Manufacturing’s three biggest disruptive technologies

3D printing

Tom Lawton, Head of Manufacturing at BDO LLP identifies three technologies that are at the forefront of this revolution.

Robotics

An increase in the use of robotics will make UK manufacturing more efficient as well as more competitive on a global scale. However, the UK is currently languishing in 19th place worldwide in the global robot density league at , barely above the world average of 58 robots per 10,000 employees.  The Republic of Korea has nearly 10 times the number of the UK.

However, an expected 30% growth rate in the UK over the next three years exceeds most other developed countries and clearly demonstrates a revived thirst for the technology.. Compare this to predicted growth over the same period for Germany (9%), France (10%), Italy (7%) and North America (9%).

3D manufacturing

Although the term ‘3D printing’ has only come to the fore in the past few years, the additive manufacturing process has actually been around for some time. However, for years it was written off as something which could only be of effective use in prototyping and for highly bespoke products. Manufacturers are now beginning to realise that 3D manufacturing has uses beyond one-off production exemplars. The process also has the capabilities of reducing the complexity of the manufacturing supply chain. Products will be printed directly to the customers’ demands, factories will be smaller and the process should entirely eliminate the need to hold stock. Analysts have forecast that the growth potential for 3D manufacturing is immense. IDC predicts that the market for 3D printing will grow 10-fold by 2017.

Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is the newest and possibly the ‘hardest to grasp’ new technology under development but is also the one which has the potential to completely revolutionise manufacturing as we know it today. In manufacturing it is also known as ‘high-throughput atomically precise manufacturing’ or APM, which essentially means arranging and bonding molecules to form new structures.

Ultimately, APM will be able to produce larger and larger components: the technology will start with computer chips and strong materials such as graphene, and could end up with the production of entire aircraft. Size will be its advantage: a desktop sized machine would be capable of producing a tablet computer or a sheet of material a single molecule thick. As with 3D printing, nanotechnology has the potential to localise global supply chains with very direct paths from raw materials through to finished products.

The potential of the nanotechnology market is huge with most recent estimates by BCC estimating that the market will be worth $48.9bn by 2017, representing a five year CAGR of 18.7% between 2012 and 2017. There is the potential for UK manufacturers to play a major part in this global growth, but the funding and appetite for development needs to improve.

Technological advancement will result in continued change and disruption within manufacturing in the next few years. With the current appetite for technological advancement together with the funding options available, the UK has the chance to take the lead in capitalising on these new technologies.