The Future of Manufacturing

It is no secret that smart technology products are growing in popularity. Not only does this include our iPhones and Alexa home products, but the idea of smart technology has also entered into the manufacturing industry.  Smart factories, which rely on connected software and devices in order to leverage technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), automation and the Internet of Things (IoT), are becoming the new norm in this industry. Companies such as Whirlpool, Hirotec, Hewlett-Packard and many others have implemented smart manufacturing in order to enhance their strategic goals. These factories are the next step from traditional automation to fully flexible and connected systems. They will aid in cutting costs through streamlined efficiencies and, in turn, increase profitability. As manufacturing companies realize the need to adapt along with their competitors, there is increasing pressure to implement these technologies in their factories.

Another prevalent topic of discussion in today’s news is the impact of 5G networks and what they have to offer. According to a recent article from AT&T, 5G networks will revolutionize the manufacturing industry. The fourth Industrial Revolution, frequently termed as “Industry 4.0,” will pave the way for smart factories, which will utilize and rely on the capabilities of 5G networks. True smart factories can combine data from an entire system’s physical, operational and human assets in order to drive manufacturing, maintenance support, inventory management, digitization of operations and other sorts of activities throughout the manufacturing network.  Additionally, the connected devices in these factories have the ability to sense their environments and work in conjunction with each other in order to make decentralized decisions. Therefore, the high capacity, wireless flexibility and low-latency performance of a 5G network make it a logical choice to support manufacturers in these environments. It helps manufacturers meet the challenges that come with the implementation and beginning phases of a smart factory. There is also an expectation that the use of 5G technology will result in smaller and lighter IoT devices, which will aid in cutting costs and the need for space. In addition to these benefits, a study completed by Ericsson predicted new revenue potential for manufacturing operators that use 5G technologies to address industry digitalization. This study expects the addressable market to hit $113 billion in revenue in 2026, resulting in a 7% increase in forecasted revenue.

Furthermore, it is important to address the current situation at hand in our world—the impact of COVID-19. The coronavirus pandemic has severely threatened the economy due to several government restrictions and social distancing guidelines. This, in turn, could deter companies from implementing new technologies due to significant up-front costs. However, some industry analysts suggest that these restrictions and economic downturns will not stop digitalization, but rather cause a sense of urgency to implement these technologies in order to strengthen businesses and allow for proper social distancing among factory workers. An example of this implementation is creating a network of IoT tools and sensors to help protect factory workers on the job such as: Bluetooth wristbands that buzz when workers are too close, wireless-motion detection sensors that alert others when an individual enters an occupied workspace, and remote equipment sensors that help reduce the number of employees on-site.

As manufacturers continue to adapt to external pressures such as their competitors and COVID-19 workplace restrictions, they should look into the potential positive and negative impacts that implementing a smart factory could have on their businesses. Smart manufacturing may or may not be right decision at the current moment for your company, but it will lay the foundation for the future of the industry.

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