The manufacturing industry is constantly changing, with new technology and innovations in lean manufacturing and other business strategies, and a few trends are expected to become even more prominent among original equipment manufacturers across the U.S. in 2015. The push for advanced manufacturing processes within the industry, as well as from the federal government, has fueled the need for highly skilled workers who understand the latest technologies. Advances like 3-D printing, wireless connectivity and the Internet of Things (IoT) are all having a noticeable impact on the landscape of the industry, and experts believe this will continue into the new year.
Government involvement changes everything
The U.S. manufacturing industry has been expanding month-over-month for a year and a half, playing a large role in the American economy's overall growth. The continued success of the industry has caught the attention of the federal government. As a result, more funding is being poured into manufacturing across the country to help bolster the upward trend. Manufacturing Business Technology magazine explained that federal funding is being used to establish manufacturing hubs all over the country, such as The Next Generation Power Electronics Manufacturing Innovation Institute at North Carolina State University. The purpose of these facilities is to foster innovation that could aid in developing new lean manufacturing techniques, more efficient processes and lead time reduction.
New technology streamlines factory processes
Finding new and innovative ways to enhance the production process has always been a key aspect of making factories more efficient and delivering higher-quality products. According to Automation World, wireless connectivity and 3-D printing will each be key players in pushing manufacturers to grow and improve. With 3-D printing becoming more commonplace and affordable, it will only become easier to obtain and use specialty parts in builds. This can also be a huge benefit in terms of lead time reduction, as it may be easier for parts manufacturers to produce a 3-D printed part compared to more traditional methods, lowering inventory costs for the OEM in the process.
The source also pointed to wireless connectivity as a corner of technology more OEMs are likely to invest in, as it can provide an ease of use that will fuel lean manufacturing efforts. When workers can communicate wirelessly, it can create a transparency that will make it easy to spot and prevent issues on the factory floor. Say, for instance, that one stage of production is running low in its class C components during a build. The worker in charge can tap a few buttons on a device that will alert the right people to replenish the stock without having to leave his or her post. The person on the receiving end doesn't need to be near a computer or a phone to get the message when wirelessly connected, preventing production downtime and improving overall efficiency on the factory floor.
Internet of Things
Having wireless connectivity is only as useful as what OEMs choose to do with the technology. This is where IoT comes in. The Internet of Things, according to Harvard Business review, is the ability of the Internet to connect people and objects. In the manufacturing realm, the emphasis falls on the ability of objects to communicate directly with one another, eliminating the need for a human liaison. A machine on the production line can register an error and immediately log it or send out an alert regarding low inventory, increasing lead times or other issues. Industry Week also pointed out that IoT can help with preventative maintenance, as machines can be programmed to report problems the moment they occur. This will allow OEMs to have them serviced right away while the problems are small, saving money and preventing larger issues from occurring.