The world doesn’t stand still. So, it’s important for manufacturers to keep abreast of emerging manufacturing technology trends—both in terms of IT, as well as core manufacturing technologies.
And as a starting point, it’s always useful to look at predictions of analyst firms such as Aberdeen, Ovum, Gartner, and Forrester Research: few observers are as close to manufacturing technology trends as firms like these, nor as focused on the needs of real-life businesses.
That said, it’s often the case that their predictions regarding manufacturing technology trends initially sit uncomfortably with many businesses. What we all these days regard as fairly routine would have once seemed outlandish when first predicted by such firms. Just consider cloud computing and e-commerce, for instance.
So what can we learn from the latest Gartner technology trends? We've examined the top 10 technology trends that Gartner considers should be strategic for most organisations in 2016 and outlined the most crucial.
Manufacturing technology trend #1: connectivity is key
The Gartner technology trends run-down talks a lot of the ‘device mesh’, the Internet of Things, ‘information of everything’, and mesh-based and Internet of Things-based platforms and architectures.
But put another way, it’s just a way of saying that more and more things will be connected to, well, more and more things.
Or put simpler still, the overarching manufacturing technology trend that we’ve all seen over the past quarter century—greater system and device connectivity, and greater system and device integration—isn’t going to go away, or plateau off.
And the critical takeaway, as I see it? Simply this: maximise connectivity opportunities wherever possible—and especially when buying new systems and equipment. Just because you don’t want to connect them today, doesn’t mean that you won’t want to connect them tomorrow.
Manufacturing technology trend #2: the future is intelligence
It does, admittedly, sound a lot like science fiction. ‘Deep neural nets’, advanced machine learning, and autonomous agents and things. Too fanciful for sensible manufacturing folk to be bothered with?
Think again. As manufacturing technology trends go, few manufacturers can ignore the rise of Big Data, predictive analytics, and analytics-driven Business Intelligence. Already, real-life businesses—think Rolls-Royce, Boeing, and Shell, for instance—are deploying such tools to boost bottom lines and enhance competitive edge.
‘Deep neural nets’, advanced machine learning, and the rest of it simply take this to the next level. Think of it this way: instead of just finding answers to questions, it’s about finding answers to questions that we didn’t know needed asking.
And once again, the key critical takeaway, as I see it? It’s time to engage—really engage—with smart technology. Before the competition does.
Manufacturing technology trend #3: supply chains are going to change
Perhaps predictably, Gartner's technology trends talk of 3D printing. And undoubtedly, in a few short years, 3D printing has moved from being a shortcut prototyping tool to a genuine production technology.
Aeroengine manufacturer GE anticipates producing around 100,000 3D-printed engine parts a year by 2020—and already, the first of those parts are flying on commercial aircraft. Lockheed Martin, Airbus and Roll-Royce have similarly ambitious plans.
It’s impressive stuff. But the real impact isn’t just in terms of products and product engineering. Instead—as Gartner observes—there needs to be a rethinking of assembly line and supply chain processes.
Not just because 3D printing makes very short production runs economically possible—including that fabled ‘batch size of one’—but because supply chains become much more about the flow of information, not just products.
And once again, that key critical takeaway? Simply this: if what you make can be 3D printed by your customers, you may need to find a different competitive edge—and quickly.
A while ago I wrote about 3D printing and the Internet of Things; once dismissed by many as a gimmick, in my view 3D printing has finally come of age.