2017 manufacturing predictions: IoT, 3D printing, virtual reality, Industry 4.0 will dominate

January 23, 2017
For reliable predictions of the technology changes coming for manufacturing, you have two choices: a crystal ball, or a discussion with front-line experts who work daily with manufacturers as they map out strategies and deploy technologies. The Infor Digital & Value Engineering Team has that unique up-close perspective, the ability to see which big ideas are resonating with manufacturers. And, most importantly, they can see which ideas are considered worthy of investment.

“Manufacturers come to us looking for help with strategy, but also looking for insights on what value can be obtained. Decisions always come down to the bottom-line impact. Manufacturers must be selective and set priorities,” says Riaz Raihan, SVP Digital & Value Engineering, Infor. “We help them do that.”

Prediction #1: IoT applications will save money and improve productivity.

When looking at the types of projects manufacturers are most likely to adopt in the coming year, Raihan believes Internet of Things applications will top the list. Technology is maturing. Use cases are becoming more plentiful. The cost of smart sensors is affordable. And manufacturers are gaining confidence that the value is tangible—there for the taking.

“This is the year when IoT goes from something people talk about and becomes something people do,” says Raihan. “We will see more and more manufacturers take on formal projects using IoT applications. The use of smart sensors is coming of age. Manufacturers no longer feel they need to test concepts on edge apps or in small pilot programs. They are ready to go in all the way,” he adds.

Raihan sees IoT initiatives centering around three basic goals:

  • Preventive maintenance. Capturing data from smart sensors embedded in shop-floor machinery to monitor machine conditions and performance to predict when preventive maintenance should be performed. This helps prevent unexpected downtime, increases productivity, and improves as-promised delivery to customers.
  • Tracking spare-parts inventory. Capturing, monitoring, and analyzing data about maintenance and break-fix repairs will help predict exactly what spare parts will be needed, when, and where. This accurate prediction eliminates unnecessary inventory, saving funds. In industries where components are high value, such as IM&E or aerospace & defense, the savings can be substantial.
  • Automating warehouse operations. Products and pallets can be equipped with smart sensors so when a truck arrives at the warehouse, the goods can automatically be received into inventory, verifying against purchase orders. The pallet can also direct the forklift where the goods belong in the warehouse. A process that was typically labor intensive can now be automated, increasing accuracy, saving time, and reducing costs.

Prediction #2: Virtual reality will be used to enhance the customer experience and to improve workforce training.

Raihan predicts virtual reality also will play a major in the coming year. “The technology has matured to the point where it is now attainable by mid-sized manufacturers as well as the enterprise-size organizations,” he says. “The technology has been around long enough that manufacturers are starting to develop truly innovative uses, such as helping customers visualize personalized products.”

As an example, Raihan describes a Renault-Nissan dealer in Brazil that uses VR to allow customers to see a car model in a particular color with selected features, such as leather interior. “The customer can feel like they are sitting in the car, looking around at the leather seats and actually experiencing the feel of the car. That’s magic,” says Raihan.

He adds that VR will also be used more for training, especially when the use-case involves complex equipment, a remote location, or harsh conditions, such as an oil rig in the middle of the ocean. Allowing personnel to experience the setting, see the equipment, and walk through the training exercise while in a simulated environment is a practical way to empower the workforce and make sure they will be highly productive when they are in the actual environment and the results are critical.

Prediction #3: 3D printing will be used to meet customer demand for personalized products.

3D printing has reached maturity and will be used as a cost effective way to create one-off tools and dies for customized products, says Raihan. “As customer expectations around highly personalized products continues to escalate, manufacturers are learning they can turn to 3D printing to respond rapidly to needs for specialized forms, dies, tools, templates, and molds—the things they need to produce short runs of products designed specially to meet a customer’s specifications.”

3D printing will continue to be used in prototyping and performance testing design features. As testing and certification around safety, environmental impact, and regulatory compliance continue to challenge manufacturers, the use of 3D printing to test specific design features will expand. Design engineers will use the technology to test the impact of small incremental tweaks as well as the big, bold, innovative concepts, speeding the development lifecycle.

Prediction #4: Industry 4.0 will be increasingly deployed, particularly in connecting the supply chain.

Raihan points out that Industry 4.0, the umbrella term that refers to integration and visibility of the entire value chain, often through the use of smart sensors, has been touted for some time, but is just now seeing widespread adoption beyond a few test cases.

“This concept, truly revolutionizing manufacturing, is now becoming mainstream,” says Raihan. “Manufacturers have seen enough proof of concepts and case studies to understand the value of integration and how intelligence around the supply chain translates to savings and improvement of service to customers.” Raihan predicts manufacturers will soon consider total integration of systems, machines, partners, and suppliers to be “must have” elements of their IT systems.

“An important component of the Industry 4.0 infrastructure will be finding ways to engage with customers, in both B2C and B2B business models,” he says. “Using technology to build relationships with customers is key to moving products away from the threat of commoditization and cheap knock-offs.”

Concluding thoughts

After seeing early adopters find success with technologies such as IoT, virtual reality, and 3D printing, many manufacturers are now ready to deploy. The first challenge for many is how to prioritize tactics and decide where to start. This is where the Infor Digital & Value Engineering Team can help.

Learn more about the role Infor Value Engineering plays in helping project ROI and form a detailed strategy about the solutions that best match the need.

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