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Five Technological Applications Impacting Manufacturing Innovation

“Let’s go invent tomorrow instead of worrying about what happened yesterday.” – Steven Jobs

A manufacturer can be innovative in various ways beyond the use of technology. Innovation can include the utilization of new business models, the development of new processes and services, and the enhancement of existing products too.

Technology does support and drive innovation. Technological advancements can allow manufacturers to create higher quality goods faster than before, with less expense and help them realize more efficient operations to become more competitive.

Innovators and engineers are constantly improving upon existing technologies to fulfill unmet needs, provide goods for untapped markets, and most importantly, looking forward to stay ahead of the competition!

So, in that spirit, here are five technologies that are impacting manufacturing innovation. I realize that this is by no means an exhaustive or complete list, so these represent but a few for your consideration:

1. Additive Manufacturing / 3D Printing

Additive manufacturing was actually developed in the 1980’s, but has picked up more significant interest in the last few years. It covers any and all processes involved in printing a 3-dimensional product, the reason it’s commonly referred to as 3D printing. Additive manufacturing includes a technique called cold spraying, which involves blasting metallic particles through a nozzle at high speeds, binding particles together to form shapes. This creates a part by building materials layer by layer through the control of a computer. Because the end result is a high precision replica of an original design, there is less waste during the production process and can save the manufacturer money.

Historically, additive manufacturing technology has been expensive and was typically used by the “bigger fish” in the field. However, recent advancements have enabled additive manufacturing to become more affordable, and it is anticipated to become a common option for smaller manufacturers. 3-D printers will continue to change the manufacturing landscape by creating more efficient ways to manufacture custom parts and goods.

2. Advanced Materials

A report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) notes that “almost all the megatrends for the future — energy efficiency or alternate energy devices, new materials to counter resource shortages, next-generation consumer devices, and new paradigms in chemical safety and security — depend heavily on advanced materials” and that these advanced materials “will fuel emerging multi-billion dollar industries.” This includes advanced composites, which have to date been largely restricted to use in a limited number of high-cost applications. However, efforts are underway to develop manufacturing processes that lower cost and speed production such that advanced composites are integrated into a much wider range of products and applications in the coming years.

3. Cloud Computing

Cloud based computing uses network connected remote services to manage and process data. Life in the cloud will gain momentum, but security concerns must be continually addressed. Companies are increasing use of this technology across various geographic locations to share data to make better business decisions. Cloud Computing helps reduces costs, improve quality control and shorten production times.

4. Internet of Things (IoT)

Many of us now can’t imagine life before the smartphone…welcome to the idea of a smart manufacturing facility. Smart technology is not brand new, but it is steadily developing into the wave of the future for manufacturing.

Imagine a workplace where connected equipment will be able to communicate via the Internet and computerized manufacturing machinery will be able to “talk to each other” and send/receive notifications about operating conditions. Once a problem is detected, a notification is sent to other networked devices so the entire process can be automatically adjusted. The end result will be reduced downtime, improved quality, less waste and lower costs. This technology will lead to the development of new types of positions for the manufacturing workforce.

5. Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology deals with matter between 1 and 100 nanometers; a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. Nanotechnology was traditionally used in the aerospace and biomedical arenas, but is now being used to manufacture lightweight stronger materials for boats, sporting equipment and auto parts, as well as being used in creating personal care items such as eyeglasses.

Nanostructured catalysts make chemical manufacturing processes more efficient by saving energy, reducing waste and will also have increased applications in healthcare and pharmaceuticals.

Staying on Top of Technology

If you’re a small manufacturer, it’s especially important to have a forward-thinking approach and adapt with technology. It can ultimately help companies become more profitable and competitive.

The NIST MEP, MEP Centers, and MEP Partners offer numerous programs and services to help the acceleration of technology for U.S. manufacturers. For more information, check out the how we help.

About the author

Ben Vickery

Ben Vickery is Group Manager of Marketing & Communications for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). He previously served as Senior Technical Advisor at NIST MEP and was the Team Lead for Applied Development within NIST MEP’s Programs and Partnerships Division (PPD), where he led numerous initiatives, including Technology Collaboratives, E3 (Economy, Energy & Environment), Technology Scouting and Technology Driven Market Intelligence. Ben also served as Senior Analyst with the NIST Manufacturing Futures Group, where he focused on challenges facing U.S. manufacturers in the global economy, and was Product Line Manager for Lean Enterprise at NIST MEP. Ben received an M.S. in Public Policy, focused on Science & Technology Policy, as well as a B.S. in History, Technology & Society from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

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It is absolutely correct,We have to act now to implement.
I'm member of the board of a traditional forging for automotive parts, mainly heavy trucks, we are making important investments in new presses and heat treatment equipment, but we are very worried about the fast advancements in additive manufacturing, thinking that is possible that our facilities can be obsolete faster than we can recover the investment. Can you give us a counsel about?
Thanks for your comment Cesar. There has indeed been a shift in the usage of additive manufacturing for parts production. In the past, much of the additive manufacturing activity focused on prototyping, but increasingly, it is being used to produce functional parts. To this end, the current state of the technology is probably best served in high-value, low production industries such as the aerospace and medical device industries. However, while the automotive industry utilizes additive manufacturing in the product development process, the production volumes required for final parts tend to be too large for the current state of additive manufacturing to meet. Stay tuned, however, as the technology advances…
Thank you VICKERY for your checklist, Technology has contributed to the growth of industries or to the process of industrialization.
Why not use technology for making innovation within technology? Idea management tools such as qmarkets collects and screens ideas from each nd every employee in your organization, thus allowing the best ideas to mature and develop into real results.
Great article! It provides a nice overview of key innovative technologies in manufacturing. I would like to mention couple other examples of combined technological applications: - Artificial Intelligence and Telemetry enhancing effectiveness of self-operated machines and systems; - Online Resources, Virtual Reality and Wearable Devices customizing workforce training; Also, it is important to note the critical role of regional innovation cluster (integration of specialized industries, universities and funding entities) in promoting new technologies. Kind regards, Ronaldo dos Santos
Thank you for your comments Ronaldo. Artificial Intelligence and the utilization of telemetry will be of crucial importance to self-operated machines (and autonomous vehicles), while Virtual and Augmented Reality will have profound implications for workforce training. There are many other technologies beyond the ones noted here that will strongly impact manufacturing innovation too! And, you are absolutely right about the important role of Regional Innovation Clusters.
Technology does drive innovation. Using 3D CAD, high-tech systems, and other capabilities, manufacturers can integrate more materials and products into their processes. On top of expanding capabilities, the IoT and automation systems can also streamline processes.
Thank you, Ben Vickery for your great research. Technology does support and drives innovation. Technological advancements can allow manufacturers to create higher quality goods faster than before, with less expense and help them realize more efficient operations to become more competitive.
Great Post Ben! Thanks a lot for introducing these five technological applications that will surely bring a revolutionary change in the way chemical manufacturing processes were carried on till now. With these innovative ideas manufacturing process will produce accurate finished products at faster rate.
Ben, what an insightful article on a technical applications affecting manufacturing innovation. Staying in tune with and on top of technologies and innovations really can help with a companies profitability and competitiveness. Cryogenic Technology and molecular realignment of metals is another area of innovation that is gaining traction in todays fields. Keep bearing a torch for new technologies in manufacturing. Regards, James Reed
Innovation is necessary for a business models, the development of new processes and services and the enhancement of existing products too.
Yes Why not use technology for making innovation within technology? Innovation is necessary for a business models. Technological advancements can allow manufacturers to create higher quality goods faster than before.
There's certainly a great deal to know about this subject. I really like all of the points you made.
Well, it impacts us in good ways and in bad ways; the same way globalization effects us in both good and bad ways. All gazets boost your unconscious to be more unconscious and conscious to be less conscious. he main and most important advantage of it being its ability to make our life easier every day and has helped us learn more about our world. With respect to technology, we justify its use regardless of how harmful it can be to the environment in the name of progress.

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