Manufacturing Technology: Key Changes and Current Examples

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September 27, 2023

Many industries are beginning to adopt new and more advanced technologies and the manufacturing industry is no different. As the world of technology pushes new and innovative products, many businesses are opting to implement manufacturing software to help streamline their practices and get products to customers more efficiently. That’s why we highly recommend that you at least learn about some of these new forms of manufacturing technology so you can keep your customers happy.

Artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), 3D printing and virtual reality (VR) are just a few grains of sand on the beach of new manufacturing technology examples, but they are steadily becoming more common in manufacturing practices. Let’s closely examine these new technologies and pinpoint how they can improve manufacturing’s productivity.

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Key Changes in Manufacturing Technology


3D Printing

Believe it or not, 3D printing dates back to the ‘80s. Charles “Chuck” Hull was the first to patent the idea for one of the first 3D printers because he had the proper funding for the new device.

Hull, however, was not the first to think of the idea. Dr. Hideo Kodama from Japan first thought of a laser beam resin curing system, but he couldn’t complete the project due to a lack of funds. French scientists Jean-Clause André, Olivier de Witte and Alain le Méhautéas also thought of a rapid prototyping device to create fractal geometric shapes. They filed for a patent but had to scrap the project because they also lacked the proper funds to craft the project.

Originally a worker at a tabletop and furniture manufacturer, Hull wasn’t a fan of how long it took to create small custom parts. He developed an idea to take the company’s UV lamps and make a photosensitive resin layer by layer to create custom parts. After reaching success, Hull applied for a patent for what he called stereolithography (what we know today as 3D printing). He was given the patent in 1986 and started his own company in Valencia, California called 3D Systems. The company’s first product was the SLA-1 (StereoLithography Apparatus), which came out in 1988.

Other companies developed 3D printing technologies through the ‘90s and reached many milestones in the 2000s and 2010s, including a working kidney (2000), the first prosthetic limb (2008) and even a house (2018). If 3D printing can turn the medical and home industries on their heads, imagine what could it do for manufacturing? Saving space, creating malleable prototypes and developing limitless shapes are just some of 3D printing’s capabilities.

Save Space

Typically, manufacturing facilities and businesses must store supplies or equipment for months or years at a time either on the premises or in a separate storage facility. Say you have a guitar manufacturing company and you need to store different types of plastics and wood such as oak, cherry and mahogany for guitar bodies. What happens if you run out of space to store these materials or your wood somehow gets damaged while in storage and you can’t use it for future guitars? With 3D printing, you can create the ideal guitar body that resembles the type of texture/design you usually make within the four walls of your facility. You’ll save money on supply and storage fees and avoid overproduction.

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Malleable Prototypes

The purpose of a 3D printer is to create prototypes of products to ensure they meet all of the requirements needed for customers. You can make prototypes right in your facility. You don’t need a lot of machinery or an assembly line because a 3D printer can cover all your bases. For every 3D printer you have, you’ll just need one person to operate it. For instance, you want to make a guitar that’s shaped like a butterfly, but you’re not 100% confident it’ll work. Your 3D printer can make a prototype, and if it’s a disappointment, you can scrap it.

Incessant Shapes

There are various shapes that people have thought of in their heads for different products, but due to production costs and/or the complex nature of the shapes, the shapes could not come to fruition. Your 3D printer could develop practically any shape thinkable. Eighty percent of industries say 3D printing has improved their innovation speed. Do you want a guitar that resembles MC Escher’s staircases, deer antlers or an airplane? The possibilities are practically endless with 3D printing.

3D Printing Statistic

Internet of Things (IoT)

One of the most connected (pun intended) manufacturing technology examples is the internet of things (IoT). First coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton, IoT is the concept of connecting various physical devices to each other through the internet to share and exchange data.

Ashton combined IoT with RFID (radio-frequency identification) when a shade of brown lipstick at a local cosmetics store always appeared to be sold out. He thought that if RFID chips could be inserted in credit/debit cards, why not stick a chip inside a tube of lipstick and other products so companies can always know where their products are.

Since IoT technology is utilized in retail, healthcare, banking and other industries, why wouldn’t it work in manufacturing? Here are some features to mull over as you ponder the ideal IoT system.

Transparent Predictability

Let’s say the drill press you use in your guitar manufacturing plant breaks on you in the middle of production. By leveraging the power of the IoT, this problem can be avoided entirely. Sensors within an IoT system could zero-in on the issue in realtime and send you a service request so you can address the issue before it happens instead of when it happens, keeping valuable production time.

Sensors in an IoT system can evaluate sound frequencies, temperatures and vibration patterns of your machines (drill presses, screw machines, gear shapers, etc.). These sensors can let you know if your equipment is working normally or not. If your drill press is extremely hot after using it on only two guitars, your IoT system will let you know immediately.

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Exquisite Products on a Regular Basis

Your company has set a deal with your customers to churn out high-quality guitars every time. Your customers expect the best from you or they’ll satisfy their guitar needs from your competition. The IoT can ensure the quality of your products set the bar every time.

For example, you may have a machine that installs all the strings on your guitars. What if this machine installs the strings but when a customer plays a few licks, the strings pop? If this becomes a trend among your guitars, it could result in distrust from your customers, recalls of your merchandise and potential lawsuits if your customers sustain injuries. With the proper sensors planted within your machinery, they can connect to the IoT and inform you promptly when it’s time for recalibration or maintenance.

Monitor Your Supply Chain

The inventory and supply chain for your guitars must be monitored closely, especially in cases of theft or other suspicious activity while your inventory is in transit. With RFID, your inventory can be traced on a global scale and users will be informed immediately if there are any abnormalities in your plans. For example, if your delivery driver decides to drive off course and keep all your guitars for himself, you’ll know immediately. The IoT also provides practical estimates of available materials within your facility, materials that are on their way to your facility and accurate arrival times for new materials.

IoT System Dashboard

An example of how an IoT system monitors your manufacturing machinery.

Artificial Intelligence

Though the idea of artificial intelligence (AI) is a reality in 2022, it wasn’t always so widespread. Throughout history, countless authors, philosophers, mathematicians and the like believed we were centuries away from the existence of functional AI outside the realm of fiction.

AI grew in many forms across the globe and became a phenomenon in the realm of movies and literature, but it wasn’t until 1961 that George Devol’s invention, Unimate, became the first sign of AI in the manufacturing industry. Unimate provided automation to assembly lines for General Motors’ New Jersey plant.

Now AI is harnessed for everyday products including Alexa, Uber, UberEats and Lyft.  Let’s review some of the common ways AI can improve your manufacturing facility.

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Deplete Hazards

No matter what kind of manufacturing plant you have, accidents, mistakes and spills are inevitable. However, by employing a feature like remote access control that activates the power of AI, the system can automate key processes., This means your workers won’t have to work in situations that are dangerous or require overexerting their strength. You don’t want your workers to injure themselves on the production floor of your guitar facility. Why not let AI take care of the grunt work?

Amplify Return on Investment (ROI)

Some companies are hesitant about integrating AI within the four walls of their facilities because it comes with a massive price tag.  But the payoff is worth it. AI is estimated to increase productivity by 40%. An AI-powered decision optimization component can propose ideal times to perform maintenance obligations so you don’t waste production time. This component can also inform you about downtime in your machinery, inventory requirements and more, creating a seesaw effect. As your operational costs plummet, your ROI skyrockets.

AI System Statistic

Around-The-Clock Production

AI gives you the ability to keep production going around-the-clock even after you decide to lock up for the night. Unlike humans, machinery can work 24 hours a day nonstop without food, water or sleep. If you have an order of 400 butterfly guitars to fill by Saturday morning and it’s 5 p.m. Friday, your AI robots can pull an all-nighter, ensuring all 400 high-quality butterfly guitars are made so you can fulfill your order.

Virtual Reality

Similar to AI, virtual reality (VR) is another common technology that stemmed from a concept developed centuries ago.

Sir Charles Wheatstone researched and explained the idea of stereopsis (aka binocular vision) in 1838. In his findings, it was determined that the brain combines two images, one for each eye, of the same item to give it depth and perception (aka three-dimensional).  Wheatstone’s research and explanation resulted in constructing one of the first stereoscopes, or first VR goggles. It had a pair of mirrors adjusted 45 degrees to a person’s eyes. Each mirror reflected a picture that was located on each side of the mirror to make the image three-dimensional.

Currently, gaming platforms such as PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch as well as Amazon, Google, Samsung and more have their own VR headsets, sending consumers to various realities that stimulate all of their senses. It’s hard to imagine this technology could be used for anything more than pure entertainment. But VR has its own set of benefits for manufacturing, making it one of the top four manufacturing technology examples.

Lifelike Training

Let’s be honest. Employees will not remember everything they learn in their training sessions in manufacturing, especially if the training sessions only consist of videos and PowerPoint slides. VR can enhance your training experiences with practical scenarios that allow trainees to know how to perform their assigned tasks or what to do in an emergency.

For example, let’s say there’s a particular way to string guitars with your string machine. VR technology can give lifelike simulations of all your machinery, alleviating unnecessary wear and tear that could result from trainees practicing with your real machinery. Also, VR can create emergency training simulations so trainees will know what to do in fire, tornado or active shooter drills.

Accurate Product Modeling

VR systems can eliminate prototype costs because it allows you to view the designs or blueprints of your products to identify errors or defects so you can finetune the design before making the prototype. For example, you have blueprints for a guitar that’s shaped like a pair of sunglasses but you’re unsure it has the right dimensions for your customers. VR software can enable you to see what dimensions you need so this guitar is the right size and produces the right sound.

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The IoT, 3D printing, AR and VR are only a few drops in the sea of manufacturing technology to contemplate.  One, some or all four of these examples could be what you need to succeed. Or none of these manufacturing solutions are what you’re looking for. The idea is to choose technology that aligns with your manufacturing practices to better satisfy your customers.

Khaleel HayesManufacturing Technology: Key Changes and Current Examples

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