Over the past decade, manufacturing companies have embraced new technology, attracted by the promise of what things like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) could do for the industry. However, to reach the full potential of what Industry 4.0 can offer, there's still plenty more room to grow.
Industry leaders need to be on the lookout for the latest and greatest technology they can implement into their manufacturing processes to improve the efficiency and safety of their factories and create higher quality products at lower costs. With that in mind, here are five technology trends leaders should look to for their next steps in 2024 and beyond:
1. Digital Twins
Already in use by major companies like Rolls-Royce, these virtual representations of physical manufacturing elements will continue to grow in popularity. Digital twinning is valuable for several reasons, but most pressingly, it helps manufacturers better prepare for fluctuations in the supply chain and consumer demand.
Leaders can play out different scenarios within their digital facilities, seeing how each one impacts the processes they have in place. This helps manufacturers optimize production, more readily adapt to bumps in the road and even model potential opportunities for new business. Preparing for whatever comes next is extremely valuable at a time when the economic outlook is still uncertain.
2. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)
If it feels like this has been a major trend for several years, you'd be right. But that's for good reason. IIoT continues to evolve, introducing new capabilities that create more opportunities to improve operations. There are several key areas where IIoT can be put to use in manufacturing, including:
• Real-time monitoring of equipment performance
• Remote analysis of equipment for proactive maintenance
• More effective tracing of the movement of supplies and completed products
These might seem small, but they can make a major difference. IIoT can help reduce maintenance costs on machinery and catch issues before they lead to a production shutdown. It can also improve the efficiency of the supply chain and create a better line of accountability. IIoT, in other words, is all about simple devices helping to make significant improvements.
3. Additive Manufacturing
Better known as 3D printing, this technology can help decentralize manufacturing. Additive manufacturing builds up products in layers rather than cutting items from raw materials. This can be significantly more efficient with prefabricated parts, allowing manufacturing to move where needed rather than being chained to a specific facility.
3D printing also brings considerable improvements to prototyping. Not only is it cheaper and faster than traditional methods, it also allows for greater customization. That means manufacturers can try out various iterations of the same product at a negligible cost. These advantages will have a ripple effect across the entire manufacturing process. With 3D printing able to build everything from toys to auto parts to trade show displays, the potential for this technology is nearly boundless.
4. Robotics and Automation
Thanks to continued advancements in automation, manufacturers can expect robotics to play an even greater role in the industry than it already does. In the agricultural sector alone, the robotics market is set to grow from $7.6 billion in 2022 to $21.1 billion globally by 2028.
As the software behind robotics becomes smarter, the hardware becomes more capable. Combine this with the fact that prices around robotics have continued to fall, and you have the perfect recipe for more widespread adoption.
5. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
ERP systems in and of themselves are nothing new, but they've come a long way over the past few years, addressing newer business needs. Modern ERP systems are cloud-based and more streamlined. They favor simplicity over customization and help manufacturers run more efficiently. By adopting a more contemporary ERP system, manufacturers can reassess how these systems address their business needs.
While these aren't the only trends to watch out for, they should give you some idea about the industry's direction. The future of manufacturing – at least in the short-term – isn't one of revolutionary new technology but of evolution. Much of the tech that has become a growing part of the industry is now maturing, making it possible for manufacturers to take full advantage of them and step boldly into the brighter future ahead.