The IT Landscape of the Advanced Manufacturing Industry

August 9, 2016

The IT Landscape of the Advanced Manufacturing Industry

Today we will look at how rapid changes in many different tech fields have affected the advanced manufacturing industry. Advanced manufacturing feeds into many other industries, so it is hard to think of a trend that won’t find a place here. From automation to the Internet of Things (IoT) to 3D printing, we can see that changes of all kinds are impacting the business model of advanced manufacturing at nearly every level.

Know Your Industry

Automation has been sweeping through many industries in many ways as robotics find a place in assembly lines and warehouses, but as the technology surrounding robotics and self-operating machines improves, their presence in manufacturing will only increase. Furthermore, the same precision that is leading to the introduction of robotic surgeons will also transition to the manufacturing of things like microchips and textiles to robotic hands as well.

Coupled with the increasing automation of manufacturing will be the widespread introduction of the IoT. The IoT will allow for more efficient management and enhanced visibility of the manufacturing process at every stage. Production will be flexible, as it will be easy to change routines, and the machines themselves will be more modular. The IoT will also allow a seamless integration with logistics, so products can come off the assembly line and head directly to consumers, without much interaction with human employees. The falling costs of IoT technology mean that adoption within the industry will come soon, and being left behind could be dangerous.

Another interesting aspect of manufacturing today is the introduction of 3D printing. On one hand, it allows highly customized and intricate designs that traditional molding cannot reproduce. But on the other hand, the commercial availability of 3D printing may cause some of this type of production to transfer directly to shops and consumers. For example, after investing in a 3D printer, it will undoubtedly be cheaper for a repair shop to print its own parts on-demand rather than order them, wait for delivery, and pay a markup on production and transportation. However, the design of these printed parts will be proprietary, and we will see a more robust royalty system emerge when consumers purchase designs or print these parts. This will require the revenue models of manufacturers to change drastically.

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In addition to all this new technology, the existing foundation of the industry is evolving as well. CAD software is becoming more advanced and accessible even outside of manufacturing, and it is now more precise and easier to make updates to a model. The notion that CAD design might not be a specialized, industry-specific skill for much longer may change the landscape of manufacturing drastically.

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Advanced metallurgy is also changing the playing field, as the manufacturing materials themselves become more lightweight and stronger. For example, UCLA recently produced a magnesium zinc nanocomposite alloy with possible uses in spacecraft manufacturing. Factories must be ready to adapt their equipment and methods to work with these exciting new materials and the nanoparticles they consist of.

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Finally, biomanufacturing is an almost entirely new aspect of manufacturing where we will certainly continue to see advancements. MIT recently developed a “mini-factory” capable of formulating and producing biopharmaceuticals on-demand. Expect new factories to focus on this subfield, as multipurpose equipment to work with both organic and manmade materials is a long way off for existing factories.

Your IT Budget

IT budgets across the manufacturing industry are very wide-ranging, from under 1 percent for some companies to greater than 7 percent for others. As the industry continues to evolve and become more integrated with technology, advanced manufacturing will demand higher IT budgets to remain relevant. Expect the industry average to float around 4-5 percent of gross revenue. As with essentially every other industry today, advanced manufacturing must place an emphasis on automation and the IoT when determining its IT budget. When implemented correctly, these two forms of technology cut costs and make production more efficient, and their value to the manufacturers cannot be overstated. A strong investment must also be made in a stable infrastructure for these necessities.

Security

Security surrounding the IoT will be the biggest concern in advanced manufacturing. When the products they make, and the machinery used to make them, are all interconnected and wirelessly accessible, the potential for a security breach is introduced in a way we’ve never seen before.

For decades, manufacturers of thermostats, health equipment, baby monitors, and much more, didn’t have to worry about the security of their products beyond making them physically tamper-proof. Now, all of these devices can be remotely hacked due to their IoT connections, and those connections can also grant hackers access to other devices on the network. Ensuring that proper IoT security is implemented into the design of every connected device produced is an absolute necessity, as the consequences could range from a “bricked” product for the end user, to remote control of a device that could cause injury or death.

Compliance

In addition to IoT regulations and policies for safety and security, regulations affecting manufacturing will emerge around 3D printing. Specifically, some of the liability of 3D printed parts is shifting away from the designer, to the company that actually prints a device or component. We have yet to see what this means from a compliancy standpoint.

Additionally, copyright law will come into play as 3D printing becomes more commonplace. Who holds the rights to digital plans, parts, specifications, and the actual product will have to be addressed by intellectual property laws, which are currently not prepared to address the reproduction of protected designs by practically any consumer.

Moving Forward

From product design to production to distribution, almost every aspect of advanced manufacturing is changing. To keep up with the competition (and to make up for potential lost revenue due to 3D printing), OEMs must implement the same cost-saving automated and connected devices. They also must carefully weigh the costs and benefits of adapting their processes for new biological and metallic materials. Advanced manufacturing is a highly technical industry that must keep up with industry trends as it designs and produces the very devices that are driving them.

Brent A. Yax

CEO - Brent is the master architect behind the whole of Awecomm Technologies. He rarely sleeps and is always working harder to stay on the cutting edge of how technologies and businesses can interoperate most successfully, constantly pushing for new horizons.

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