Manufacturing has been at the heart of both industrial revolutions and is expediting the next. As trade and consumerism have gone global, demand for goods and instantaneous delivery has never been higher. With the help of new cutting edge technology, manufacturing has been thrusted into a new age. Industry 4.0, originally coined by the German government, is about implamenting automation and data exchange into manufacturing. New applications for cloud computing have opened the door for vastly improved online tracking and project management while smart sensors compound their efficiency and allow for much greater integration in the value chain and information for the supply chain. These allow for faster time to market as well as reduced costs.
The combination of improved sensors and the arrival of 5G will feed the expansion of IoT, increasing its application to analyse production quotes, consolidate control rooms and create models for predictive maintenance. On top of that, integrating Blockchain technology and distributed ledgers will help resolve the issues in data efficiency as manufactures will be able to see each part of the supply chain in real time to be able to identify problems. This will further streamline operations, not only increasing speed but internal financial management and transactions.
The development of 3D printers make products cheaper, faster and stronger than traditional manufacturing and allow for rapid iteration and prototyping. When in the past you needed six parts for production now you only need one, potentially creating less wasteful supply chains and new opportunities for local economies. Whereas traditional manufacturing sees raw materials transported into one large central factory, where they are assembled into products, digital plans are now being sent to local manufacturing hubs for assembly in workshops or directly by the consumer. At the industrial level, distributed manufacturing is nascent but diverse in application. Early commercial adopters range from healthcare to the automotive sector, with rising interest from electronics.
As of May 2019, there is more than 1430 Fab Labs in the world. Currently there are Fab Labs on every continent except Antarctica.
Barcelona has launched a Fab City project to enable local production, repurposing of old appliances and upcycling of goods. The plan will include fab labs in every district of the city and plans to expand to every neighborhood.
In 2017, there were almost 1,800 metal additive manufacturing (AM) systems that were sold, compared to the 983 systems which were sold in 2016. That’s a surge of more than 80% in total units.
The company STARTT now offers 3D printers for less than 100 pounds
The Ministry of Supply now creates custom blazers in a couple hours with the help of Japense company, Shima Seiki's, 3D Print-Knit's production process. Utilizing 4000 needles, the 3D knitting machine takes a few customers preferences and a body scan to finish the suit, generating 35% less waste in the process.
By the end of 2020, 67% of enterprise infrastructure will be cloud-based.
Digitised manufacturing methods may not replace traditional ones, but they are giving rise to new business models and disrupting the economics and competitive hold of existing supply chains. In the long term, they may have a broad and transformative impact, changing global trade and retail patterns.
While distributed manufacturing can be seen as a potential driver of consumer or local empowerment, giving people more control over the material artefacts in their lives, it is not in itself a positive development for sustainability. On one hand, making items closer to their intended retail market could reduce their environmental impact and logistics costs, and the time from production to application may also be reduced. But affordable local manufacture could also simply mean more low-value, short-life and even non-recyclable items are produced, increasing pressure on resources in a similar way to ‘fast food’. Challenges to overcome include sustainable feedstock for the 3D-printing process, how unwanted printed items are disposed of, and who takes responsibility if printed products fail or are unsafe.
SME's without enough business for bulk ordering and who don’t want excess inventories now have access to affordable prototyping and simple API’s so they can better grow and manage their products.
Automation allows for machines to perform tasks that would be unsafe or impossible for humans with superhuman accuracy and productivity. There’s been a global discussion on automations effect on jobs and how the intent must be around making robots a compliment not replacement to humans. While jobs will be lost, many will also be created. The new need will be in operations, managing the robotics, programing and maintaining them will all be highly important roles. Re-education programs must focus on those who can build hardware, software and firmware, can design automation and robotics and who can adapt and maintain new equipment
How can distributed manufacturing be better combined with waste cycles to create closed loop production processes?
Can fab lab technologies rival big industry ones? What potential disruptions and change can fab labs bring to the manufacturing ecosystem?
Will digital personalisation come into competition with the ‘handmade’ appeal of some luxury goods?