Disruptive technologies offer major opportunities and headaches for manufacturers

New study finds some manufacturers are ready to leverage cutting edge technologies while others fall behind.

New research finds that manufacturing leaders are worried about disruptive technologies – robotics, artificial intelligence, additive manufacturing, and analytics – and yet few are doing much about it.

The MPI Disruptive Technologies in Manufacturing Study surveyed more than 400 executives at manufacturing companies around the globe and found that 88 per cent report that their industries and markets are vulnerable to disruptive technologies (29 per cent “extremely vulnerable” and 59 per cent “somewhat vulnerable”). 86 per cent report that their own companies are vulnerable to disruptive technologies (23 per cent “extremely vulnerable” and 63 per cent “somewhat vulnerable”). At the same time, these leaders have high hopes for new technologies along with concerns about how will they implement them.

High-quality sensor data is a crucial requirement for Industry 4.0. On show at EMO Hannover 2019 – Sensor technology is a key mechanical engineering component. Xeidana is a software system for quality control. Photo: IWU

With so much at stake – and with so much executive worry and hope – you might imagine that these leaders would have strategies in place to evaluate and implement emerging technologies at their firms. Yet less than half (49 per cent) have a company-wide strategy to evaluate emerging technologies. And a full 20 per cent are just now starting to develop such a strategy.

Following on with this theme a Modern Machine Shop article says three major technological advancements have changed modern manufacturing. Pay attention or get left behind.

The machining industry sits on a precipice – an edge, a turning point, a revolution – one that is coming whether we want it or not. We’ve seen it before, and it has everything to do with technological advancements. They are already here, challenging old-school thinking and disrupting the industry in ways that force us to change our thinking. But there is a divide between those who embrace change and those who dig in their heels. The challenges of the future are not going away – just look at how much the industry has changed in the past 20 years. In order to exist rather than become extinct, we need to look at the greatest disruptions to machining.

3D Printing
3D printing has flooded the machining industry causing some causalities for those who haven’t been able to tread water. It’s hit areas like prototyping and pattern makers with devastating force. Those who didn’t update their equipment and processes are closing their doors, yet this is just the beginning. As the technology becomes more robust in the coming years, it will take over other areas causing more companies to close up shop. Will it take over everything? I don’t think so, not in the next five to 10 years. However, the technology is still evolving. We would do well to monitor 3D printing’s advancements and make sure not to discount it.

Internet of Things (IoT)/Big Data
This is a big advancement, and it’s the fastest moving, most disruptive one. Having already revolutionised the consumer market with voice-activated speakers and IoT home technology, big data is now hitting the industrial sector hard and fast, providing the metalworking industry with methods for increased productivity. Of course, this means the companies that don’t embrace the coming of IoT will be left behind. For metalworking shops, big data enables us to monitor machines and processes, receive data and take action faster than ever before, all of which translates to wiser decisions. Much of this data will be in the cloud and come under the name Industry 4.0 or the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Mobilising maintenance through digitalisation: EMO Hannover demonstrating the complexity of status monitoring for autonomous machines. Mobile, digitalised maintenance makes use of a whole range of sensor and production data that is generated to assess machine status. Photo: Emag

It’s coming, so it’s important to embrace it now so you don’t get left behind. The past teaches us a lot, and right now, if you want to stay in the game, you have to wise up, get up-to-date and embrace the changes coming.

With the lack of skilled labour, companies are turning to robotics and automation. The industry is trending toward replacing manually and cognitively repetitive tasks with some form of automation. This change is inevitable; it’s the nature of progress. Despite this fact, many metal shops shy away from robotics, claiming they don’t have enough volume or that it’s just too complicated. These excuses are anchored in the past, when automation and robotics were complicated and difficult for the layman to understand. Well, things have changed. The advancements have been incredible. What was once complicated is now simple and user-friendly. Thousands and thousands of robots and automation assistants are now being sold every year as they become cheaper and easier to programme. So, what’s stopping you?

The integration of robotics and automation is changing both large and small machine shops. As technology becomes easier to use, more machine shops are benefiting from reduced operation costs and increased productivity. I look at robotics as a tool to increase the capacity of our workforce, and as assistive tools to help employees and companies become globally competitive.

The message is clear: Technology is only going to disrupt the shops and companies that aren’t willing to embrace change. Ignoring robotics today is not an option.