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Advanced Hardware and Software Bring Conventional Manufacturing into the Digital Age

From raw materials to final packaging and shipment, today’s factory floor features new tech like smart wearables and completely autonomous “lights out” manufacturing to meet commercial and customer demands.  

Introducing the smart factory 

“The manufacturing and power industries share a lot in common these days as both are shedding archaic stereotypes of stagnation in favor of a massive technical upgrade overhaul. While power systems stretch sometimes thousands of miles, manufacturing case studies offer exceptional insight into how modern software and hardware work to expedite efficiency, quality, and connectivity on a single factory floor.” Says Connie Testa, CSS TEC Managing Director.

The manufacturing industry’s necessary conversion to data-driven digital production is fully agreed upon. A 2021 Fictiv State of Manufacturing report announced that 95% of surveyed crossover as all elements work together to create manufacturers cited digital transformation as critical to future success. The poled interest matches the market forecast as well. Genpact valued the digital transformation market within manufacturing at $264 billion in 2020 and expects its compound annual growth rate (CAGR) to hover at 20% from 2021 through 2026. That’s a lot of new robotic infrastructure riding off the conveyer belt. While we investigate each of these technical components individually, note that there is crossover as all elements work together to create a faster, safer, higher-quality production process. Here are six digital innovations driving our future factory plants.  

Big data analytics and the star power of 5G  

Big data harvesting and storage are at the heart of technical innovations all around us, and manufacturing is no different. Tracking supply chain updates, monitoring machine health using predictive maintenance, and smartening robots with machine learning all happen with the presence of robust data and metrics. Big data helps streamline manufacturing and facilitates product customization. The addition of 5G to massive data sets supercharges the speed at which IoT responds to anomalies, and communication flies through blockchains quickening an already efficient process.  

Artificial intelligence and machine learning  

Artificial intelligence embedded into various machines and systems allows for real-time data analysis and decision-making to replace inventory, fix malfunctioning IIoT, reduce operational costs, and provide quality control. Boston Consulting Group (BCG) estimated that AI accounts for up to 20% of reduced costs while a McKinsey report stated that early adopters of AI in the manufacturing space stand to gain a 122% positive cashflow increase. In contrast, late adaptors and laggards to AI adaptation could expect a menial 10% boost in cashflow. The money points to smart machines, and AI is the perfect teacher.  

IoT’s manufacturing subdivision: IIoT 

The Internet of Things element to smart factories is so indispensable that it’s been given its own submarket within manufacturing, namely the Industrial Internet of Things. The IIoT within a manufacturing supply chain includes everything from industrial-sized robotics down to smart wearable devices for humans and acute smart sensors tracking machinery functionality. Smart robots under the umbrella of IIoT have the capability to undertake mundane tasks autonomously through the manufacturing process like basic assembly and packaging steps. Look for these tasks to develop complexity as software programming for IIoT components improves.  

The big data required to build insight into manufacturing efficiency and safety are compiled by IIoT components that track inventory, predictive maintenance, resource optimization, and cross-facility operations among other uses.  

Virtual and augmented reality  

Another digital trend making waves and inroads in the manufacturing industry is virtual and augmented reality, or VR and AR respectively. Virtual prototypes and scenarios are built from data harvested by artificially intelligent IIoT machines. Predictive monitoring, historical data, and continuous data are compiled to give engineers “digital twins” of their manufacturing facilities. This allows them to design and test product prototypes without wasting time building real complex prototypes before production.  

VR and AR also allow clients and customers to add feedback to engineers’ work on a potential product in the design phase. Finally, VR and AR allow managers to train factory workers how to handle dangerous situations simulated virtually to keep employees out of harm’s way while making training modules as “real” as possible.  

Enhancing material availability with 3D printing 

The big tech that is manufacturing for the manufacturers is 3D printing, the ability to create complex objects from scratch code for manufacturing components or final products. This capability has caught on so much it’s been given its own service moniker, manufacturing as a service, or MaaS.  

Wildly popular in the aerospace, mining, automobile, and service machinery industries, 3D printing allows engineers to code objects out of machines using plastics, metals, nylons, glass, and rubbers for industrial, commercial, and private use. The medical field has even successfully produced bioprints which are living tissue and functional organ material to be used for medical research.  

The end-to-end robotic orchestration of “lights out” manufacturing 

There’s an incredible breakthrough in manufacturing taking place as factory floors are completely devoid of human oversight replaced solely with smart robots building products from raw material to packaging and shipment. This new phenomenon is dubbed “lights out manufacturing,” which to many represents the pinnacle of industrial efficiency and autonomy. The “lights out” method not only saves human hours but also capital expenditures on climate control and factory floor space usually needed for human occupancy.  

 Bring your factory floor into the future with talent experts at CSS Tec 

Team up with CSS Tec, your perfect industry partner for technical warehousing talent requirements. The experienced sales and recruitment teams at CSS Tec have the historical excellence and talent network to staff your smart factory to peak efficiency. Reach out to CSS Tec today and manufacture your industrial A-team.  

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