Technology isn’t standing still. But while all of us are used to the rapid pace of change of IT, it might be a surprise to realise just how much ordinary manufacturing technologies are changing, as well.
In many instances, that innovation is of course down to leveraging manufacturing technologies with IT capabilities. In other cases, while IT plays a role, the core underlying manufacturing technology represents a genuine advance.
But in every case, the technologies that I’m showcasing here are either already being adopted, or close to being ready for mass adoption. And, what’s more, with a clear and evident ROI.
Seemingly, from nowhere, drones have captured the popular imagination. Every 11-year old boy wants to have one. But they do have a serious role to play in manufacturing – and not just as a means of delivering goods.
Small, lightweight drones – the sort available today, which are unsuited for carrying goods – can easily carry on-board cameras with live streaming capabilities. Possible use cases include checking warehouse inventories, inspecting high-up pipework cables, and security surveillance of remote facilities.
#2 3D printing
3D printing – or additive manufacturing as it’s more formally known – isn’t new. In one form of another, it’s been around for almost 15 years. But what is new is the extent to which 3D printed parts are being used in mainstream manufacturing, not just for prototyping.
Aeroengine manufacturer GE anticipates producing around 100,000 additively-manufactured engine parts a year by 2020 – and already, the first of those parts are flying on commercial aircraft. Lockheed Martin, Airbus, and Roll-Royce have similarly ambitious plans.
(If you have an interest in 3D printing you might want to read my recent blog – Manufacturing’s brave new future: 3D printing and the Internet of Things.
#3 Wearable technologies
The use of safety glasses in manufacturing or maintenance operations is now routine. Suppose, though, that those safety glasses could display instructions or checklists, or show ‘how to’ videos? Science fiction? Far from it – Google and others have already brought products to market. And alongside ‘smart glasses’, think smart watches and smart headsets.
With workers freed from putting items or tools down in order to consult manuals and other reference information, experts are predicting big increases in both productivity and quality.
#4 Automated Guided Vehicles
Once again, Automated Guided Vehicles – or AGVs – aren’t new. But today’s AGVs are a far cry from the chunky AGV’s that trundled around warehouses in the early 1990s.
Slow and lumbering, they needed to follow either wires embedded in the floor, or specially painted routes – this limited their use to pre-ordained paths. They also needed manually loading and unloading.
No longer. Today’s AGVs are smart and agile, capable of navigating themselves without needing embedded wires or painted lines – and also capable of loading and unloading themselves.
#5 Handheld devices
For years, mobile data on the factory floor meant expensive ruggedised specialist devices – with price tags to match. Now, smartphones and tablet computers have re-written the rulebook of mobile data.
Factory management and first-line supervision can – quite literally – take the business’s ERP system around the factory with them, held in their hand. Warehouse and production operatives, too, can use smartphones and tablet computers to update work order progress, receive the next item on their ‘to do’ list, and log quality and maintenance issues.
Fast, powerful and – above all – affordable, mobile data on the factory floor can revolutionise a business’s responsiveness.
ERP to match
At Datawright, as a provider of specialist manufacturing ERP software, we’re naturally close to our manufacturing customers.
And as those customers invest in innovative manufacturing technologies such as those highlighted above, they can be sure that K8 Manufacturing ERP will interface seamlessly with whatever new capabilities such manufacturing technologies bring. Now, and in the future.
To learn more about how innovative manufacturing technologies might be harnessed in your manufacturing business, have a read of our recent article – Five enterprise IT trends shaping the future of manufacturing.
Read more manufacturing insights from Andy Gough here.