Smart manufacturing is rapidly evolving to help manufacturers at every level of the manufacturing process. New technology is helping manufacturers with machine maintenance, part traceability, quality control, and sustainability. These new smart manufacturing technologies are changing the industry and giving manufacturers more power to foster innovation. Keep reading to see how manufacturing is evolving.
Augmented & Virtual Reality
Augmented and virtual reality capabilities create digital spaces for people to interact with, which has major benefits in manufacturing. Especially with increased social distancing, augmented and virtual reality can be used for machine maintenance. A remote technician can use AR or VR to see what an onsite employee sees and guide them through a repair. This technology can also be used in a broader sense to monitor the whole production floor, or multiple locations by compiling data together.
Artificial intelligence has the ability to reduce time and expertise spent on quality control. A vision-based AI program can drastically reduce time spent on product inspection, a job that normally takes up quite a bit of time from a trained engineer. A program can inspect more product per hour, as well as run constantly without fatigue, which leads to fewer errors. Currently being used in the automotive and luxury goods industries, this type of vision-based AI can benefit many industries to improve product quality. And those highly trained engineers have time back to develop new innovations, pushing the wheel of progress further along.
3D Printing & Additive Manufacturing
3D printing is changing the way we manufacture products; however, one of the barriers of 3D printing is the fairly wide margin of error compared to other production processes. 3D printers inherently produce parts with flaws. But improvements to 3D printers are helping reduce errors in printed parts. Researchers at the University of Virginia have been studying how to help 3D printing software “learn” from mistakes with sensory information.
Optical sensors, as well as infrared and auditory sensors, allow the printer to observe the part it’s making, and the data is sent back to the “brain,” a program that synthesizes the data and makes adjustments in real time to prevent errors. The solution came from how we make decisions using sensory data. For example, if you see you’ve gone outside the lines of a test bubble, you don’t leave it that way—you fix it.
Decreasing the error rate of 3D printing also makes additive processes more sustainable. If parts require fewer or no finishing processes, there’s less material waste. Additionally, not needing to run additional machines to finish parts reduces energy consumption. Improving capabilities for printing with materials like metal and carbon fiber also makes 3D printing a smart manufacturing process.
Blockchain helps manufacturers build a complete digital ledger for information about materials and products. With blockchain, every supplier a manufacturer works with can log into a secure system and input material information. With a digital ledger that updates in real time, manufacturers have complete parts traceability.
What makes blockchain unique is that it’s tamperproof. When data is entered into the blockchain system, there are automatic notifications that go out to other parties to approve the new data. When the data’s been approved, it’s time-stamped and cryptographically signed, then added to the “block” where it can’t be modified again. Blocks of approved information make up the “blockchain,” which is the complete record of all approved agreements and transactions.
Blockchain was originally developed as a foundation for digital currency, but improvements to blockchain programs have made it more effective and scalable for applications in industry. New developments allow for blockchain to connect with the Internet of Things (IoT), allowing it to connect with networked devices (like machines on the production floor). Immutable documentation will help with part traceability as well as accountability on the shop floor.
Technology can help employees do their jobs better or more efficiently. Some forms of technology are helping people realize their potential in manufacturing. Hastreiter Industries in Wisconsin developed special automatic magnifying goggles to help one of their employees with optic nerve hypoplasia, a condition that affects the connection between the brain and the eyes. While their team member, Tia Bertz, is legally blind, the goggles allow her to see with 20/20 vision to work in quality control and CAD support.
Adaptive technologies like Bertz’s magnifying goggles can give more people opportunities in industry, which offers more perspectives to approach a problem, and leads to greater innovation overall.
Rapid Prototyping from PCMI
At PCMI, our enhanced prototyping services give you the ability to innovate faster. With average lead times of five weeks for fully machined and casted prototypes and a variety of materials, including carbon fiber, to choose from, PCMI gives you the power to do more. Learn more about our process in the link below.