U.S. manufacturing continued its road to recovery in November, adding 31,000 jobs, to total 189,000 new jobs since November 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. Durable goods, especially machinery and manufactured metal parts, accounted for the majority of the gain, to join the automotive and aerospace industries as top consistent performers within manufacturing. Computer and electronics products, transportation and miscellaneous manufacturing also saw gains.
Use of increased automation and technology in factories is helping drive this growth. Here’s a look at three of the key drivers that are shaping the future of technology.
Smart factories are the most significant manufacturing driver today, portending a potential fourth industrial revolution that is being called Industry 4.0, following upon the previous revolutions represented by the steam engine, factor automation and computers. Seventy-six percent of manufacturers either already have a smart factory initiative or are working on one, a Capgemini analysis says. Smart factories will increase manufacturing productivity seven-fold by 2022, adding $500 billion to $1.5 trillion to the world economy over the next five years, according to the analysis.
According to Deloitte Insights, smart factories are:
- Connected to the Internet of Things, with internal sensors collecting data within the factory while the internet also allows connection and collaboration with customers.
- Optimized through analytics insights into collected data.
- Transparent, with the ability to support live monitoring of production, market demands and customer order tracking.
- Proactive, quickly identifying and responding to production errors, inventory needs and safety issues.
- Agile, able to quickly adapt to scheduling and changeovers, modify products or change factory layouts and equipments to meet new demands.
One component of smart factory agility is 3-D printing, another major manufacturing driver. The 3-D printing market is currently expanding at a compound annual growth rate of 25.76 percent, on track to increase to a value of $32.78 billion by 2023, Markets and Markets projects.
One of the motivations for the growth of 3-D printing is its ability to deliver more customized manufacturing options. For instance, manufacturer Apple Rubber is able to use 3-D printing to offer a catalog of over 8,000 o-ring sizes made out of customized materials such as Viton for a wide variety of specialize applications in industries such as medicine and aerospace. Ability to reduce manufacturing costs is another motivation for the growth of 3-D printing. Volkswagen has been able to reduce tool production costs by 93 percent by adopting 3-D printing, while reducing tool lead time by 95 percent.
Another contributor to smart factory agility is the advancement of manufacturing robotics, another major driver of industry growth. The industrial robots market will triple within the decade, Loup Ventures projects.
A third of robots sold will be collaborative robots that work alongside human beings, which currently represent only 3 percent of industrial robots. These robots are smaller with more sensors than other types of robots, enabling them to respond more intelligently and safely when working around human beings. They are also less expensive than traditional robots.
Collaborative robots are currently being developed that can respond to human voice commands to perform repetitive tasks. For instance, the Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Lab at the University of Rochester has been able to train Baxter robots to respond to natural language commands, such as being instructed to pick up the middle gear from a row of five gears. This type of technology will make it easier for human workers to use robots to perform tasks such as assembly, picking parts from shelves and loading products into autonomous trucks for shipment.
Smart factories, 3-D printing and robotics are three of the key drivers contributing to the current manufacturing revolution. Together, these and other emerging technologies will help transform manufacturing to make it more efficient, less expensive and more productive than ever before.