Technology

6 Manufacturing Trends to Watch in 2017

Manufacturing Trends
Written by Ben Davis

Manufacturing technologies are evolving fast, but never as fast as they as will in 2017. For one, manufacturers are rushing to include advances in technology, such as artificial intelligence and advanced analytics, in their manufacturing processes. Needless to say, the impact of these new technologies is changing the manufacturing sector altogether.

Also, the global political climate is also impacting the sector. Of note are the recent changes in administration in the US and European politics, especially the Brexit vote. For a deeper look into these and more manufacturing trends to watch out for in 2017, read on.

1) Trade Tensions

Recent political changes in both the US and Europe have put the freedom of international trade in question. In the US, for instance, Donald Trump was sworn in as president in January 2017. And based on the statements issued by his administration, he is not at all keen on some of the trade deals made by past administrations.

One such deal is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP), a trade deal between the US and 12 Pacific-Rim countries. Thanks to the Trump Administration, the TTP is as good as dead. The other deal at risk is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a deal with Europe. Although it is not dead in the water like the TTP, it too has stalled, and its future is uncertain.

In Europe, on the other hand, the biggest political change has been the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union. Known as Brexit, this withdrawal has more than complicated trade between the UK and continental Europe. Even worse, Brexit has affected trade relations between many European companies.

In fact, experts believe that companies will need to negotiate with each other for up to a decade to normalize relations. In the meantime, small manufacturers must adapt to the new business environment, or go out of business. However, large corporations, with their greater negotiating power, will survive.

2) Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS)

To keep the manufacturing process moving, businesses must conduct routine maintenance. This could be anything from fixing a broken window to repairing manufacturing equipment. Regardless of the type of maintenance a company undertakes, maintenance increases efficiency, profits, and the lifespan of a production line.

However, to improve maintenance management, companies must also record and store maintenance data. Doing so allows maintenance crews to know what needs fixing, so they can fix it before it breaks down. However, before computers became commonplace in the 1980s, crews had to record this data on paper and store it a filing cabinet. Here, it remained forgotten. Going through a filing cabinet, a tedious and time-consuming process, in search of maintenance files was not worth the effort.

As a result, preventative maintenance was unknown before the 1980s. But with advances in information technology, computers soon replaced the pen, paper, and filing cabinet. Today, a CMMS system tracks, records, and stores maintenance data. And because of the benefits of using such as system, more companies are adopting CMMS and will continue to do so well into 2017.

3) Artificial Intelligence (AI)

To weather the competitive international market, manufacturers are looking for an edge. They have found it in artificial intelligence (AI). AI applications in manufacturing are mostly in the form of robotics. Because of the rising cost of labor, manufacturers and nations alike are viewing robots as the workforce of the future.

For instance, Japan, a leader in robotics, plans to build 30 million robots soon. And by doing so, it hopes to propel itself into the position of the world’s top manufacturer again. On a smaller scale, Foxconn, the largest electronics contractor on the planet, is planning to roll out 10,000 robots. The company has even improved its robotics program by collaborating with tech-giant Google.

Speaking of Google, the company has realized the value of AI to manufacturers, and it plans to dominate the AI space in manufacturing. But before it can do so, it must solve a problem that plagues robotics. Unfortunately, robots only perform a specific task. For a robot to perform a different function, you must redesign and manufacture it anew.

Google’s approach to this problem, though simple, may revolutionize manufacturing as we know it. The tech giant is developing an operating system for robots, which manufacturers can use across different robotic platforms. Think of it as Android for robots.

4) Advanced Analytics

Advanced analytics is just as important to manufacturing as is robotics and CMMS systems. Analytics software uses supply chain and operations data to improve manufacturing efficiency. It also reduces logistics and transportation costs. What’s more, when used with CMMS systems, analytics software predicts when machines will fail.

The software uses sensor data to identify breakdown patterns before a breakdown happens. Finally, predictive analytics forecast a manufactured product’s future demand based on past sales. By using these forecasts, manufacturers can allocate their resources to only profitable products.

5) Cyber Security

Despite its benefits, increased automation has a dark side. It puts a manufacturer at risk of a cyber-attack. According to a Manufacturing Leadership Council Cybersecurity report, 20 percent of manufacturers who have automated their plants have fallen victim to a cyber-attack.

And as more manufacturers join the automation bandwagon, data security must become a priority. However, in our increasingly data-driven world, traditional data security strategies will not work.

6) Loss of Jobs

After cyber-attacks, the second drawback of automation is the loss of jobs. Consider this: if Japan builds its 30 million robots, and Foxconn 10,000, a similar number of people will most likely lose their jobs. And these losses have MIT economists Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjlfsson worried. The pair claims that instead of creating jobs, technology is taking jobs away from people. And if technology is indeed creating jobs, it is only doing so in the software engineering field.

Conclusion

Changes in technology and politics will always affect the world of manufacturing. As a result of the two, the above trends will become evident in the field of manufacturing. So, expect trade tensions as a result of the Trump Administration’s policies and Brexit. You will also see more CMMS systems as manufacturers try to improve their maintenance management strategies.

Already widespread, AI applications in manufacturing will also increase. In this case, companies will use robots to reduce labor costs. They will also use advanced analytics to improve efficiency. However, automation will lead to more cyber-attacks and, in response, there needs to be a greater focus on data security. Finally, jobs will be lost to technology.

About the author

Ben Davis

If hard hitting, factual news is what you are looking for, only Ben Davis has it.

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