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Ever since the late 2000's, the manufacturing process has seen a rapid change in the way things are done thanks to technological developments. Every step of the manufacturing process has been influenced by technology in one way or another. From the use of advanced robotics in the early research and development stages, to using robots in the assembly lines. Technology has truly changed the shape of the manufacturing industry.

The word manufacturing was derived from the word "Manu" which literally means using your hands. But in today's world the word has largely become a habit rather than an actual fact. Several production processes becoming automated means that manual labor is no longer required. While this sounds like a bad thing as many jobs would become redundant, but automation has proven to be more profitable for the manufacturing industry, has reduced waste and reduced costs.

Industry 4.0

The industrial revolution is being labeled as Industry 4.0 by industry experts. This entails that the manufacturing industry is now entering its fourth stage of technological revolution. Many new technologies like photonics and nanotechnology are taking over old ones.

To understand this further, let's look into the 8 major steps involved in the manufacturing process and understand what the future holds for them.

1. Research & Development

The research and development stages are crucial to the manufacturing process. Whether it's a chemical industry or a parts manufacturing industry, R&D is essential to the commercial success of the final product. But it does not end there, with the rapid changes in the industry; manufacturers need to keep up so that their products don't get obsolete. New products need testing so that their viability is checked before production actually begins.

To make the whole process faster and more in-sync with the technological developments, manufacturers have started using robotics, 3D printing and artificial intelligence to improve the R&D process and as a means to reduce uncertainty from the future.

2. Planning & Resourcing

Once the research and development phase is through, the next big step is planning how to get into commercial production and gathering resources like raw material suppliers, contract manufacturers and material makers etc. Basically, sourcing for every component of the product which goes into the final build.

Decentralized parts manufacturing is how technology has made this stage of the manufacturing simpler. It employs a geographically dispersed network of facilities that are linked via technology. Also many industry giants are exploring Blockchain for resource tracking. This technology makes use

of Enterprise Resource Planning, software which tracks resource allocation from raw material procurement to customer relationship management. The Austrian automotive manufacturer Magna Steyr has a system that replenishes assets and parts that are running low by tracking them automatically.

3. Operations Tech

While the manufacturing industries of today are still going through transition from old ways to automization, the manufacturing process of the future will presumably look like a self-sustaining organism which will require minimal human intervention. Initially the manufacturing machines will become more digitized. Later this will be developed into a self sufficient predictive maintenance and predictive intelligent digitized system. This will include connected manufacturing equipment, Supervisory control and data acquisition and Programmable logic controllers. Much like ABB Smart Robotics, that has been the most forward in embracing the concept of predictive maintenance.

4. Labor

If you were to look at the manufacturing industry merely a decade ago, you would see that technology was there to help the labor with their tasks. Now, the labor or what is left of it is there to help the machines with their work. The industry now requires a much more skilled work force than it did before. This is where technologies like augmented reality and exosuits are expected to increase the efficiency of the work force.

The augmented reality will increase the skill level of the workforce by allowing them to handle complicated tasks by using an AR map on complicated machine interfaces. And exosuits will reduce the toll on the physical health of workers due to repetitive work. Like Airbus's Factory of the Future, that has introduced smart glasses to help reduce errors and increase safety at the factory.

5. Production & Assembly

Technology came for the production and assembly lines in the manufacturing industry first. So many of the assembly line jobs that were done by laborers are now automated. As robots become more efficient, cost effective and safer to use, they are being used in the production and assembly stages more.

The industry 4.0 envisions that soon manufacturing plants will make use of IoT technology and produce products based on customers' preferences and feedback along with the specific product being made. Which means more customization will be possible without having to change the whole production process.

6. Quality Assurance

With the digitization of the whole production process, quality assurance will become embedded in the very core and coding of the new system. Humans have a learning curve and took time to perfect a task. But machines don't posses that drawback and can ensure quality from the very first unit produced.

Technologies like Blockchain and Computer Vision in the future will be able to ensure the highest standards of quality are adhered to by offering compelling methods of tracking the quality in otherwise dull and repetitive jobs.

7. Storage/ Warehousing

With the boom in the e-commerce business, warehousing has become more important than ever. Online stores and e-commerce businesses are popping by the minute and since they have a customer base, they need to get the product their customer ordered fast or they lose customers to competition.

This is why robotics and artificial intelligence are bound to play a major role in warehousing. From the classic robotic arms being used to pack ordered products or shelving them. To AI being used for scanning and sorting products, with the help of enterprise resource planning.

8. Logistics

The final stage of getting the manufactured product to the customer or the retailer efficiently can be daunting task. With thousands of orders and deliveries to make the complexity of the task can be very overwhelming and can create a huge space for error

The trucking and fleet telematics IoT and softwares for shipment will solve this problem in the future. Not only simplifying the process but also making the process a lot greener. Amazon has reinvented logistics and warehousing with its army of Wi-Fi connected to Kiva robots to streamline the warehousing department.
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