Editor's Choice

Following trends: What technology is worth your time and effort?

April 2023 Editor's Choice

Technology trends refer to the current and future developments in the field of technology that are expected to have a significant impact on various aspects of society, including the manufacturing industry. These trends are driven by advances in computing power, new materials, data analysis and artificial intelligence, among other factors. Understanding trends and their potential impact is important for manufacturers to stay ahead of the curve and take advantage of new opportunities.

So you can imagine the digital and IT teams spamming the mailboxes of plant managers and engineers with Gartner’s latest Hype Cycle or the latest fad to rush onto the IT scene, repackaged for manufacturing use cases. But like a cold call, they get no answer and no mail read notifications. Every week the geniuses at Silicon Valley come up with newer technology that promises to leave us behind if we don’t adopt it immediately. The news and publications are littered with information about ChatGPT and AI, the latest security breach targeting manufacturing plants, breakthrough solutions with the words ‘efficient’, ‘digital twin’, ‘ESG’, and my favourite − ‘one pane of glass’ − strewn across the glossy digital print ads. We attend conferences where new technology and ways of working are introduced almost every quarter, and being none the wiser we can’t wait to demo a proof of concept in our manufacturing environments.

But there simply is no time. Every day produces new challenges, and ChatGPT or ESG is probably the last concern on the minds of our colleagues in manufacturing. So, I’ve come up with a list of manufacturing technology trends that were hot, still are hot, and will probably remain hot for the rest of the year, so that both IT and manufacturing teams can focus on practical solutions rather than trending, buzzword-littered technologies.

The manufacturing industry is constantly evolving, so the trends in manufacturing IT are also changing. Here are the top trends IT teams must focus on for their manufacturing plant rather than wasting time chasing after the latest, most significant promise of the silver bullet technology.

Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing: Industry 4.0 focuses on integrating advanced technologies such as IoT, AI and big data into manufacturing. Smart manufacturing refers to using these advanced technologies to create a more automated and interconnected manufacturing ecosystem. Implementing Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing can increase efficiency, reduce costs and improve quality.

Cloud-based manufacturing: Cloud computing is becoming increasingly popular in manufacturing. By leveraging cloud-based solutions, you can reduce IT infrastructure costs (CAPEX and some OPEX), improve scalability and increase flexibility. Oh, and increase your OPEX cost (evil laugh). Be careful of the assumption that the cloud provider takes care of everything. The shared responsibility model is an often-overlooked term.

Predictive maintenance: This is an old trend that uses IoT and AI to predict when maintenance is needed on machines and equipment. Old but gold because its use cases are increasing by the year. This approach can help manufacturers to reduce downtime, minimise maintenance costs and improve overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).

Digital twin: A digital twin is a digital replica of a physical asset or system, an extension or enabler for predictive maintenance, one could say. For example, in manufacturing, digital twins can be used to simulate the behaviour of machines and production processes, providing insights that can be used to optimise operations and improve performance.

Additive manufacturing: Also known as 3D printing, this is a trend revolutionising the manufacturing industry. This approach can create complex parts and prototypes quickly, cost-effectively, and with minimal waste. However, this technology is one where the use case will require a project team with guts and brevity to implement.

The unified namespace: I want to add another trending technology many are talking about. Some whisper about it in corridors, while most only read about its success. But I’ll leave that for another article. The unified namespace in manufacturing IT refers to a common, standardised way of identifying and accessing data across different systems and devices within a manufacturing ecosystem.

To close, the current trends in manufacturing IT are focused on using advanced technologies to create more efficient, flexible and connected manufacturing ecosystems. These trends are expected to continue to evolve as the industry advances, and new technologies emerge. But are there opportunities to implement any of these technologies? They all promise significant benefits, but all need a chance to execute, and be configured and tweaked to realise the advantages. If you find yourself with time and money to upgrade, improve or create new manufacturing processes, avoid following the latest trends and consider these technologies from the start.

About Lance Turner

Lance Turner.

Lance Turner is an MES/IIT/OT specialist employed at Sasol’s Secunda plant. He has an honours degree in Information Systems and an Adv. Diploma in Industrial Data Communications, Networks and IT. A certified MESA MES/MOM student, his passion is amalgamating general IT across the manufacturing spectrum. Lance’s vision is for a converged IT and manufacturing discipline that will become the reality of Industry 4.0. His team motto is MES services that are always available, always stable, and always dependable.

For more information contact Lance Turner, [email protected], www.lanceturner.co.za

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