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Technology Trends of 2014 and How They Apply to the Manufacturing Industry

It is the start of a new year and we are seeing a lot of predictions being made on trends for 2014 - be it technologies, industries, business functions, business models, enterprises or consumers. Being focused on the Manufacturing industry for a few years now, here is my take on how some of the top technology trends apply to this industry, how they will be leveraged over this year and the kind of changes we may see them bring about.


1.   Big Data & Advanced Analytics

This was the hot technology trend in 2013 and I say it will continue to be so in 2014 as well. However, a lot of "noise" around it will be cut out and the industry will focus on the real and practical value it can bring. In effect, a lot more of application and a lot less of the "magic wand" buzz.


From a manufacturing perspective, we would see a lot of "big data" being generated by machines - be it in the form of device logs, sensor feeds, RFID/barcode feeds or GPS locations coming from aircrafts, vehicles, consumer devices, tracking devices, mobile phones or manufacturing equipment themselves. Capturing, storage, analysis of this data and integration with enterprise applications will provide for a lot of value - to consumers and eventually to enterprises. Analysis of this data can generate a lot of insight into how consumers use these devices, when usage is at its peak, where there is wastage, what kind of usage leads to what kind of results - breakdown, dip in output, optimal usage, how the devices are being used by different consumer groups in different locations, in different environmental/industrial conditions. All of these insights can be used to make better products, to provide better services to buyers/leasers of these products, to provide targeted promotions, to improve customer satisfaction & loyalty, to improve internal processes. The possibilities here are immense, a lot of prototyping and algorithms have been tried out in 2013, and we should see some of these being put to productive use in 2014 and enterprises getting some real bang for the buck.


2.   Mobility & Next Gen Interfaces

We have already seen smart phones and tablets capture the consumer market in full force. We have also seen good penetration in enterprises with BYOD gaining ground over 2013. As we see this grow further in 2014, what we will also start seeing is mobility becoming a central theme in consumer devices and enterprise processes in the form of wearable devices and new interfaces for interaction with these. Think Augmented Reality, Voice Commands, Touch Screens and the likes.


What does this mean for the manufacturing industry? A lot more of hi-tech devices getting manufactured, a lot more mobile based asset management, a lot more of cool visualizations in devices, new ways of interacting with these devices, a lot more of automation of processes that save time and improve quality and efficiency. From a consumer's perspective think of cars with digital dashboards and windscreens - the dashboards can be configured the way you like it, with only the information you want to be appearing and in the place you would like to see it. The windscreens can give you alerts by flashing warning messages in real-time, done in a way that it doesn't distract the driver and at the same time provides relevant information at the right time such that the driving experience is more satisfying. From a manufacturer's perspective - think about being able to monitor the health of an employee in a hazardous working condition, think about being able to significantly reduce service time of a machine by referring to a handheld and get to a faulty equipment faster, by being able to read instructions to dismantle the machine using augmented reality directly on the machine and by being able to directly order and receive the replacement parts as the repair is being done. All this at the touch of a screen, or just by speaking into a device, if your hands are already occupied with the machine.


3.   Internet of Things

This one has many names already - internet of everything, industrial internet, M2M (++), industry 4.0 (purely in the manufacturing context). How much of this can shape up in 2014 will purely depend upon the kind/extent of usage/automation that one wants to achieve. Sensors in machines sending out data, capturing the data in different forms and via different means and integrating this data with enterprise applications is certainly possible and proven already. If one is looking at full factory automation - with machines and raw material being lined up for effective use of machines and with least wait times - this will take a few more years. But if you are looking at aspects of condition monitoring, command center for device management, track and trace use cases, these will certainly make way for a lot of automation in 2014. Think emergency response, connected vehicles, predictive maintenance, precision agriculture etc.


4.   3D Printing or Adaptive Manufacturing

In 2013, I did read a few blogs around 4D printing as well - basically they were talking about the printed object transforming its shape, based on the environment it is kept under after printing. It sounded very promising, but I think, it may take some more time and may simply become an extension of 3D printing over due course. So, I am still sticking to the 3D world for now. This has seen a good growth in popularity over 2013, while it started with rapid prototyping, moved on to the toy and medical industry, it finally found place in some big manufacturing organizations who are making bigger and better use of 3D printing even as of today. 2014 may see enterprise class 3D printers becoming cheaper and usage growing across large and small enterprises for end products, components or even manufacturing devices themselves.


Impact of 3D printing on product design, inventory management, supply chain management and manufacturing process itself will grow over 2014. We should see a lot more of 3D printing being adopted in the areas where it is more suitable and provides for a better ROI. Integration with PLM systems, integration with enterprise applications, a lot more focus on computer aided design techniques suited for 3D printing, research on more materials, multiple materials and better output finish will also be seen in this space.


5.   Robotics

Robotics has seen growth mainly in automotive and metals and machinery industries, but there has been increased adoption in other segments as well. The speed, accuracy, waste reduction, consistency and reliability of robots make them well suited for electronics, food and beverage and pharmaceutical manufacturing and packaging applications. Robots also help organizations with the flexibility to respond quickly to changing demands - in quantity, in design and in different products.


With a lot of stress on Automation as well as most countries focusing on manufacturing internally, Robotics will continue to see growth in 2014, particularly in large scale and standardized products or components manufacturing where tasks are repeatable.


Most of these trends eventually point to Digital Enterprise and Automation being the key technology theme for the manufacturing industry and causing further shifts in business models by means of near-shoring, re-shoring and "servitization".


Two technology trends that I did not cover above are 'Social' and 'Cloud' - these have seen significant leverage over the last few years and will continue to grow in 2014. Benefits of cloud infrastructure are well understood today and most organizations have shifted to either a private or public version of the same depending on the size, scale and risk. Cloud based applications are still catching on and there will be a big need for on-premise and in-cloud integration over the next year. Social, Gamification and Collaboration are now finding a place not only from a consumer or sentiment analysis perspective but also as a means of crowd-sourcing of ideas, seamless execution of processes and of course Innovation which has a central place in all these technology trends and their impact to the Manufacturing industry.


Only time will tell how widely used and common-place each of these technology trends will become in the Manufacturing industry. But, the speed of evolution of technology and its adoption is certainly bringing around a complete paradigm change towards the importance of technology to business.


Great article Rakhi. Related to 3D Printing, I think the inventory management techniques will also change. Companies may move to a JIT model for their inventory and have a 3D printer on standby to take care of any unforeseen delays. The inventory cost model will go an overhaul with 3D print finding greater adoption.

Great one Rakhi, nice to get a peek into what's coming!
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