The world of manufacturing never stands still. How could it? Manufacturers are constantly looking for ways to reduce the marginal cost of each unit they sell to get a leg up on their competitors. And this means that we’ve seen some of the most staggering advances in technology in this realm.
When you think about it, most of the stuff we talk about on this blog is only made possible by advances in manufacturing. Manufacturing is the bedrock for the mass production of all the gadgets we enjoy today. Thanks to East Asia, the price of electronics continues to go down, while the price of college and health care soars.
As you might expect, innovation hasn’t slowed down just because it’s 2016. If anything, it’s accelerated. Over the next year or so we’re going to see some important trends emerging in manufacturing that will shape the sector for years to come.
You might have seen in the news recently that Boston Dynamics have made a walking robot that can traverse rough terrain. It’s an astounding development. But at first blush, it wouldn’t appear to have much to do with manufacturing in general. After all, what use is a walking robot?
Well, it’s not so much the walking that’s important. It’s the advances in robotics that it heralds. You see, robots aren’t just feeble objects only the Japanese are interested in. They’re becoming smart and dexterous. Intelligent and dexterous enough, in fact, to do a lot of menial tasks on the factory floor.
As a result, the Federation of Robotics predicts that the supply of industrial robots will explode. They expect double digit growth up until the close of the decade, barring another financial crisis.
The price of sensors has come down enormously over the last couple of decades. It started at the turn of the millennium, and it’s what allowed us to have smartphones by 2008. But sensors have continued to fall in price. And that means that more and more applications for manufacturers are opening up.
First, they will be used to improve quality. Then they’ll be used to improve equipment value. Finally, they are being used right now to increase reliability in some machines, like in Mills CNC milling machines.
The idea here is, of course, to maximise the use of resources, just by gathering better information. Manufacturing units will ultimately become fully integrated. They won’t just be integrated with each other; they’ll be conduits for all the information that affects their production.
Dirty Industry Image Disappearing
Ever since the dawn of the industrial revolution, industry has had a dirty image. And in the modern age, climate change has continued this.
But the notion that industry will continue to be a dirty and dangerous place to work will change. Workers in factories will cease to be seen as low-skilled labourers. Rather, they’ll more often be computer scientists and technicians with specific knowledge. They’ll have to have a great depth of knowledge to understand and operate the factory system.
2 million jobs are set to be created in the US in manufacturing before 2025. And it’s doubtful that they will resemble traditional manufacturing jobs at all.