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What is Advanced Manufacturing and how can it benefit my business?

Posted on: Nov 15th

As a business owner, there are obvious advantages to ensuring your production plans are efficient, timely and make the best use of available resources.

It therefore makes sense to use techniques that will make this possible, and to this end, the term Advanced Manufacturing technology would have probably been suggested.

But what is it?

It’s likely that you’re already using some kind of advanced manufacturing techniques, it is, after all, just another term that has been coined to describe something many organisations do anyway. However, let’s define what traditional manufacturing is and then we can discover why there’s a difference.

Traditional manufacturing is simply defined as the act of converting raw materials into finished products by using manual or mechanised transformation techniques.

Back during the industrial revolution, the use of mechanised techniques may have been seen as advanced manufacturing, taking over from purely manual labour, but mechanised and automated systems have been around for such a long time, they can be safely defined as traditional.

To make your manufacturing ‘advanced’, then, it needs to improve on this, and most companies already do.

If you’re using any kind of new technology, such as sensors, advanced automation, and look to include technology to improve on your existing systems, then you are, by definition, using advanced techniques.

But what’s also very important is the ability to keep up with changes in new technology. Some companies do this through a constant investment in research and development, always looking to find more efficient ways to achieve the same or better results.

Real-world examples of advanced manufacturing

A recent development that has had a profound effect on many companies, not least in the areas of precision engineering, has been the development of 3d printing technology.

lulzbot_mini_3d_printer

Prototyping is an essential part of the development of many industrial products, as well as retail. For many, software prototyping is enough, and viewing a product on a computer screen before it is manufactured is all they need in order to be satisfied that the end result will be fine. But for many, it’s not enough, and in numerous industries, real-life prototyping is essential.

For example, if aerodynamics need to be tested, or safety taken into account, you can’t beat having the actual product in front of you. But, without going to the expense of creating the end product, only to then need changes to the tooling due to last minute fixes, the only solution is a prototype.

For years, this was done using huge machines that took hours (or days) to print out models of the products, but advancements in technology now means printers are available that are not only cheap, but available to a wider audience.

It’s now possible for many more manufacturers to create prototypes cheaply, enabling them to test before production of the final product.

Robotics

The use of robots in manufacturing is not new, but it is a perfect example of advanced manufacturing, promoted and advanced by their use in the automotive sector.

advanced manufacturing robots

Although controversial when introduced (and, some would argue, still controversial today), there’s no doubt that the use of robotics in manufacturing has been a huge boost to productivity and output.

Robots don’t need to take a break (unless they literally break), can work 24 hours a day and are, by design, more reliable that people at doing repetitive jobs.

The Internet of things (IOT)

This is a relative newcomer to the world of manufacturing, indeed, it’s fairly new to the marketplace in general, but it’s affect on companies now and in the future could be huge.

In a nutshell, the Internet of things means that objects not normally connected to a network, can now communicate with other devices across both a LAN and the wider Internet.

Like most technology, it comes to fruition through mostly trivial routes, such as external door cameras that show you who’s there via your phone, or activity trackers that automatically upload your stats to a web based league table.

But, eventually, commercial forces take hold and it’s not long until it’s introduced into the mainstream.

In the case of manufacturing, it’s allowing all parts of the business to get access to real-time and historical data from the factory floor, giving them unprecedented amounts of data.

It’s also giving operations managers a much greater insight into factory safety, while at the same time boosting efficiency and reducing costs.

Measurement is the key to providing the company as a whole the best idea possible of what’s happening during production, but also, feedback on the affects changes have, no matter how small.

The affect on the workforce

There’s no doubt that in some cases, technological advances in manufacturing can have a detrimental affect on jobs. Indeed, the automotive industry suffer many job losses when robotics replaced humans on the production line.

However, the upshot of this is that advanced manufacturing jobs are created, just at different points in the supply chain.

This is generally because robots are very good at handling repetitive tasks without fatigue. It doesn’t matter how boring the job, or for how long it has to be done for, the robot will simply soldier on until the work is finished.

Humans are not so good at that, however they are good at creativity.

Robots need people to program them, maintain them and ensure they continue to work, and that’s where many people moved when careers had to be changed.

Although jobs were lost in the more repetitive areas of manufacture, in more skilled roles, demand increased, and continues to do so.

And of course, this doesn’t negate the need for more advanced production manufacturing jobs in other areas.

Is advanced manufacturing a good fit in my factory?

The chances are, yes.

Advanced manufacturing encompasses everything that could help your company thrive, increase costs and improve efficiency. It could be some of the items above, or it could be something else.

What works for you might not work for others, so it’s important to investigate the currently technological advances in your industry. But, when utilised, it’s likely to bring improvements throughout your organisation.


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