Technology has always been at the forefront of advances in manufacturing, from the Industrial Revolution onward. When we define manufacturing technology as it applies to today’s industrial business, we are inherently discussing a moment in time and the particular technological advances that are currently playing a role in driving manufacturing forward (as well as those that have driven the industry to its current state).
As a general definition, manufacturing technology describes the application of tools and processes — developed through scientific, industrial and engineering advances — to improve the efficiency, quality and productivity of operations. What is manufacturing technology in today’s industrial landscape? Right now, it is driven by industrial sensors, equipment connectivity, automation, and data-based analysis and decision-making. We will look at these facets and more in greater depth in the following section.
What does manufacturing technology include?
Manufacturing technology in today’s industrial landscape includes numerous advances that would be considered science fiction even 15 or 20 years ago. Advances in communication speeds, data analysis and automation are creating the most powerful technology yet seen in the manufacturing field.
Here, we will look at some of the many examples of manufacturing technology that are leading to unprecedented breakthroughs in productivity, safety and innovation:
- Computerized maintenance management system (CMMS): CMMS technology is designed to make maintenance operations more effective and efficient by centralizing and streamlining data and processes. The core of a CMMS includes digital tracking and analysis of equipment performance — based on real-time data and used for maintenance scheduling — as well as management of maintenance and spare parts inventory and resources, allowing for maximum accuracy, speed and efficacy in carrying out maintenance processes as scheduled and required.
- Machine Health Monitoring: Machine health monitoring reduces unplanned maintenance and extends the useful life of equipment by using sensors to detect potential operational issues early — right as the underpinnings of a problem begin. This technology allows for real-time monitoring and insight into equipment performance and status and yields major benefits in uptime, equipment longevity and productivity.
- Robotics and automation: While automation has been part of manufacturing technology for decades — and robotics have been around for nearly as long — today’s technology has created exponential advances in the use of these technologies. Automation is more effective and efficient than ever through the use of data-driven programming from machine sensors. Robotics are also more useful and collaborative thanks to smart sensors and AI technology that make it safe for robots to work essentially side by side in support of the human workers who continue to execute the most intricate and high-value operations in the facility.
- Digital twin: Digital twin technology makes use of high-speed connectivity such as 5G to create a real-time “double” of a piece of equipment, mimicking its operation, status and potential maintenance issues as they occur. The digital twin can be accessed and interacted with off-site by maintenance personnel, troubleshooting engineers and even equipment operators, drawing upon true real-time interactivity to work with the piece of equipment as if they were in-person. Only with today’s high-speed connectivity can the benefits of this technology be realized.
- AI and machine learning: Long a buzzword in manufacturing technology, AI has come into its own thanks to increased adoption of industrial sensors, more in-depth and widespread analysis of data, and greater insight and innovation into using this data for AI and machine learning purposes. With the benefit of high-speed connectivity and vast amounts of real-time data — and analytical processing power — AI and machine learning can drive everything from maintenance scheduling and decision-making to production tweaks that can push productivity to its maximum.
- Augmented reality: Augmented reality technology allows for increased innovation and operational efficiency by allowing engineers, equipment operators, maintenance personnel and other key workers to draw out hypothetical scenarios in a hands-on and actionable way. AR can aid in product design, maintenance planning, problem-solving and other key areas — all in ways that reports, or computer modeling cannot replicate.
Benefits of manufacturing technology
Manufacturing technology offers numerous benefits in areas across the organization, driving ROI on the technology investments that power these innovations.
These benefits include:
- Predictive maintenance: Industrial sensors and connected equipment are the pillars that enable predictive maintenance, a proactive maintenance approach that identifies potential equipment problems long before they lead to machinery breakdown, allowing operators and managers to identify issues and make plans for repairs at times of minimal impact. Proactive maintenance is one of the most effective tools enabled by manufacturing technology, making use of real-time data collection and historical analysis in areas such as vibration detection, ultrasonic monitoring and more, to provide unprecedented insights into equipment operations.
- Safety options in today’s working landscape: The shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to loom over workplaces, but manufacturing technology helps to solve any lingering issues by enabling options for off-site and remote work while maintaining real-time access to data, analytics and hands-on experience through the use of digital twin and AR technology.
- Operational flexibility: With technology enabling off-site work, facilities are better equipped to handle any potential challenges, whatever the cause may be. Increased communication, connectivity and data access empowers organizations and their people to have more control over operations.
- Increased innovation: Technology such as AR and digital twins allows for engineers and product designers to work with lifelike replicas of machinery, components and products. These tools have spurred frontiers in innovation that may not have been achieved through traditional methods such as CAD software. Innovation is always at the forefront of breakthroughs in efficiency, quality and competitive advantage.
Who benefits from manufacturing technology?
Manufacturing technology is a broad topic that can apply to — and benefit — any industrial or manufacturing company. While this article detailed some of the most advanced benefits of manufacturing technology, any facility can begin to see these benefits through steps as simple as aftermarket retrofitting of industrial sensors to legacy equipment.
Some of the industries where manufacturing technology is focused include:
- Building Products
- Consumer Packaged Goods
- Heavy Equipment
- Paper & Pulp
- Power Distribution
- Tire and Rubber
Helping manufacturers around the world
ATS is a global leader in services for manufacturers, including cutting-edge manufacturing technology to drive maintenance efficiency improvements, performance advances and more.
With over three decades of experience, we remain at the forefront of technology-driven maintenance — including machine health monitoring, sensors, CMMS, reliability engineering and more — to ensure our customers are equipped with the latest advances to increase productivity, improve safety, enhance efficiency, extend equipment life, increase uptime and boost the bottom line. To learn more, contact us today.