demands. Adding to the progress is the emergence of a dynamic global supply chain.

The CEOs who will be directing the Industry 4.0 changes should have certain management qualities, besides being tech-savvy. They should be able to lead a hybrid workforce of people and robots.

The leader should have skills such as empathy for he workforce who may feel threatened by automation as they set to develop a data-driven manufacturing entity whose focus will be on lean and green ecosystem.

The advantages of manufacturing under Industry 4.0 paradigm will include automated material handing, reduced waste, absence of human errors, consistent quality and leaner staff deployment.

Data-fed robots

With the continuing drop in the prices of robots, which are assuming the ability to perform complex manufacturing processes, the chances of the enterprise earning decent profits are high. Thanks to continuous upgrading of software, simulation packages, 3-D printing innovations and cheaper robot maintenance costs, modern manufacturing processes would become more competitive.

R&D breakthroughs in sensors and machine learning have enabled robots to be programmed for specific tasks for the manufacture of products based on continuous collection of data that are automatically used for further improving production and maintenance. Such robots would be technically more competent and economically more affordable.

Reports say that currently precision industrial robots are capable of controlling their movement to within 0.10 millimetres with some models achieving repeatable access of 0.02 millimetres. What is more, modern robots can seamlessly work side-by-side with humans delivering maximum output at minimum cost per unit.

Another attraction of modern robots is their sophistication to be programmed to switch seamlessly between product types without the need to stop the line to change programs or reconfigure tooling.

Instead of incremental advances in implementing Industry 4.0 practices, CEOs should go for greater investment in R&D and develop disruptive innovation that is aimed at radical transformative advances in manufacturing.

Developing smart factories should be the aim of CEOs who should use latest digital technology tools to build products and processes that would increase profitability and better returns on investment. They should not hesitate to use cutting-edge technologies in analysing the Big Data wherein lies hidden patterns that could determine business success.

By analysing complex data through digital tools, virtualisation, hyper connectivity, predictive tools, statistical processing and artificial neural networks, the CEO can further improve machine-to-robot connection to deliver a sustainable eco-friendly manufacturing regime that will ensure profitability in operations.

Whether it is blue-chip companies or small manufacturing enterprises, embracing Industry 4.0 can put them in the fast lane to drive the next engine of economic growth.

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