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Embracing the Future with Five Transformative Trends

Manufacturing 2024: Embracing the Future with Five Transformative Trends

From the development of smart technology to the introduction of advanced vision systems, manufacturing continues to evolve at a rapid pace. Those manufacturers who want to achieve and maintain a competitive edge must stay ahead of this accelerating curve of change.

As we move into industry 5.0 it’s becoming increasingly common for humans and robots to work together across a range of manufacturing settings. Moving into 2024, we take the opportunity to explore the key trends shaping the future of manufacturing in this article.

Smart Factories and Industry 4.0

As described by IBM, Industry 4.0 has involved “the realization of the digital transformation of the field, delivering real-time decision making, enhanced productivity, flexibility and agility”. Closely linked to smart manufacturing, there is a convergence of the Internet of things (IoT), AI and automation in processes.

Naturally, this integration has led to the rise of smart factories, which rely on the interconnection of machinery and devices. It has a direct bearing on the collection of real-time analytics, allowing for predictive maintenance and supply chain optimisation. Manufacturing businesses are increasingly adopting a proactive approach. 

The widening adoption of smart manufacturing practices has made for great efficiency gains. This was emphasised in the July/August edition of Machinery Update, focusing on Emerson’s adoption of supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) software. Implemented by FEI Foods, this automation software has helped in overcoming plant efficiency and rising cost challenges.

A feature article in that same Machinery Update issue highlighted the increasing use of automation among HMLV (high mix, low volume) manufacturers. Such solutions have had to provide flexibility, modularity, a small physical footprint, and mobility. This is made possible by onboard software intelligence, more lightweight and responsive hardware, and low-code/no-code applications.

As highlighted at the 2023 PPMA Show, manufacturers are also realising the transformational capabilities of 3D simulation software. Enabling the development and analysis of potential solutions, such technology is helping the manufacturers to realise significant productivity gains. Users are able to create and test models in the virtual environment to ensure the optimal performance of finished products.

Sustainable and Eco-Friendly Manufacturing

Increasingly, forward-thinking manufacturers are shaping their operations around sustainable manufacturing. This includes using eco-friendly, recycled and organic materials, energy-efficient processes and regular maintenance, beside waste-reduction strategies.

Meeting consumers’ increasing awareness and demand for more sustainable manufacturing, companies are reacting to the market and helping to reduce their environmental footprint.

Industry leaders are exploring ‘green’ avenues in terms of manufacturing technologies. 

This includes 3D printing, the use of plastic-free solutions and handling recycled materials. All can be handled with more space-efficient and low energy consuming options.

The following companies are leading the way in the adoption of sustainable manufacturing practices:

  • SMC UK - producing a new air management system that enables manufacturers to achieve a 50% reduction in air consumption on any single production line.

  • Domino Printing Sciences - with interpack visitors being invited to complete the Waste Calculator for the identification of hidden causes of production line waste and encouraged to prioritise areas for investment as part of the ‘Journey to Zero’

  • Autobag - automating the eCommerce order processing with a compact and easy-to-use vertical bagging machine (using paper bags which are 100% curb-side recyclable and fully compatable with the paper stream).

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in Manufacturing

AI and machine learning algorithms are playing an increasingly important role in the manufacturing space. Such technologies are allowing for more predictive maintenance, quality control, and demand forecasting. 

Manufacturers who adopt AI and machine learning algorithms can react and schedule essential maintenance work faster than competitors who ignore these technologies. This has been highlighted in the integration of Acrovision’s Deep Learning inspection system within Toyota’s inspection process. Replacing, automating and enhancing the manual system, this has made for improvements in terms of quality, reliability and efficiency.

Attendees at the 2023 PPMA Show also had the opportunity to see the range of digital intelligence options which Omron have developed in their mission to transform the manufacturing landscape. Across a range of demonstrations, they showed how machine builders and end users are able to achieve remarkable improvements in efficiency and uptime through the use of AI and AR. 

The technological innovation continues, with Rockwell using industrial augmented AR to support the next-generation workforce. They have been using such technology to capture and preserve the operational knowledge which would otherwise be lost given the mass baby-boomer retirement. This knowledge can then be shared with workers and service technicians for improved safety and performance. The AR integration has resulted in higher levels of productivity, efficiency and customer satisfaction. 

The integration of Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) and Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) has also become increasingly common, with a positive impact on manufacturing techniques involving a move away from the production line and towards the adoption of production cells.

Advanced Robotics and Cobots

We have entered Industry 5.0, with the introduction of collaborative robots being increasingly common. Rather than being located in protective cages, cobots can work physically alongside human workers. Highly responsive, they “go beyond the traditional bots running preprogrammed motions” and “see, learn, think, and react to their surroundings” (World Economic Forum).

The development of advanced robotics has made for greater precision, automation of repetitive tasks and improvement of workplace safety. This has resulted in the significant improvement of product quality, with examples such as the integration of assembly and welding technologies in the automotive industry.

While such advanced robotic systems aren’t generally designed to replace human workers, they do allow for the filling of workforce gaps. They can also be relied on for the consistent performance of tasks that would pose a health risk to human workers.

The eCommerce and logistics sectors aren’t alone in realising the benefits of robotics. As highlighted in the July/August edition of Machinery Update, UK agriculture is also expected to join the list of industries adopting smarter automation in the coming years. The repetitive processes of planting, harvesting, sorting and picking could all be automated, with significant efficiency gains.

The rise of data-driven technologies is also expected to have a transformative impact across a number of sectors. Indeed, Cama Group’s Filippo Aspesi has said that digitalisation at device, machine, plant and enterprise level is making for a revolution in terms of how companies function and operate. 

Digital Twins and Augmented Reality

Digital twin technology will continue helping manufacturers optimise their operations. This software model creates digital replicas of physical objects or systems for the assessment of performance in a virtual environment. It enables the simulation, testing and monitoring of manufactured products.

As explained by Accenture, digital twins “structure information in a way engineers and operators can understand”. They have a game-changing impact, helping manufacturers to predict and avoid potentially costly errors. Time can also be saved in the use of machine building technologies for the development of new machines.

Augmented reality (AR) is also being introduced in manufacturing processes to support training, maintenance and product assembly. Set in a part-virtual world, trainee operatives wearing a headset can practice what they have learnt without wasting assets or risking damage to costly machinery (Manufacturing Tomorrow).

The combined integration of digital twins and AR technology is bound to result in improved efficiency, error reduction, and the enhancement of team collaboration.

Shaping the Future of Manufacturing

We are hopeful that this article will have increased your awareness of the key trends which are set to shape the manufacturing industry in 2024 and beyond. It is vitally important that you embrace these trends to foster innovation, improve efficiency, and maintain competitiveness in the global market.

Committed to driving industry progress and helping users make better-informed technology decisions, we are leading the way in this new digitally-focused age. Offering insight and access to the latest trends and developments, we can help you to realise the full range of benefits. So join us - share your thoughts, expand your knowledge and collaborate with similarly-focused partners through AutomateUK.

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