What Is Manufacturing Technology Going to Look Like in the Future?


July 21, 2021

AI, IoT, RFID, 3D Printing and High-Speed, Cloud-Based Networking. Welcome to the Next Generation of Manufacturing Robotics.

By now, it’s a fair bet that industrial robots are here to stay. With the huge productivity gains advanced manufacturing technology can bring an organization, it’s no mystery why 88 percent of global businesses surveyed by McKinsey said they’d be investing in some sort of robotic automation soon. But how will those investments in manufacturing robotics play out over the next few years? And how will emerging technologies like the Internet of Things, Cloud computing and 3D printing play influence the future of manufacturing technology, in general?

As a managed IT services provider to the manufacturing industry in five different states, we have a few predictions.

The Rise of the AI-Assisted Co-Bot

Now that full-sized industrial robots on the factory floor are mainstream, companies are now looking for ways to use AI to help them learn, think and predict. Why? Because those smart systems can make those your employees smarter and more productive too.

North American manufacturers are ready to invest big in robotics, with 31,000 robotic units sold in the territory in 2020, a 4 percent increase over 2019 even while many plants were shuttered due to the pandemic. (source: Flexible Packaging) In fact, Robotics Tomorrow predicts far greater gains of 15-20 percent in the sale of industrial robots by 2028. And of the total number of robotic units sold, Robotics estimates that 34 percent of those will be Co-Bots—robots designed to work in tandem with humans to increase speed, accuracy, and efficiency.

Examples of this can be found on the warehouse floor at Amazon, where co-bots quickly fetch items in what is often a 1,000,000 square foot warehouse. Now employees can spend 80 percent of their time actually fulfilling orders, instead of spending the majority of their time walking from shelf to shelf. “Cobots” can be hand held as well, like the scanners that help identify the ideal vein to choose for injections. When we ask the question, “what is manufacturing technology?” in the future, it’s going to to be these smaller technologies that will get mentioned just as often as the big industrial robots.

3D Printing for Prototyping and Production

3D printing has been getting a lot of positive press lately as the technology has been implemented on a scale large enough to print houses. But it’s the smaller applications many companies might find useful: like the guitar factory that uses them to create prototypes of their latest guitar bodies, or the small aircraft repair company that uses a 3-D printer to replace the broken luggage hatch, when it can no longer be ordered.

Cloud-based Security and Collaboration on Your Manufacturing Floor

Who’s logging onto your machines, and when? When operators are in charge of industrial robotics, the answer matters. Rather than have unwieldy password systems slowing down workflow, now biometric sensors like fingerprint, face, and retinal sensors will become the norm. And with systems like Microsoft’s new Windows 365 Cloud PC, operating systems can stream in the cloud, allowing employees to freely collaborate from the factory floor the the boardroom, in a true device agnostic environment.

RFID and the Internet of Things Help Maximize your Manufacturing Technology

When a company implants RFID tags on its inventory, and places scanners strategically in trucks and at certain places on its route and warehouses, the information it gathers can revolutionize a manufacturer’s logistics. When you layer on AI and the Internet of Things, it gets exponentially more powerful.

Here’s an example. For a few years now, a pharmaceutical manufacturer that delivers medicines at a certified cold chain temperature has used RFID chips to monitor the temperature and location of its product. Every unit is scanned by the scanner when it goes onto the truck. Temperatures are measured continuously, and the route can be watched in real time. But what if AI could be used to determine the best routes for the truck to more efficiently deliver? And what if manufacturing levels were managed daily to keep too much product from going bad in storage? What if it could recommend a different assembly and storage layout in the factory, to minimize energy use? The questions the combinations of these manufacturing technologies could answer could be tremendous.

Does Your Manufacturing Technology Need an Upgrade?

If you’re running a manufacturing company in our of our five service areas, Integris would love to help you come up with a future-proofed networking plan for your manufacturing robotics, shop floor management, inventory management, and more. Check out our offerings for the manufacturing market. And if you’d like to do your homework on how to hire a managed services IT provider for your manufacturing business, read our free IT Buyer’s Guide!

Susan Gosselin is a Senior Content Writer for Integris. A career communicator and business journalist, she's written extensively on IT topics and trends for IT service providers like Iconic IT and ProCoders Ukraine, as well as business publications such as Technologyadvice.com, Datamation.com, The Lane Report and many others. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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