A Look to the Future: Manufacturing Technology Trends for the 2020s

The digital age paved the path for continuous developments in technology, and now more than ever, companies are investing more time and money into new technologies. In the manufacturing industry, newer technology equates to modernized equipment – which is absolutely necessary for any manufacturer that hopes to maintain an edge over the competition. The manufacturing industry’s investment in newer technologies allows them to improve their operational efficiency, while also reducing their operational costs.

Continuous developments in technology have allowed trends to emerge in the manufacturing industry, which in turn, lead to constant innovation. This trend of “continuous innovation” has played a huge role in keeping companies competitive. As we draw closer to the next decade, here are some of the predicted manufacturing technology trends for the 2020s, compliments of Bystronic.


Wearable Technology

Having to continuously carry gadgets in the workplace limit the worker’s productivity by having to hold an item while working. Wearable technology negates such necessity and allows employees to wear such gadgetry on their bodies without hampering their work.

Wearable technology provides work-related data to the wearer, which can be accessed with only a minimal movement of the hands. Such technology is also called smart accessories since, depending on what type of technology is used, can track the worker’s health, location, biofeedback, or essential information.

Using wearables result in improvements in a company’s efficiency and productivity in their work processes. Hands-free gadgets take away the difficulty of having to hold devices in the production line, letting them focus on their work for a seamless workflow.

The seamless workflow present when using wearables is reflected by the fact that workers can obtain essential work-related information and give out remote orders to other people while staying focused on their work. Some of the information provided by wearables improve safety in the workplace.

Wearable technology equipped with sensors allows the tracking of the employee’s movement to prevent accidents in the workplace due to reduced worker visibility. The safety provided by wearables extends to a company’s customers by providing essential information regarding the status of the products. As long as their gadget is equipped with a sensor and connected to the cloud, employees can check on the status of a product by checking on an electrical component to ensure that the item is welded at the right temperature.


Augmented and Virtual Reality

The advent of wearable technology allowed for the introduction and subsequent integration of assistive technology like the Augmented Reality and the Virtual Reality that forges more efficient man-machine collaboration in the workplace.

The resulting collaboration from man and machine allow workers to receive information regarding their products on the production line to assess their current status. Electronic glasses with AR capabilities can display vital information on a worker’s field of vision, including computer-generated graphics. Trainees can also use AR to train with equipment.

VR-capable wearable technology allows for the interfacing of designs generated by computers that would let workers modify a product before it’s rolled out of the production line. Trainees can also benefit from VR by immersing them in an environment similar to that of the actual work environment.

Without AR and VR, employees usually miss out on several manufacturing errors that reveal themselves post-process.


Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing uses 3D printers to increase both efficiency and productivity in the factories by limiting human error present in various workplaces. The use of 3D printing makes manufacturing product parts quicker and cheaper. Due to the benefit presented by additive manufacturing, many manufacturing companies choose to use them since they’re an innovative way of improving work and reducing the chances of wasting money and raw materials.

3D printers require only limited human supervision to function as long as they initiate their automated process of printing items.

Should a company need to produce prototypes of a particular product, they can do so with a 3D printer instead of a traditional production line since the latter produces items en masse while the former can manufacture items on a limited scale. Having lesser prototypes means lesser production costs.


Increased Automation

Continuous development of technology slowly results in the development of automated solutions for factories. Integrating robots in businesses becomes more manageable, especially in the case of using additive manufacturing technology. 3D printers are already automated equipment, but there are other examples like bending machines and laser cutters.

Using automated solutions optimize a company’s workflow, improve the usage of machines, and increase the reliability of its work process. Without compromising the quality of its products, a company can accelerate its workflow.


Artificial Intelligence

Associated with automated solutions is artificial intelligence. What was once considered a thing of the future is now seen integrated into various homes to turn the electronics in a house on and off or make orders to restock the supplies in a refrigerator.

Artificial intelligence lets automated machines function 24 hours a day to continuously produce items that can’t be accomplished with a human workforce. Deciding to use AI can be considered an issue when thinking about the workers, but the reality is that several businesses are suffering from a shortage of workforce for their factories. AI and robots, however, can solve the deficit by automating the processes in a factory, leading to smart factories.


Rise of Smart Factories

Robots and AI are essential for the emergence of smart factories. Smart factories are fully automated factories that rely on technology-driven approaches in the manufacturing industry. While still in the development stages, they are being developed to be highly digitized and connected to the internet.

The fourth industrial revolution led to the development of artificial intelligence and automated solutions that create a network of hardware and software that lead to the coordination of the various essential components. The coordination of the multiple parts both optimize the flow of production and smooth out the different machine’s integration to the infrastructure currently present in a company. Such a factory, however, will require the 5th generation of wireless technology to function efficiently.

5G technology acts as a unifier of different networking capabilities that can lead to the management of the massive flow of information associated with internet-connected automated solutions. Connecting the various automated equipment through the cloud isn’t viable with the current 3G and 4G technology, which necessitates the use of 5G connection.

5G will still need development though since not enough companies are using the technology to expedite development. Without 5G, Smart Factories will stay in the development stages as well.

The technological trends in the 2020s for manufacturing industries are towards making work in the industry safer, smarter, and automated to adapt to the reduction in the available workforce and the ever-present human errors that limit the productivity of the companies.

Once manufacturing companies invest in such technological trends, they can eventually produce higher quality output while reaping the benefits afforded by such advancements that allow factories to work nonstop.


About the Author

Sean Felix Lim, an author of ten years, has dedicated most of his work to industry analysis research in modern technologies for manufacturing companies. He is also currently a Professor of Economics.