Manufacturing has never been more complex than in this age of labor shortages and tumultuous supply chains. Lead times are taking the hit, and manufacturers are going to extremes to make up the difference.
At the same time, we’re in a new age of robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence that is quickly transforming what manufacturing looks like, enabling parts manufacturers to lower lead times and streamline processes, while still delivering a quality product. This new age is called the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0. What does Industry 4.0 mean for manufacturing, and how can it make an impact for your business?
What is Industry 4.0?
What makes Industry 4.0 different from previous revolutions in manufacturing is the integration of robotics and artificial intelligence in entirely new ways. Instead of humans building machines, we now have highly competent machines capable of skillfully building parts and machines. This optimized human-to-machine interaction has led to better data and connectivity, improved diagnostics, and top-of-the-line robotics throughout the manufacturing process.
How Industry 4.0 is “Disrupting” Manufacturing
These new trends in manufacturing are often dubbed “disruptive” because they transform the industry’s norms. But these “disruptions” are inherently much more positive than negative. The future of manufacturing is about adapting and embracing innovations that move us forward. With new machines that rely not on a human pace, but on their own potential, we have moved from limited machinery to complex robotics capable of even greater efficiency than a human operator could ever attempt.
Disrupting the Workforce
Before Industry 4.0, some jobs in manufacturing were relatively simple and repetitive. But now that automation and robotics can contribute to accomplishing those more straightforward tasks, the operators are free to engage in higher-level work. This shift can call for increased professional training for operators in the manufacturing industry to maximize the potential of the machines and the workforce.
How Industry 4.0 Enhances Manufacturing Efficiency
Although Industry 4.0 means adjusting manufacturing processes to keep up with the new technology, the effort is well worth the payoff. The innovations of this fourth Industrial Revolution have enhanced efficiency in the manufacturing world, resulting in decreased production times, increased product variety, and even improved safety in the workplace.
Shorter Production Times
Robotic welding brings a competitive edge to parts manufacturing because of the sheer volume of parts a robot can weld compared to a human operator. For example, since the machines can handle the actual welding of parts, human operators are free to load the next fixture, or plan ahead to the next phase of the process. As a result, otherwise lost time between steps in the welding process can be used in ways that streamline the process.
Greater Production Variety
In the past, there were limitations on how much a single operator or machine could produce in a given period of time. Workstations were often limited to a singular part or product based on what the machine was designed for, and it was more practical to have each operator focus on a specific part.
With the capable-of-pivoting machines of Industry 4.0, you no longer have to restrict manufacturing to one type of product. For example, operators can have a multitude of parts laid out for production welding, and the robots can quickly move through and weld each piece correctly.
Another significant area of improvement brought to manufacturing with Industry 4.0 is heightened oversight and visibility. Manufacturing machines are now designed with greater connectivity, capable of sending data digitally (in real time!) to monitoring systems for quality assurance and safety reporting.
For example, forklifts can send data packets that allow managers to monitor operator speed and machine performance, making it easier to assess potential issues. Operators are held more accountable for following safe manufacturing practices, meaning less time lost due to injury, damaged products, or undiagnosable issues.
American Manufacturing is on the Forefront!
The future of manufacturing is bright, and we’re proud to be on the cutting edge with Industry 4.0! From increased automation with new robots and lasers that can weld twice as much as a human operator to exploring the possibilities with collaborative robots (cobots), we’re constantly looking for new ways to increase flexibility and improve efficiency throughout the manufacturing process. Contact us to learn more about how American Manufacturing does things differently for higher-quality products to enhance your warehouse experience!