A third of manufacturing is expected to be automated within the next three years, according to a report investigating the rise of technology and the impact of Industry 4.0.
The report from SSG Insight reveals one in eight (12%) of manufacturers are going further with their technological evolution, by preparing to automate up to 50% of their business in the same time frame.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is predicted to help automate internal areas within manufacturing businesses, primarily aligned to the production and manufacturing process including the decision making required to optimise operational performance. AI will also be applied to predict and manage maintenance issues and address quality deviations. External business areas such as sales and marketing, distribution and customer service are less likely to be automated.
Nearly all manufacturers (93%) are utilising live data and automation technology already in some capacity, most commonly to help optimise products and ensure quality consistency. The second most popular way to utilise the technology today is to facilitate a better understanding of the end customer, leading to the development of supporting services as a change to the traditional manufacturing business model.
Improvements in speed, whether developing new products to bring to market, the pace of production, reducing downtime and enabling better decision making are all being driven by automation technology. Furthermore, live data is helping manufacturing businesses to be more accountable, including providing a better understanding of the workforce to create happy and safe working environments, as well as improving traceability of materials and lowering the cost of production.
Manufacturers identify the areas of technology they predict will play a greater role in their business in the next three years:
- Analytics of big data including customer insight (28%).
- AI and machine learning (26%).
- Automation, robotics and cobots (25%).
- Internet of Things (24%).
- App-based, mobile reporting software for seamless management (22%).
- 3D printing and material science (18%).
This latest industry snapshot draws on extensive research among leading manufacturing executives. The report, Harnessing Technology and Insight: Manufacturers maintaining a competitive edge in an age of uncertainty & opportunity, is co-authored by industrial automation and control engineering expert Dr Hongwei Zhang and Professor Sameh Saad from Sheffield Hallam University and Jon Moody of SSG Insight.
Principal lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University Dr Zhang said: “Industry 4.0 is here, and the opportunity is now for manufacturers to embrace the potential of the technology currently available, as well as prepare for future advancements in order to retain a competitive edge. It’s vital that manufacturers seek to futureproof their business as far as possible, utilising live data and advanced analytics to unlock the potential for greater automation and AI within production plants.”
Chief product officer at SSG Insight Jon Moody said: “The rapid acceleration of technology is seen as the biggest challenge disrupting the manufacturing industry today, but it also presents the greatest opportunity. The adoption of technologies such as AI, robotics, automation and 3D printing, as well as innovative data management, will ensure manufacturers can reap the benefits of Industry 4.0 and become more globally competitive. It’s encouraging therefore to see manufacturers committing to investment in technology.”