The biggest driver of growth for the world economy has always been manufacturing. However, manufacturing is not the same as it was decades ago. It’s not even the same as it was five years ago. Technology and manufacturing processes have been evolving and improving at a rapid rate. Much of this change has come in the form of improved automation. As automation progresses, companies have gained the ability to accomplish more than ever before.
The world changed in 1962 when robots were first used on GM automobile assembly lines in New Jersey. Since then, robots have increased in importance in manufacturing to the point that factories that are completely automated due to the use of robotics are commonplace across the globe. The complexity of robots has also been evolving steadily. Recently, the biggest developments regarding robots have come in the form of improved artificial intelligence. As advanced A.I. is implemented in factory robots, those automatons will be able to make complex decisions independently of human input.
Many of the drivers of robotics in manufacturing have been countries in Asia, mainly Japan and South Korea. However, China’s ever expanding manufacturing base is sure to contribute a lot in regards to robot automation in the future. Current Chinese policy is to increase the ratio of robots in manufacturing to 100 robots per 10,000 workers by the year 2020.
Shipping and Handling
Automation has also made significant strides in regards to order fulfillment systems. As commerce has moved from something that primarily took place inside brick and mortar buildings to something transacted on the world wide web, there has been an increasing need for better and quicker shipping and handling processes. Increased automation means getting products to customers in far away locations faster. That in turn produces more satisfied customers and higher profit margins.
Israel Aerospace Industries has introduced a completely automated container storage system for ports. Robots are used both on carts and elevators to effectively manage container storage for huge shipping vessels that move consumer products across the oceans.
According to CNN, it currently only takes a minute of human labor for Amazon, the world’s largest e-retailer, to ship a product to a customer. The rest of the workload of preparing that product for shipment is completely handled by robots. It’s not a big stretch to imagine that one minute of human labor won’t be required at all in the very near future.
Manufacturing is also being changed by the computer systems used to collect and analyze data. Thanks to a much improved cloud storage architecture, data points can be quickly created and stored each time a product is sold, each time a piece of factory equipment breaks down and each time a new shipment for supplies is ordered. All this data can then be analyzed by software able to predict trends. It will know when certain products should be manufactured during the year. It will know when to replace aging machinery before it breaks down. It will know when to reorder supplies before they run out. As more data is collected, the future can be predicted with increasing accuracy for a manufacturer.
One company that has made extensive use of big data is Apple. A story published by Wired has suggested that the company is collecting large volumes of data regarding users of its wearable gadgets like the Apple Watch. While this may open up questions regarding privacy concerns for some, the data will likely be used to fine tune future Apple products. Apple uses such information to determine exactly what kinds of products customers want and that helps insure that its technology products are always in high demand with consumers.
One thing is sure. Automation in manufacturing is going to be the standard in most industries in the future. The use of things like robots and big data are certain to create the products people want quicker and more efficiently than ever before.
by: Stokes Vincent