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Where is Manufacturing Tech Headed in 2021?

Alan Rooks
By Alan Rooks Editor in Chief, Manufacturing Engineering

Manufacturing technology is constantly changing, both in terms of the types of products produced and the ways those products are made. As we ease into 2021, here are some interesting trends I’ve heard about.

Remote work for manufacturing operations: While many office workers are working effectively from home, factories are not designed for workers to do their jobs remotely. But that may be changing. Writing in Industry Week, Tony Del Sesto of Chicago-based MxD describes a workplace where robots can be operated remotely so that production will continue uninterrupted, even if no one can enter the plant. “The technologies needed, in fact, already exist,” he writes, including robotics, remote control systems, high-speed remote communications and terminal access.

Additive manufacturing of medical implants is growing. Medical implant developers need manufacturing technology that delivers speed, individualization and the ability to produce complex designs. 3D printing with bio-compatible materials like titanium is well suited for this task, according to Sandvik Additive Manufacturing. In the past, surgeons used metal mesh to replace areas of the body such as skull bones, but the mesh tended to be weak and lacked precision. 3D printing eliminates these flaws by using medical imaging to create a customized implant, shaped to the patient’s anatomical data, creating an exact match to replace the lost or damaged area of the skull. Using computer tomography, optimized designs can be produced via AM.

Cobots go big. More manufacturers are working alongside cobots. These cobots have typically been small, but big cobots are making their debut. The FPT Industrial Driveline plant in Turin, Italy, which produces transmissions and axles for heavy equipment, is using an AURA robot (Advanced Use Robotic Arm) designed and built by Comau and used in the HuManS (Human-centered Manufacturing System) consortium. Almost 3 m high and weighing 3 metric tons, AURA works alongside humans without barriers, and can be manually guided by the operator. AURA retrieves a part from the supply cart and hands it to the operator. It is said to be the only collaborative robot on the market capable of lifting up to 170 kg.

Better batteries for electric cars. Ford is leading an EU battery research project to improve regenerative braking in hybrid cars. The new research—an EU collaboration managed by the Consortium for Battery Innovation—focuses on dynamic charge acceptance (DCA) and high-temperature durability in batteries for automobiles. DCA is the ability of a battery to capture instantaneous energy, such as through regenerative braking. The project will help battery manufacturers improve fuel economy and CO2 emissions in hybrid vehicles.

These are just a few of the many innovative technology projects in manufacturing. If you have an interesting example, send it my way!

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