Much has been said about the promising future of UK manufacturing and engineering but what does the future hold? Everyone knows that Britain is the birthplace of the industrial revolution and remains a global leader in manufacturing. This applies especially to the aerospace sector as it’s the largest in Europe and only second to the US. In 2016, there were more than 2.6 million people directly employed in manufacturing in the UK alone.
The south-west of England is the largest aerospace region in Europe and home to 15 large aerospace companies. In addition, the cluster also consists of a large network of world-class supply chain companies.
Manufacturers have started to make the transition to new processes striving for greater productivity and functionality. Technological advancements in the last few years mean the industry is getting ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). The question remains whether the UK is on the verge of the fourth industrial revolution.
The Future Of Manufacturing
Britain’s manufacturers are now entering a new era. Technologies such as automation, AI and the so-called “fourth industrial revolution” are helping boost productivity, streamline production and allow businesses to become more creative.
Often referred to as Industry 4.0, this digital transformation means new “smart factories” with machines connected to the internet. The World Economic Forum (WEF) believes that the fourth industrial revolution could create up to £2.7 trillion of value worldwide as early as 2025.
The implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) combined with IoT sensors could free up workers to concentrate on more creative tasks. Here is a great blog article on the fourth and fifth industrial revolutions you should read. AI and Data are at the heart the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy but the time to act is now.
3D Printing Technology
For many manufacturers, 3D printing offers a more viable option for increased speed of prototyping, design and production. As 3D printers become more affordable, manufacturers are taking serious advantage especially in dental, medical implant and device printing. As you may already know, companies are making massive strides in 3d printing artificial limbs, organs and even skin.
In the aerospace industry, additive manufacturing removes superfluous material from parts in low-stress areas while maintaining structural integrity. This means that the entire aerospace component is lighter and stronger.
Reports suggest that by 2020, 75% of global manufacturing operations could use 3D-printed tools. According to Deloitte, 3d printing in automotive designs, prototyping, aerospace and will be the largest manufacturing segments.
The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) believe that more than 1.7 million industrial robots will be installed worldwide by 2020. According to a NatWest report, the World Economic Forum estimates that automation is a threat to 40 percent of jobs in consumer goods.
While automation may be seen as “machines taking the jobs from humans”, it doesn’t have to be. Companies that invest in advanced robotics can, in fact, help employees advance into more skilled roles. In many cases, robots will work alongside people, rather than replace them. People will manage and supervise these systems and make real-time decisions looking for opportunities to increase quality and production processes. Some might also refer to this as Industry 5.0.
Internet of Things (IoT)
Smart factories where IoT sensors track how goods are manufactured offer many benefits. Among others, capturing the sheer amount of data faster and more accurately will allow manufacturers to streamline production and simplify their supply chains.
IoT truly is revolutionising many aspects of manufacturing and improving the accuracy of key metrics. This includes Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), production yield rates and production efficiency. Insurance, consumer, healthcare, and retail are the fastest growing IoT sectors. Global investment in IoT solutions could reach a staggering £1.196 billion in 2021.
Servitisation is a relatively new concept in manufacturing where companies charge for their products as a service. A simple example is an industrial business getting a piece of equipment for free and only pay when they use it. The ‘owner’ of the machine can monitor the unit remotely and always makes sure that it is in working order.
Servitisation is a new revenue stream based on selling outcomes and services instead of only focusing on selling products. Michelin, for example, leases tyres to truck fleets as a package deal including servicing while only paying for every mile. It is an incredibly exciting aspect of Industry 4.0 that could really make manufacturing more efficient and cost-effective.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
Both Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning have the capability to streamline factory processes. With the right systems in place, manufacturers will see AI make more informed decisions at every stage of the production process. AI-driven analytics and insights have already helped many businesses increase revenues and market shares faster than their peers. The industries range from healthcare to finance, utilities and e-commerce.
In the manufacturing process, sensors will spot defects on the production line faster and more accurately. The data is fed to the cloud for verification from where the defective component will immediately be removed. The system will automatically order a replacement part while calculating in real-time all the essential variables. With this real-time problem-solving ability, manufacturers can potentially save millions of pounds in product recalls, repairs and lost business.
As AI technologies continue to advance, it will play an even more critical role in various areas of an organisation. This includes fraud prevention to predictive ordering and opportunity assessment. As a result, the customer gets all the benefits of time-saving, productivity and cost.
There are several hundreds of potential applications for AI in manufacturing which makes it one of the most invested technologies on a global scale. Technologies that stem from AI include machine learning, computer vision, natural language processing, speech and facial recognition, advanced robotics and rules-based systems among others. Machine learning, in particular, refers to a computer system able to improve their performance by capturing data autonomously, without the need to follow programmed instructions.
Manufacturing Technologies To Consider
As more emerging technologies become available, they will inevitably converge and very quickly. Manufacturers should look to embrace and invest in new technologies rather sooner than later.
Some of these technologies include the following:
- Augmented Reality
- High-performance computing (HPC) or Quantum Computing
- Advanced Robotics
Who knows exactly what the future will bring? All we can do is hope that manufacturing remains stable regardless of what happens with Brexit and future global developments. The only aspect manufacturers can control is to assess and prepare for any possible impacts along the way.
If you would like to know more about what PRV Engineering has to offer, please get in touch on our website. We specialise in CNC machining, powder coating, electroplating, waterjet cutting, fabrication among others. Some of the industries we serve include aerospace, defence, automotive, rail and construction.