Technology in manufacturing: 5G, AI and more explained
09 February 2022
The use of technology in manufacturing is on the rise. In the midst of pandemic-related disruption, manufacturing companies turned to technology to adapt and recover. Now, many businesses see technology as crucial to becoming resilient against future challenges.
But what are the main advancements when it comes to technology in manufacturing?
This blog takes a look at the key technologies associated with the manufacturing industry, from the concept of smart manufacturing to AI, 5G and more.
What is smart manufacturing?
The definition of smart manufacturing is broad. The concept even goes by different names. Industry 4.0, sometimes referred to as manufacturing 4.0, is another term for smart manufacturing.
In their simplest terms, these phrases refer to the incorporation of new technologies into traditional processes to make operations and outcomes better. Some also describe this shift towards innovative technology as manufacturing’s ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’. Quality 4.0 is another area where technology is being used to improve organisations, products, and services.
Examples of the latest technologies that are enabling smart manufacturing include:
- Artificial Intelligence
- Machine Learning
- Internet of Things
- Cloud Computing
- Robots and Cobots (collaborative robots)
- Augmented and Virtual Reality
If implemented successfully, the benefits of smart manufacturing are numerous. You could achieve better efficiency, flexibility, productivity and higher profitability. The quality of your products and services can also be improved, all in all giving you a competitive advantage.
To realise these benefits, the manufacturing industry should take a careful, targeted approach. Rather than trying to make huge strides all at once, it is advised that companies start small, prioritise the areas that need improving and build from there. A recent Deloitte report also recommends an industrywide ecosystem to drive success within smart manufacturing, where different entities collaborate to resolve mutual problems and achieve mutual goals.
With smart manufacturing critical to the overall development of the manufacturing industry, let’s take a closer look at some of the technologies behind this evolution.
AI in manufacturing
Artificial Intelligence (AI) refers to technology that uses information around it to replicate human intelligence and capabilities, such as problem-solving, creativity and decision-making.
AI is closely tied with Machine Learning (ML). While Machine Learning is a process that trains machines to learn, remember mistakes, and make correct decisions, AI is the technology that actually makes the decisions. As such, AI and ML can be used as a predictive tool; it uses its learnings to anticipate trends and potential problems.
How might this be used in manufacturing? Within the Aerospace and Defence sector, AI and ML can identify issues while aircraft are in flight and assist with air traffic control. Elsewhere in manufacturing, AI and ML can improve supply chain management by providing greater insights and support with scenario planning.
Looking to the future, Artificial Intelligence in manufacturing is also being incorporated with the Internet of Things (IoT) to form Artificial Intelligence of Things (AIoT). IoT enables communication between machines so that valuable data can be generated. This, combined with the intelligence capabilities of AI and ML, allows AIoT devices to network and gather more precise, real-time data.
This helps in areas such as problem-solving and product development, while the efficiency of AIoT can transform manufacturing operations. For those working in quality, for example, AIoT can make product inspections more thorough by examining all components for faults, rather than a small sample.
5G in manufacturing
Released in 2019, 5G provides super-fast, reliable wireless communication. It follows the previous generations of wireless communication technology, 3G and 4G, and has the ability to transform the way manufacturing companies operate. How could it do this? The possible uses of 5G are extensive and, as a result, are so far unclear. 5G could be used for almost anything, from powering self-driving cars to enhancing connectivity and improving quality.
Despite its potential, 5G is yet to be fully implemented within the industry. This has been put down to Covid-19 disruptions and cost, as well as concerns around a completely wireless environment that could put security at risk. 5G has also come under recent scrutiny in the U.S. aviation industry, after concerns from airlines and regulators that 5G masts could disrupt radio altimeters if they were located near airports.
But things are likely set to change for manufacturers. As technology develops and more companies implement 5G, it is thought that its usage will become more widespread across the manufacturing industry. When it comes to the advancement of technology in manufacturing, this is promising.
While the exact benefits of 5G remain to be seen until adoption is more prevalent, it does have the potential to further technological innovation. For example, it can enable smart technology in manufacturing, like AI and IoT, to truly take off. 5G is, then, in a sense crucial to smart manufacturing, industry 4.0, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Are there any other key technologies in manufacturing?
From robots and cobots to augmented and virtual reality, there are many more technologies set to propel manufacturing into the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Robots and cobots, for example, can further improve efficiency and streamline production processes. Meanwhile, augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) can support training, equipment maintenance and design tasks.
Cloud computing can also enable smart manufacturing. It is often more reliable than storing information on individual computers, and can open up access to better analytics to aid decision-making.
Digital lean is a note-worthy manufacturing trend that has emerged as a result of these kind of technological developments. It is a take on manufacturing’s well-known lean principles, which prioritise efficiency and productivity by reducing waste and responding to customer demand. Digital lean combines these lean principles with new technologies to provide more detailed and accurate information regarding operations. This is key to improving quality, increasing productivity, and reducing waste and cost.
With so many new innovations on the horizon, and with many already being used, it is clear the manufacturing industry has a technological future firmly in its sights.
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