The latest trends in the manufacturing automation industry include the use of three-dimensional (3D) printing and augmented reality for rapid prototyping and remote assistance, respectively. However, the challenges the industry faces include the lack of skilled workforce and security & safety concerns.
Trends In The Manufacturing Automation Industry
Use Of Augmented Reality For Remote Assistance And Simulating The Design Process.
- Various manufacturing firms are today using advanced technologies, like augmented reality (AR) solutions, for remote assistance to trouble-shoot together with their partners in a live view.
- Technical issues can be expedited, and feedback received in realtime, thereby significantly saving on travel costs.
- For example, Texas-based Samuel Jackson, manufacturer of moisture control products for drying and restoration systems, uses a remote access capability known as the AutomationDirect MobileMirror iPhone and iPad app.
- The company's customers are located in remote areas that are hard to reach by service personnel. Therefore, Samuel Jackson and these businesses can log in, diagnose a problem together in a live view through wearable AR glasses, and offer feedback in realtime.
- Additionally, manufacturing companies can use these technologies to simulate situations in the contemporary world. "These latest trends help to stimulate the design process and the assembly line before an actual product is created."
Use Of 3D Printing In Manufacturing
- Manufacturers are implementing three-dimensional (3D) printers on their factory floors to benefit from faster and less expensive production.
- 3D printing enables manufacturers to create tangible products seamlessly using a single machine, thereby bypassing the need to "screw, weld for a certain category of products where they normally require six pieces."
- On the other hand, it provides for rapid prototyping, allowing manufacturers to test and troubleshoot their products before production.
- For example, BMW, Ford, Volvo, and GM, major players in the automotive industry, are using 3D printing in different capacities and purposes.
- Ford is using 3D printing to manufacture their own jigs and fixtures on the facility as opposed to waiting for suppliers. BMW employs the technology " in pre-development, vehicle validation, and testing, or in concept and show cars."
Challenges in The Manufacturing Automation Industry
Hiring Skilled Workforce
- Finding people with the right skillsets and experience tops the list as the key challenge that manufacturing companies face with implementing and using automation solutions.
- According to a study conducted by Accenture, "75% of manufacturing companies reported a shortage of skilled workers that required more than a high school diploma."
- The current shortage is contributed to by the retirement of the baby boomers and the notion among the younger generation of workers that manufacturing jobs aren't glamorous or are tideous.
- Many manufacturers are investing in automation to decrease or eliminate low-skilled jobs or learn the skills needed, while others are paying attractive incentives for skilled workers to join them.
- For example, some players in the manufacturing industry, such as ASM Assembly Systems, are using Sawyer, a collaborative robotic solution by Rethink Robotics, which is "able to learn and perform complex tasks by having a human counterpart guide it through the process." Afterwards, Sawyer can "perform the task with ultimate precision."
Security & Safety Concerns
- One of the major issues with developing automation for the manufacturing industry is the unforeseen effect it has on workers' safety.
- Additionally, the automation systems for the manufacturing industry are built on the cloud and, therefore, are susceptible to online vulnerabilities.
- Manufacturers are tackling the workers' safety concerns challenge in four ways: stopped state monitoring, speed & separation monitoring, hand guiding, and power and force limiting.
- On the other hand, they are tackling the security concern through data differentiation — separating and keeping isolated sensitive data, like intellectual properties, financial data, and processes from non-sensitive vendor information.
To identify the trends and challenges the manufacturing automation industry faces, the research team located those trends and challenges talked mostly about by industry experts, and discussed in more than two authoritative articles. For each trend or challenge, we explained what players in this space are doing.