Manufacturing is a buzz word again, undergoing the industry’s greatest change in more than 100 years. Domestic jobs have evaporated from many countries with globalization and automation threatens to replace more workers every day.

Industry analysts have increasingly started referring to next generation technologies such as cloud, big data, mobility, and social-driven IT, in various forums. However, technology on its own is not adequate. It is the changes in the underlying business model brought about by these new technologies that are reinventing manufacturing. Some of the key trends impacting the manufacturing world are:The industrial revolutions we’re experiencing now, also known as Industry 4.0, and are powered by advancements that include smart manufacturing, robotics, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT). In addition to inducing manufacturers to invest $267 billion in the IoT by 2020, Industry 4.0 is revolutionizing manufacturing along five dimensions:


1. Seeing around corners - in 360°

New tools are allowing companies to create and test situations in the virtual world, to imitate the design process and the assembly line before an actual product is created. Simulating the product-creation phase helps cut down on manufacturing time and assure the manufacturing process delivers what companies intended to create. Using augmented reality solutions for remote assistance, allowing people in different locations around the world to connect in a live view and troubleshoot together. For instance, this enables an engineer in China to consult with an engineer in the U.S. on a technical issue and receive feedback in real time through wearable Augmented Reality (AR) glasses, expediting problem solving and significantly reducing travel costs.

2. Seamless creation of tangible products - in 3D

Also making a mark in the manufacturing world is 3-D printing, which allows for the seamless creation of tangible products using a single machine. This is a fundamental change, because it gives you a lot more probabilities for how you design a part. Three-dimensional printing reduces waste by recycling plastic and cuts down on the wait time for replacement parts and transportation. Its implications for mass production are various, making advancements possible in products varying from toys to medical devices.

3. Advanced manufacturing - on autopilot

Automation enables a level of accuracy and productivity beyond human capability even in environments that would be considered unsafe for humans. The new generation of robotics is not only much easier to program, but easier to use, with capabilities like voice and image recognition to re-create complex human tasks. Another benefit of robots is that they do precisely what you ask them to do - nothing more, nothing less. And while automation eliminates some of the most monotonous manufacturing jobs, it is also creating new jobs for a re-trained workforce.

4. Building intelligent factories - in the cloud

In addition to robotics and virtual reality, factories environments are also driving advancements in cloud computing and smart sensors. Smart sensors can carry out tasks such as converting data into different units of measurement, communicating with other machines, recording statistics and feedback and shutting off devices if a safety or performance issue arises. IoT functionality can track and analyze production quotas, consolidate control rooms and create models of predictive maintenance.

Cloud computing enables companies to extract and analyze information that affects the production line. Data from augmented and virtual reality, as well as increased customer feedback, will have a significant effect on research and development, giving consumers more of what they want, getting it to them faster and cutting down on costs—a system that ultimately will drive innovation.

5. Robots on the rise - managed by humans

Building a better manufacturing sector with augmented and virtual reality, robotics and data analysis using smart equipment naturally raises an important question: What will the Industry 4.0 workforce look like? While there are still some significant challenges ahead, the outlook are strong regardless of the obvious concern of robots displacing jobs. The bulk of automation is used for work that would be considered unsafe or impossible for humans. This makes robots a complement to, not a replacement for, human workers. Because of robots, we’ll be able to increase our output.

We will still need people who can manage new operations, manage the robotics, program them and maintain them. Just as there was a shift from farm work to factory work in the early 20th century, almost every sector will need new kinds of worker. Those who can build hardware, software and firmware; those who can design automation and robotics; and those who can adapt and maintain new equipment.

A shift to smart manufacturing will save organization’s money and translate into greater profits, more jobs and healthier economies. As machines move into a more complex age, so do the workers and products, symbiotically ushering in a new era of production.