The byword of the presidential campaign and the new administration has been creating manufacturing jobs in the United States. But even before the change in leadership in Washington there was a push to create manufacturing jobs, save the automobile industry, provide funding to create apprenticeships and new qualified tradesmen.
There has always been an element of service as a product but it is accelerating in recent years and may become the dominant method of delivery for sophisticated goods over the next several years. The question being asked by manufactures is, do consumers want a “thing” or do they want the service that the product delivers? Do consumers want to buy a device and use and maintain it or would they prefer to pay for the actual use they get from it? A traditional example of this was the car lease. Consumers get a car to use and effectively pay for the miles they drive. The repair and maintained costs are covered in the lease fee paid. The same concept can now be applied to almost anything a consumer uses. As the Internet of Things has become more robust it has made it possible to monitor more closely the operation and failure of appliances, and to do predictive and preventive maintenance.
For the past decade and more there has been steady progress toward greater and greater use of advanced automation in manufacturing. While Manufacturing 4.0 and the Internet of Things are new in their implementation, they were preceded by continuing and steady improvements in process control systems, SCADA and historians which have been in place for decades. Capturing process and product data from the plant floor and using analysis techniques such as SPC has been the manufacturing model for decades. One of the challenges has been dealing with the massive amount of data available to use, storing, analyzing, and using the results to meaningfully improve quality and throughput.
As a new year begins to unfurl before us, and we consider trends that may become popular and successful, one technology that is poised to have a significant impact on how goods are manufactured is 3D printing. This breakthrough method, which relies on building plastic, ceramic or metal components by fusing together droplets of liquefied feedstock or particles of finely ground powder, offers several thought provoking advantages. So, let’s talk about 3D printing…
I saw an interesting article this week. It was about a vote taken in the European Union by a committee which would grant certain human rights to robots. While this does not apply directly to the subject of digital twins in manufacturing it is very much related to the topic. In both cases it becomes clear that more and more sophistication is being applied in artificial intelligence and computer programming. We have come a very long way since 1996 when IBM’s Deep Blue was first able to win against a human chess master.
When we are dealing with technical issues we often like to revert to TLMs, FLMs and RCBs. Somehow it makes us feel more connected and in the know than others. TLMs are “three letter mnemonics,” FLMs are “four letter mnemonics,” and RCBs are “really cool buzzwords.”
Reshoring, newshoring and nearshoring are RCBs that have come into our lexicon in recent years. I did a bit of a survey and while most people know what offshoring is and many are aware of reshoring, it seems that far less are aware of the trends beginning in nearshoring and newshoring.
As we erase the mismarked year on our check book (scratch out 2016 and mark down 2017), it's time to reflect on where things are headed for the new year. Many believe it is going to be about “digitization" or adopting recent IT technology to maximize digital resources. Each market space has its own take on it.
Where will the road take us and how will manufacturing change in 2017? We may or may not remember the predictions for 2016. Some of them happened in 2016; some are still on the list for 2017; some just weren’t as dynamic as anticipated and didn’t have the expected impact. Technology moves quickly and trends change. As we begin the new year it’s interesting to take a look at the leading trends, predictions and expectations for 2017. MAPI, the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation took a look at manufacturing in the US and stated that manufacturing production should increase by 3% in 2017. We know that most of this increase in production will be based on advances in technology and not increases in manufacturing employment. Innovation, automation, and increases in productivity will continue to be the bywords.
A year ago we took a look forward into manufacturing in 2016. Most of our focus was around technology. These included the top tier of hot impactful technologies which are viewed to have most value for implementation. In summary we talked about robotics, additive manufacturing, the internet of things, ecommerce and improved logistics. We waited expectantly to see results. Sure, many of these have seen use, but not as universally or as effectively as we had hoped. Most of these same opportunities still have limited application in the majority of mainstream manufacturing plants and can be included on a list of opportunities for manufacturing changes in 2017.
Figure 1 Courtesy KPMG
A large segment of Optimation’s engineering, consulting, and fabrication business is for companies that provide services to firms conducting energy exploration, especially oil and natural gas. While we provide some programming and engineering work for the "energy" companies themselves, an even greater volume of work comes from the firms that fabricate, test, and deploy downhole tools, subsea instruments, and land-based exploration products.