The manufacturing sector is a vital part of many developed countries’ economies and provides employment for millions of people around the world. This industry has a long history that stretches back as far as the industrial revolution in England during the 19th century when the first elements of mass production and mechanized production lines came into effect. The spinning jenny was the first example of a mechanised form of textile production and it enabled far greater qualities of fabrics and garments to be made in a typical working shift than could previously be achieved with a human labour force. Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, manufacturing firms have sought to make their production lines as efficient as possible. Teams of engineers would be employed to ensure that heavy machinery could be quickly serviced and repaired when malfunctions or breakdowns occurred so that production line downtime was kept at an absolute minimum. In recent years, the manufacturing industry has adopted a wide range of new technologies to enable efficiency gains to be realized. In this article, some of the key ways in which manufacturing firms can use the latest technology to achieve improved levels of efficiency will be explored in detail.
Create Electronic Designs
Several decades ago, many manufacturing firms would employ teams of specialist technical drawing staff to create their designs for complex components and intricate finished products that used a range of electronics in their construction. Their skills in creating these schematics, diagrams, and plans were unquestionable.However, it took long periods to design these by hand and any changes to the designs would often require a complete set of plans to be redrawn. Today, in 2023, many manufacturing firms are using CAD software for their design processes, as it is a far more efficient method of producing highly accurate models and circuit board plans with the ability to change and modify them quickly and easily. Once the design has been completed on CAD software, it is important that it can be easily shared with key stakeholders in the manufacturing firm, such as production teams and lead engineers. To achieve this, companies will commonly use Gerber viewer programs to share their designs and undertake final collaborations and troubleshooting before manufacturing the components.
Big data was once little more than a “buzzword” in certain business circles, and its potential was not fully realized until recent times. Today, it is an important part of many manufacturing firms and is seen as a key way to achieve improved efficiencies across a production line. Put simply, big data works by taking high volumes of data and information from multiple sources and compiling them together so that they can be subject to comprehensive analysis. Advanced statistical techniques, such as predictive analysis, can then be performed on this information to generate actionable insights for the manufacturing firm. These can indicate where production bottlenecks are likely to occur or when machinery is expected to need routine servicing or maintenance. Put simply, the intelligent use of big data and predictive analysis in manufacturing can help production lines run at optimum levels of efficiency and the data can help to guide effective data-driven decision-making.
As mentioned in the introduction to this article, one of the key features in any manufacturing plant is the use of machinery to automate tasks along the production lines. As technology progresses, an increasing number of tasks can be performed by machinery or robotic devices so that efficiencies can be achieved. Many people will be aware of the use of robotics and automation in the vehicle production sector, although it is not as widely known that an increasing number of factories are moving towards complete automation of their production processes. In Asia, there are a growing number of “dark factories” that rely on an almost completely robotic workforce to produce their products. The Changying Precision Technology Company in China recently replaced 90% of its human workforce by installing sixty robotic arms on its production lines. This allowed them to benefit from a 250% increase in productivity when manufacturing mobile phones with significant reductions in defects during the manufacturing processes. Some ethical factors need to be considered with dark factories, however, as they pose a risk to the continued employment of skilled and unskilled factory workers. However, it must be recognized that the increasing automation of production lines can lead to significant gains in efficiency.
Storage Saving Through 3D Printing
It is common for a wide range of manufacturing firms to need to store raw materials and components for their final products in warehouses and dedicated storage areas. This has been an accepted part of the manufacturing process for many decades, although new forms of technology may be changing this situation. 3D printing technology has evolved to a point where complex and large-scale products and components can be created simply by using CAD software and an industrial 3D printing machine. Early models were often limited to printing with plastics and resins, which limited their scope of usage.However, modern machines can now print with a range of materials including some metals. What this means for manufacturing is that components and final products can be created on one machine without the need to store vast quantities of raw materials or componentry on site. This can help manufacturing firms save money on storage facilities and reduce waste through damage or degradation of the components and raw materials.
VR for Staff Training Purposes
As a final key example of technology driving efficiency improvements in manufacturing, the use of virtual reality (VR) technology is proving to be an effective training tool for skilled workers. Many factories will need teams of skilled workers to fabricate complex components and it is often not practical for this training to take place on “live” production lines, as it would result in downtime or interruptions to the production flows. By using VR technology, workers can gain experience in undertaking skilled production tasks in a detailed virtual environment that is like the factory line itself. This can be a highly effective way to train new staff so that they can work to a high level of productivity as soon as they start work on the factory floor.