How Automation Disrupts Manufacturing
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Automation entered the manufacturing industry by the end of the 1700s. By the beginning of the 1800s the industrial revolution was in full motion. Today we are experiencing a similar revolution as robotics, artificial intelligence, data analytics, software development, and other sciences that made automation reach new levels only possible in movies. Manufacturing is an industry that has benefited from automation throughout its hundred-year evolution.
Despite this, it’s still one of the industries with the most automation potential. Robots are already being used in large factories and the number of industrial robots worldwide is growing by 14% annually. Automation is absolutely disrupting the manufacturing industry big time. Whether it is good or bad, that depends on who you ask. Regardless, these are the technologies making changes and how they are impacting the industry.
The idea of artificial intelligence (AI) has been around for decades. We have seen many movies from the 70s and 80s that depict the replication of human consciousness in machines. Scientists and engineers haven’t replicated human thinking yet, but the developments in this area have come a long way. Manufacturing is an industry with many automation applications, but new AI developments can further reduce human intervention.
AI can be applied to improve quality checks processes and reduce human errors. Machines can have cameras and AI software to recognize even the most miniscule flaw in any product. much quicker than a human. It is used in other areas, too, like predictive maintenance, big data analytics, and generative designs, to know which model is better for specific applications.
Robotics is one of the most significant additions to the manufacturing industry that has allowed process automation. Robots are now almost coworkers to human employees. They can manage tasks like moving parts, assembly, welding, and transportation. A perfect example of this is the Tesla car factory, which has fantastic tech development to produce about 7,000 cars per week.
This factory even has transportation robots that put themselves out of commission when their battery is running low and back to work when they are charged. Not all manufacturing companies are implementing the level of automation that Tesla does, but the potential is there.
Additive manufacturing, sometimes called 3D printing, is the process of manufacturing a product by adding layer after layer of materials. At first, this technology was used to build prototypes and test them, but it has had many developments since. Engineers use it with various materials, from plastic to metal and concrete.
Additive manufacturing has opened the door to manufacturing products by printing different parts and assembling them. It not only makes for faster processes, but it makes it easier for the need to replace parts later during the product’s life span. Scientists are testing 3D printing for the possibility to replicate human organs, which, if it is successful, will open a completely new manufacturing market.
Industrial Internet of Things
With the introduction of AI, robotics, and other technologies, the need for the internet of things (IoT) grows. IoT is the term used to describe how devices are connected to the internet. Not only all the robots are connected to a network, so many sensors are installed around factories to collect critical data. This vital data can later give powerful insights with AI analytics. This technology permits us to have excellent visualization of a factory’s performance and allows us to create digitized industries.
How are they creating disruption?
More Technical Job Opportunities
There is a common fear of machines and robots stealing our jobs. And it is partly correct; a study shows that 64% spent on manufacturing-related activities globally are automatable with existing technology. This data translates to most full-time employees being replaced in the next few years by automation technologies. The study also showed that manufacturing, transportation, and warehousing are a secondary industry with the most automation potential. In the whole industry, workers with more risk of being replaced are the ones with low-skill tasks.
But, even though there are tons of jobs that will be replaced, and countries like China and India that will be especially impacted, automation creates many new jobs and careers too. Machine learning engineers or robot technicians didn’t exist a decade ago but they now are well-paid careers. So, with the loss of less technical jobs, they will be replaced with more technical positions. This situation is good for workers too because companies will have to offer learning opportunities to meet the demand that will arise with these new technologies. They are already doing it.
A significant benefit of automation in the manufacturing industry is the safety it brings. With machines and robots taking over many tasks, especially the ones that require heavy manual work, the risk to humans’ lives is lower. Factory work has high possibilities of work accidents and health repercussions for workers, many end up with back problems and fatigue. Machines and robots, on the other hand, can work 24/7 all year round with the necessary maintenance pauses. They can also do jobs that are too risky for humans, like managing dangerous materials. So, in the case of human safety, they are a game-changer.
As mentioned above, machines don’t need to rest as humans do. So automation can raise productivity in many sectors; in fact, the growth on a global basis can reach 0.8 to 1.4 percent annually. It can also increase manufacturing speed; the Tesla factory can build a customized car in three days. The increase in productivity manufacturing speed, improved inventory management, and more agile operations can also reduce the costs of production.
All this leads to faster returns because the product reaches the market quicker. And with the implementation of AI, machine learning, and other technologies, the room for errors is reduced to lower levels, and increase the quality of products.
Automation has been changing the manufacturing industry for hundreds of years now, but the potential is only growing with new technologies. The applications of AI, robotics, IoT, additive manufacturing, and many other technologies are improving the industry. These technologies are replacing many job positions, which is a downside, but they are creating many others, improving efficiency, worker’s safety, and costs.