Manufacturing technology is a term that can refer to a number of modern methods of science, production, and engineering that assist in industrial production and various manufacturing processes.
There are many modern manufacturing technologies, most of them specifically relevant to ‘Industry 4.0’, the name given to the fourth industrial revolution, associated with automation, data exchange, digital technology, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and the ‘Internet of Things’. Therefore, a lot of the manufacturing technologies innovating production and industry are also relevant to this fourth wave of technological advancement.
Smart factories are environments that are highly digitised for manufacturing to take place more efficiently through connected systems. Through innovative manufacturing technology, machines and systems can, through automation and self-optimisation, learn and adapt to situations with increased productivity. Facilities in France, Ireland, China, and the Czech Republic were named the most productive and powerful smart factories in the world by the World Economic Forum in 2019. Able to produce goods on a large scale, smart factories are useful not just for manufacturing jobs but also for processes like planning, supply chain logistics, and product development.
Cyber-physical systems are those which integrate computer, networking, and physical processes, in which embedded computing technologies control and monitor processes in real time. The combination of cyber and physical industries is crucial to this manufacturing technology; the computer system monitors the process and identifies areas where change is required, and the physical system reacts accordingly. Cyber-physical systems are often considered one of the main advancements of Industry 4.0.
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a computer controlled process in which three-dimensional objects can be created by materials deposited in layers. Using computer aided design (CAD) or 3D object scanners, components, parts, or any other object can be made without the use of machining or any other techniques, and therefore less surplus material.
Today data is collected constantly in systems, sensors, and commonplace electronic items like mobile devices, and the amount of data to be stored is growing every day. ‘Big data’, a collection of global data from various sources, can be a useful component in manufacturing technology. Industry is in the process of developing methods to interpret and analyse data to use in production. These potential productive uses include risk management, manufacturing products to a customer’s specific tastes or order, improving quality, tracking production, and logistics, amongst others.
Augmented reality (AR) technology displays digital content in the real world, allowing visualisation of products or superimposing data or plans onto physical components and machinery. In manufacturing, AR could be used to overlay text, statistics, such as showing the running temperate of a piece of equipment without touching it, or virtual health and safety training without requiring an individual to involve themselves in something potentially harmful. Augmented reality glasses are predicted to reach around 19.1 million units by 2021, and when combined with virtual reality devices, could hit 59.2 million units.
Machining tools or items used in manufacture, such as 3D printers, can be regulated and controlled remotely using CNC – computer numerical control. A CNC machine processes a piece of material to key specifications, following a coded programmed instruction and without the need for a manual operator. Modern CNC systems, through high tech computer programming, allows the design and manufacture of a mechanical part to be highly automated. Processes like laser cutting and additive manufacturing rely on numerical control to efficiently and remotely create products.