by Katherine A. Began
Technology has always driven manufacturing trends and capabilities, and the outlook for industrial production in 2018 shows no sign of slowing down. Advances in customization and supply-chain dynamics appear to be fueling the charge as manufacturers work to keep cost down while increasing production.
One of the most exciting trends in manufacturing is the continuing growth of digitalization. With digital, 3D printing and customizable digital machining becoming cost-effective options, companies can now marry mass production with project-specific design elements. By utilizing off-the-rack products that can be customized, manufacturers are taking advantage of the cost benefits of mass production, while still ensuring that their products are up to spec.
For example, an irrigation company can purchase customized electronic enclosures to house its control units. An enclosure manufacturer that provides precision, digital machining, and digital printing can create a highly customized control unit housing without the need for custom molding and additional steps in the supply chain. Plus, the units have already been rated and certified by industry clearinghouses like UL and NEMA so they can be trusted to meet the irrigation component manufacturer’s needs. That eliminates an entire step in the design-to-manufacture chain which saves time and money.
The Internet of Things
Another emerging trend in global manufacturing is the development of the “Internet of Things.” Through cloud computing, manufacturers are now able to connect to real data and asset performance metrics to track product reliability, cost and production considerations for supply chain and inventory availability.
The increased data gives manufacturers the ability to proactively engage customers, monitor availability and augment production to meet needs. Manufacturing moves from flat-footed prediction to lean, responsive efficiency. Gone are the days of production, warehousing, and distribution; what rises out of the ashes of the cavernous distribution center is a direct production to consumer model. By taking the middleman out of the chain, the manufacturer can keep a larger margin, while the consumer can count on a lower cost.
This move towards data-driven production yields great benefits. In the past, manufacturers had to rely on quarterly or even annually derived information, waiting to adjust production as the numbers were crunched at distant intervals. The internet of things provides real-time information. Manufacturers that can gain insight into the ongoing production pace can expect faster adjustments and more precise results. Should the data indicate an issue, a resolution can be found quickly and enacted with equal urgency.
This also gives manufacturers the ability to increase or decrease production as demand fluctuates. The fast movement of data means a faster reaction — and far less waste. And of course, less waste reduces cost. In this model, efficiency feeds profitability.
Manufacturers are also experiencing relatively new growth in sustainability initiatives. Consumers have been demanding “cleaner” production, but they haven’t been able to assist manufacturers in achieving this. Many companies have been trying to improve their environmental impact, altering their processes and decreasing the waste production associated with their industry.
This goes well beyond the obvious measures. It is often easy to see when a factory’s smokestacks are no longer churning out thick, black smoke in favor of a lighter, cleaner emission. What isn’t as easy for the public to see are efforts inside to take active control of the manufacturing process byproducts.
Recycling and reclamation have grown in recent years, and companies are doing a better job of reducing their waste. For example, a large facility might change out a thousand fluorescent lamps a year — and though these lamps are not a direct byproduct of the plant’s production, they do constitute an associated waste product.
Fluorescent lamps use mercury vapor to work, but that can translate into pounds of mercury going into the landfill before eventually making its way into a community’s water supply. By properly recycling the bulbs, the mercury, glass and other elements can be reused, and negative environmental impact can be avoided.
A Leaner, Cleaner Machine
The current trends in manufacturing show there is a growing movement to become leaner and cleaner in production. From developing integrated systems that define production needs to preventing waste and byproducts from affecting the surrounding environments and communities, manufacturing is moving toward increased efficiency.
Through strategic partnerships, manufacturers are offering higher levels of customization while still eliminating unnecessary costs. Products are becoming more customized as manufacturing finds better ways to efficiently address such trends through digital production and strategic sourcing.
Big data is giving the manufacturing process the ability to work in precise terms. Companies are fulfilling specific needs with pinpoint accuracy, and facilities are monitoring their waste to find new ways to augment their cost with recycling and reclamation partnerships.
About the Author
Kate Began serves as the Sales and Marketing Manager for Polycase. She oversees the customer service representatives, assists with product development and leads the marketing efforts from the Avon, Ohio headquarters.