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Manufacturing: New and Improved!

Alan Rooks
By Alan Rooks Editor in Chief, Manufacturing Engineering

The state of manufacturing is always a combination of tried and true methods; improvements (sometimes dramatic) in traditional processes; and brand new technology few people even conceived of a few years ago.

That is certainly true today, as manufacturers implement additive manufacturing (once emerging, now well entrenched) and take a close look at Industry 4.0 (still emerging, but with some key applications ready to roll).

Our cover story (page 48), from AM industry experts Wohlers Associates, notes that the number of industrial AM machine builders jumped 31 percent in 2018, as industrial giants and startups alike vie to be the next big players in industrial AM. Likewise, Bill Koenig’s feature on page 62 notes that AM applications are growing rapidly as manufacturers become comfortable with a once unfamiliar process.

Industry 4.0 implementation is in a lower gear, but suppliers have come up with some practical and useful applications that are ready to go right now, as Ed Sinkora’s feature on page 72 explains. All that is needed are some adventurous manufacturers.

That’s good, because the future is trending digital. A new report by ABI Research, “The Top Trends and Takeaways from Hannover Messe 2019,” the industrial technology show held April 1-5, said “Companies are not hunkering down but are aggressively pursuing technology,” ABI Research analysts noted that:

“The appetite to connect hardware is growing.” Many technology providers are pushing “predictive and prescriptive analytics” and AI. However, most users are “really just focused on connecting assets and trying to get data off them.”

Digital is not just for the big boys. “There was a growing focus on the sub-1,500 employee company.”
Key technology solutions include 5G, AI, IIoT, AR, digital twins, data analytics, autonomous materials handling, cobots, exoskeletons, generative design, AM, and blockchain. However, “the digital transformation of industries will take decades.”

As to be expected, the rate of technological progress “is fast outpacing the ability of most companies to understand, deploy, and maximize new technology solutions in terms of operational benefits.” That’s always the case with new technology. Remember the first incarnation of the Internet? Startups boomed, then collapsed as people and companies could not adapt to the Internet as fast as expected. But over the next 20 years, Internet commerce grew and prospered.

That will happen to today’s revolutionary manufacturing technology. Providers will simplify their solutions, and people will learn to manage the digital transformation, using information from magazines like ME and trade shows like SME’s EASTEC, May 15-17, West Springfield, Mass., RAPID + TCT, May 21- 23, Detroit, and WMTS, June 4- 6, Edmonton, Alberta. The future will eventually arrive—but on its own schedule.

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