Trends in Manufacturing Technology


By Donald Applegarth

The future of manufacturing is not going to be about stretched-out global supply chains connected to a web of distant, giant factories. It’s going to be about small, nimble manufacturing operations using highly sophisticated new tools and new materials. These changes are a result of a convergence of a number of trends like the low cost and accessibility of big data associated with cloud computing; the plummeting cost of electronic sensors, microprocessors and other components that can be used to make machines more adept; and advances in software and communications technology that make it possible to manage manufacturing with a new level of precision and enable new forms of collaboration.

The following technologies are a few examples of what’s hot in manufacturing today:

  • Additive manufacturing, popularly known as 3-D printing, has become the standard-bearer of the next industrial revolution.
  • Sensing, measurement and process control – virtually all advance manufacturing techniques are driven by computers working with vast amounts of data. That’s why the things that capture and record data, such as sensors that monitor humidity, GPS trackers that fix location or calipers that measure a material’s thickness are so crucial to enable intelligent, flexible, reliable and highly efficient manufacturing techniques.
  • Material design, synthesis and processing – new machines will require new materials, and new materials will enable the creation of entirely new machines.
  • Digital manufacturing technologies – cloud computing and inexpensive 3-D scanners are moving the design and testing of products out of sophisticated facilities and into the mainstream.
  • Energy-efficient manufacturing – simply put, maximize output while wasting as little as possible. Lights-out factories that operate continuously in the dark and don’t need to be heated or cooled because they are run by robots and other machines.
  • Nano-manufacturing – being able to manipulate materials on a molecular and even atomic scale.
  • Flexible electronics manufacturing – tablet computers that bend when you sit on them and clothing wired to your body temperature, so it can cool you off when you need it are just two examples of this technology, which is expected to be the fastest-growing product categories over the next decade.

Those are just a few of the exciting new technologies that are trending in the manufacturing sector.

Mike Stetson also contributed to this article.

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