Even as we continue to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic, manufacturers need to think about technology and the future of their businesses.
Here are five technologies every manufacturing leader should be considering.
Mixed reality (MR)
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have combined into mixed reality. Application and acceptance within the manufacturing industry have passed the gaming and prototype stages. MR is now used to help manufacturers develop training and learning tools specific to their companies. It can reduce training time, improve employee retention, and allow new employees to hit the floor at higher productivity levels than conventional training. MR is also used in field service and installation operations as well as in assisting remote troubleshooting of customer equipment, with the potential to increase customer satisfaction and reduce downtime.
Artificial intelligence (AI)
There is a lot of hype and misconception about AI in manufacturing, but I think AI and machine learning have grown to the point where they can be used by manufacturers of all sizes. AI can be used to develop a predictive maintenance program in which millions of data points are collected and analyzed in real time, flagging potential equipment issues before they happen. AI can also be used to develop a better market demand and forecasting model, which can be paired with your operations data to reduce stock-outs and ensure customer deliveries are met. In most cases, AI cannot make decisions for you, but it can crunch data and provide you with analytics that are more accurate and timelier than current methods. AI can help predict and forecast unplanned events and, in some cases, allow you to have a solution ready before an event happens.
5G can help you build a smarter factory. It can transfer and stream data up to 100 times faster and in higher quality than current 4G. This could allow wireless connections to your machines, equipment, and systems with nearly unrestricted data flow. Another benefit is that 5G networks seem to be safer and less vulnerable then current 4G networks. Think of all the operations data you could have real-time access to. 5G is a technology you will want to consider.
While still relatively new and often used to track cryptocurrency, blockchain is moving forward as a tool that could track everything. It is a fancy database—a ledger that cannot be edited—that tells you the full story of a product. It can track each individual component of the product from the origins of materials to manufacturing processes used to make a component with dates, times, and other data. You will know what you are getting, when you are getting it, and how it came to your company. Ultimately, this technology will ensure you are receiving the quality product you ordered in the condition you needed it. You can then provide all this information to your customers.
Industry 4.0 is a term from 2011 that refers to machine connectivity, including automation and sensor technology. Industry 4.0 allows you to monitor, measure, and track equipment functions and communicate that information to data centers and processing units, giving you a real-time picture of what is happening on your manufacturing floor. Industry 5.0 is the next step, which incorporates humans along with automation, robots, and smart factories. Humans and machines will collaborate and cooperate, allowing human intelligence and emotions to work with the cognitive computing and power of machines. It will allow up-skilling of employees and give you the flexibility to customize your product to an individual client’s needs and tastes without sacrificing the benefits of high-volume efficiencies within your operations.
All these technologies can translate into higher efficiencies, better quality, and greater product customization, which can lead to improved customer satisfaction. To fully benefit, you need to identify which technologies could improve your operation and implement them before your competition does.
Planning for the future of your company is a vital part of your investment strategy. The future for manufacturing is here, and it looks great.