Manufacturing Efficiency: Is Your Production Line Already Outdated?

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Manufacturing Advances and Innovations

As technology marches on relentlessly it sometimes seems there are new advances and innovations almost every day. While this, of course, can be a good thing, you might also find that rapid technological progress can be a touch overwhelming when it comes to managing your business. In fact, when you have spent time and money to set up state of the art manufacturing systems it is something of a shock to find they are overtaken and out of date sooner than anticipated. However, that’s exactly how competitors can edge you out of business.

Yet progress that results in manufacturing processes becoming more streamlined and more profitable is all to the good: your production line will work more quickly and efficiently. If you want to be aware of future possibilities as well as current realities you need to turn your attention to disruptive technology – those innovations and advances that are already changing how businesses operate and have the potential to do even more in the future. Here are just a few examples to consider.

3D printing

How will your business be affected when customers can buy a blueprint of an item, take it home and print it on a 3D printer instead of buying it from you? Not as far-fetched as you might imagine, these ‘printers’ are becoming increasingly smarter and can replicate quite intricate objects. They are also becoming cheaper and are certainly capable of producing larger scale items. You need to take seriously the fact that 3D printers can now handle a wide variety of materials, including plastic, metal, blended materials and, as the medical industry knows, human tissue.

Many tech commentators believe that 3D printing will force a rethink in the manufacturing industry as engineers and designers adapt existing working methods to accommodate the new technology. Writing for techcrunch.com, Filemon Schoffer pitches the advantages of mass manufacturing against those of 3D printing and concludes that certain industries are already or are likely to be disrupted, including fashion, food, medicine and aerospace.

a 3d printer.
3D printer.

Robotics

Developments in robotics today were once the stuff of science fiction novels and movies; however, there have been amazing strides forward in terms of progress in that field. In an article for fortune.com – part of the Time.com network – Anne VanderMey reveals that sales of industrial robots increased by 170 percent between 2009 and 2011. That growth rate has not slowed down, far from it, and in 2014 the International Federation of Robotics declared the highest level of robotics sales ever recorded in a single year, a further increase of 29 percent.

China is in the leading position here and the sales occurred across all industries. Obviously, robotics development is crucial in terms of production line technology and the main factors that have driven growth are the automotive industry and the electronics industry, including the manufacture of electrical goods.

Welding technology

Welding is a specialist blend of science and technology and has already been impacted by robotics. Manufacturers use robot-guided welding and cutting equipment to carry out a range of tasks requiring precision and fast results. Ultrasonic welding and cutting machines, such as those featured at rinco-usa.com, can be handheld or standalone workstations controlled by generators. Today, machines are capable of delicate operations as well as technically challenging work. You can use cutting machines for everything from synthetic materials to thermoplastic parts, while packaging is becoming ever more efficient.

Last year Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland announced the development of a new welding system. Said to be “self-adjusting, flexible and adaptable” the new welding tech can be combined with a wide range of manufacturing power supplies and a variety of robotic systems. Thanks to close monitoring, when an error is detected it is automatically corrected. This new system is ideal for high strength steel welding, such as is used in the construction industry.

an arc welding robot.
Arc welding robot

Energy

Energy costs and energy storage have a major effect on manufacturing industries, so the fact that the costs of lithium-ion battery packs are predicted to fall in the next decade will have repercussions across several industries – the electric car, power generation, gas, oil and energy storage. As batteries become cheaper and more efficient when it comes to energy storage, transportation is likely to change to adapt.

In the meantime larger companies such as car manufacturers are funding university research teams around the world in the hope that new developments will significantly improve performance and several different types of batteries are being tested. These include sodium-ion, foam, solid state and aluminum graphite batteries. There are also batteries in development harnessing enhanced power from water, air, the sun, sound and even skin and urine.

Predictive Maintenance

You probably know all about Big Data and the processes that can make your manufacturing systems more efficient by measuring, collecting and analyzing operations. Many industries are using the data to design and implement predictive maintenance more effectively. Advanced technologies are emerging and early adopters are likely to benefit by being able to detect and prevent maintenance problems cutting both downtime and costs. This is highly likely to spread to every area of manufacturing so you need to consider how you can make best use of Big Data to combine it with your predictive maintenance technology systems.

Keep Up to Speed

As so many technological advances eventually affect almost every corner of the manufacturing sector, it pays to keep an eye on new trends. Choosing not to do so could put your business at risk. Your competitors are likely to be keen to stay on top of any developments that are going to impact their business and the good news is that online information is accessible and usually accurate, as long as you choose reliable sources. Sites such as techcrunch.com and fortune.com frequently publish authoritative information, and university physics and technology departments regularly publish papers online about innovative research. If you haven’t already done so you can set up a daily alert so that fresh information arrives in your mailbox as soon as it appears online.

Eain Johnson writes interesting stories related to lifestyle, health and travel. Eain has a passion for enjoying life, and it shows in his writing. He sometimes tackles unusual stories that inform and entertain.