What is Advanced Manufacturing?
Advanced manufacturing describes the use of creative technologies and techniques to enhance business competitiveness. Manufacturing industries use creative technologies to continuously keep up with advances in electronic information, computer technology, machinery, materials, and tech-enabled management to improve the quality and process of manufacturing.
These technological advancements may be related to any part of the design and manufacturing process--from ideation to creation, online testing, marketing requirements, and overall management. The aim is to create an efficient and high-quality product with low consumption and a clean, scalable production process. In short, advanced manufacturing covers all aspects of manufacturing, from conception to market-shelf and beyond, in some cases. It relies heavily on information communication technology (ICT) for seamless integration within an organization’s manufacturing and business sectors.
Kinds of Advanced Manufacturing
Advanced manufacturing divides into technologies and techniques related to three main sectors:
The technologies adopted are related to design, followed by simulation. It addresses physical and computer modeling, all advanced production technologies, and related control techniques that a manufacturing unit may need to adopt. The focus is on simultaneous engineering rather than sequence-based. Production technologies include rapid prototype creation and near net shape manufacturing as well as the techniques of precision casting, machining, and joining.
Intelligent production utilizes information communication technology across manufacturing and logistics systems. This system focuses on creating and implementing systems to optimize manufacturing facilities with effective monitoring coupled with regularly updated maintenance and repair plans.
Effective organization relates to the development of effective creation and coordination of manufacturing resources. It comprises material resources as well as related knowledge and works in areas where technology can be used to enhance the participation and abilities of an SME or even a large company. Effective organization looks into related aspects of manufacturing such as virtual bidding, sharing of facilities and resources, incubation units for newer ideas and technologies, knowledge management, and all aspects of e-commerce.
While these are the broad categories of technologies, some advanced manufacturing techniques help businesses find newer markets, strategies, and methods of approach for their products. This is an indicative list as these technologies are constantly being innovated to meet the needs of a dynamic market.
Manufacturers use methods like 3-D printing, fused deposition modeling, or powder-bed laser printing systems to create complex models from a single material. This way, manufacturers are able to spot possible weak points in their systems without wasting materials and resources. Industries that use additive manufacturing are the aerospace sector, the medical field, prototyping, automotive, and consumer goods among many others. These technologies continue to cost less to implement.
Advanced and Composite Materials
Advanced materials enable extremely precise composite blends for particular applications like blends of metals, plastics, glass, and ceramics. Materials that require precision in its chemical and physical properties are manipulated to help enable performance breakthroughs while reducing material trade-offs. Composite materials used often include recyclable plastics, high-strength alloys, and advanced ceramics, among others.
Robotics and Automation
Robotics fit in naturally among advanced manufacturing techniques and are designed to automate processes that involve precision movements, lifting heavy objects, and joining of elements--consistent across production units. Additionally, robotics reduces the risk involved in hazardous jobs like the automotive and aerospace sectors.
Laser Machining and Welding
The laser process enables precision in machining and welding. Laser technology processes high precision parts rapidly as the integrity of the component is maintained with lower and steady amounts of heat. Such processes are used to make pressure vessels and proximity sensor welding. It is also seen in battery welding and sensitive electronics.
Devices are becoming smaller, and naturally, the need for smaller parts and components is on the rise. Nanotechnology has increasingly gained traction among designers who are looking to increase functionality and decrease the size of the devices. Nanotechnology has helped advanced manufacturing systems minimize their overall footprint while maximizing functionality across production lines.
Network and IT Integration
With the internet, connectivity is unparalleled, and advancements in internet technology have enabled connectivity to and from systems and machines as well. Communication between sectors can be electronic and need not be done manually. With internet access to all aspects of manufacturing, there is an instant notification on any issues that may arise, enabling preemptive repairs and saving time and money.
Benefits of Advanced Manufacturing Technologies
Advanced manufacturing technologies have become essential to manufacturing operations that are cost-sensitive and focus on waste elimination. Technologies such as robotics, additive manufacturing, and nanotechnology are revolutionizing the way the manufacturing industry works. However, it is essential to understand the benefits of advanced manufacturing to ensure better levels of control on the production process’s efficiency.
1. Rise in Quality Levels
The primary benefit of advanced manufacturing technologies is quality enhancement. When robotics and automation are a part of the manufacturing process, the chances of human error are few. This is the main reason why manufacturing facilities have switched to robotics when it comes to large-scale production. The number of accidents, defects, and resultant cost inefficiencies is reduced.
Turning to automation frees up workers to focus on more strategic tasks that involve decision making. Simply put, manual labor is handed to the machines and the more intellectual work to the humans.
2. Enhanced Productivity
Advanced manufacturing technologies boost productivity in several ways. It gives manufacturers the ability to scale up or down based on market needs. From creating customized products in small batches to large-scale mass production, productivity is enhanced and can be customized too.
3. Encourages Innovation
Being able to scale production gives manufacturers the ability to create newer products in a cost-friendly manner. Small batch, personalized products can be created without compromising on regular production timelines. The quality of products remains high, yet the usage of raw materials is reduced, bringing down carbon footprints as well.
4. Reduced Production Time
Digital manufacturing makes use of virtualization to create digital factories that simulate the production process. Such simulations help engineers design a flawless factory layout, sequence of production, and model output. Any potential roadblocks can be addressed before production begins. Such digitally created environments can be replicated in reality across multiple locations, reducing the time to market.
Key Steps to Implementing Advanced Manufacturing Technologies
Advanced manufacturing technologies are not plug-and-play and are dependent on skilled people and formal processes. Here are four key steps for the implementation of advanced manufacturing technologies:
Syncing Manufacturing and Business Strategy
Businesses must have a well thought out manufacturing strategy that ties in strongly with a business strategy. This can be achieved by quantifying aspects such as lead times, quality of the product, the flexibility of manufacturing, and costs incurred for various customer segments. Once quantified, the data from these two strategies can be used to create innovative manufacturing goals. In turn, data insights will help with capital expenditure and investment decisions for the adoption of newer technologies and their implementation.
Ideal manufacturing strategies should also list out when, or under what circumstances, investments should be put on hold. This prevents forgotten projects and reduces infrastructure strain.
These strategies can be difficult if management leadership does not have access to the right kind of data on business needs and the various cost options to achieve business goals. Another issue is the disconnect between various departments and their strategies and the incentives given to employees. The first issue can be handled by investing in strong data acquisition and analytical capabilities. The second issue is handled by ensuring that every departments’ incentives are in line with the work done. Feedback channels should be kept open at all times to reduce miscommunication between management and other departments.
Tapping Networks for Technology Identification
Businesses need to build strong internal and external networks to identify new technologies relevant to their industry. Taking a chance on a relatively newer technology that shows potential with minimal risk can provide great returns rather than sticking to brands with high brand equity that are not the right choice.
A business network needs the right framework with clear goals for members. Benefits should be clear for members and network performance must regularly be measured against a set of quantified input and output metrics. The diversity of the network is also crucial to its success.
Technology Prioritization and Evaluation
Every business needs to have a strong set of processes in place to quantify the cost and merits of each technology option when compared to the company’s business strategy. This process should be overseen by skilled executives who are risk takers and can pilot innovations in the right direction. Such executives should also be ready to pull the plug on failing technologies when needed. These executives will also need the support of specialized analysts who can provide them with the right data and can forecast the impact of technology across a transition period.
Rapid Yet Strategic Implementation of Technologies
Businesses require rapid piloting and rolling out of new technologies. However, most businesses remain apprehensive about implementing new technologies and tend to hold out until it is too late. It is difficult for company executives to balance the everyday functioning of the organization while doing R&D with new technologies. The way to handle this is to create a small specialized team that can independently work on the R&D aspect of new technologies. This way, bringing in advanced technologies into a company is easier.
Challenges and Solutions in Implementing Advanced Manufacturing
There are two main challenges to adopting advanced manufacturing: human resources and technology.
Human Resource Issues
- There is an increasingly unmet demand for professionals with IT and design skills at the management level who are risk takers.
- Advanced design skills are needed for shorter, customized production runs.
- IT literacy and skill sets such as an understanding of CAD/CAM and CNC machine-based software is needed but not always available.
- Employers are finding it increasingly hard to recruit skilled professionals.
- Ensuring senior staff members can upgrade their technical and business skills is a challenge.
There are several technological challenges that an organization faces:
- Advanced manufacturing technologies naturally require large investments in research and development. There is also a relatively high-risk factor that businesses take on, which at times affects decision-making, ultimately innovation.
- In several cases, businesses may find it difficult to access specific materials, or find it challenging to understand the characteristics of the material. Evaluation techniques and the processing of designs can also be complex to create and apply.
- Often simulation capability adopted by an organization does not keep up with technological development,causing delays.
- More cybersecurity investments are needed to keep up with technology innovations.
To deal with this range of workforce and product challenges, businesses can adopt several possible solutions:
- They can invest in developing a team of professionals well versed in design software.
- Offer more apprenticeships with the incentive of better-pay and high-level technical job profiles.
- Companies can start with scalable advanced manufacturing technologies in lower-risk sectors , which is then gradually introduced to the rest of the organization. Such a graded approach helps companies understand possible challenges and resolve them before expansion.
Advanced manufacturing technologies have the potential to boost manufacturing and production to exponential levels if implemented in the right manner. The blending of technology with human analytical prowess is an unbeatable combination.