“Anticipating and preparing for the future itself would give the organisations a jump start once they envision in their strategic roadmap and evaluate the commercial viability of what science and technology has to offer in times to come’, penned Naresh T Raisinghani, CEO and Executive Director, BMGI India
If not for the inventions and discoveries of the humans, we would have been living a life with distances traversed by horses/ bullock carts, communication by letters carried by hands/ birds, cooking over fire and other such primitive practices supported by hand tools and muscle power. For over a thousand years, our ancestors did just that.
In only 150 years, man learnt to bridle the horse of technology to convert ‘handmade’ into ‘machine made’ and lifted humans into a wonderful new life filled with abundant goods & services and the leisure to enjoy them. From Henry Ford’s Model T to the BMW’s X Series; from the Wright Brothers’ planes to Boeing’s jetliners; from Graham Bell’s cranked phones to Apple’s iPhones, we started getting opportunity to experience science fiction in real life, thanks to the ability of the human race to manufacture what is dreamt. A closer look at the drivers for a need to manufacture reveals:
Consumer’s latent needs and changing desireSince time immemorial the human race has innate desires to overcome its physical and mental limitations and be superior in all forms. Whether it means travelling faster than all known animate forms of life and ultimately desiring to conquer the speed of light; having the strength to move or mountains or having the convenience of being served in order to invest time in pursuit of discovery and creation or just spending time in leisure
This propels humans to search for the product or a service that gives the Ideal Final Result which will have the capability to perform all the desired functions and would for all practical purposes have least cost, least environmental impact in short the highest efficiency possible. This fundamental drive towards idealism is the first cornerstone which impacts the destiny of manufacturing.
Science and TechnologyIn the past two centuries the progress made by man in deciphering nature and his ability to toy with it, is the second cornerstone which has affected the progress of manufacturing.
Also, the three major reasons hindering this progress: reliability of the new technology, viability of its cost and the most significant: social acceptance of ‘change is for the better’ when a successful alternativeis running.
A systematic evaluation of trends in the centuries gone by and the present day that have affected the practices of manufacturing enables us to envision the direction headed to in the upcoming decades
The trends that have impacted and shaped / will continue to shape the destiny of manufacturing are outlined under five dimensions.
Dimension 1: Shifts in Sources of EnergyOne of the first shifts in source of energy that revolutionised manufacturing was the popularisation of steam engines over wood and coal. The second significant shift occurred when the factories moved to electric power. Even though the first electric power plant which could supply electricity over a distance was established by 1880 in the US, it took over half a century for electrification to become a way of life for factories, with one of the first plants in US being electrified in 1920.
In times to come the third shift will occur, when we move to alternate forms of non-fossil fuels. This shift towards renewable energy will have a significant ‘greening’ effect on earth making it a more sustainable planet to significant reduction in carbon emissions 2050. The availability for solar energy is abundant. Even though today other renewable forms have shown potential for commercial usage, such as wind energy, in times to come we shouldn’t be surprised if solar power becomes the dominant energy source and scales up the current pilot of solar powered calculators and the solar power microlite plane.
Dimension 2 – Shifts in MaterialsThe age of ‘made of wood and steel’ might be coming to an end. The future lies in more pronounced usage and applications of materials like aluminium, magnesium or newer and more reinforced polymers and plastics, as we see the transformation occur in cars, white goods, or Kevlar based bullet-proof vests, etc.
Based on the principles of ideal final result the focus clearly has shifted to high performing, stronger materials, minimising the harmful effects, and hence light-weight materials and non-toxic nature for both humans and the environment.
These shifts in materials would cause radical shifts in manufacturing processes. New adhesive technologies in automotive industry and other sectors for painting, plastics and other surfaces, and likewise processes to manufacture lighter structures of carbon fibre and other magnesium / other alloys compared to steel manufacturing are only indicators of what the future holds.
Dimension 3 – Shifts in Manufacturing MethodsThe third dimension brings together the shifts experienced in the manufacturing processes. With the desire to harness, the processes seek:• Making any geometry, tolerance, size and hardness • Higher speeds and throughputs• Higher management controls and least interference• Miniaturisation (largely related to chemical, medical and semi-conductor industries).
Does the future lie in using more non-traditional processes like electrical discharge machining (EDM), electrical chemical machining (ECM), water and abrasive jet machining, ultrasonic machining and tools like neural networks, fuzzy logic as well as expert systems or can we imagine a world where products can be developed from thin air?
If the progress made in various private / government funded research labs and various machine manufacturers’ interest were plotted on a timeline, we can clearly see the fundamental shifts that are going to prevail in times to come moving towards ideal machining:
Traditional manufacturing can be looked at in two broad categories :Discrete Manufacturing and Process manufacturing. While Henry Ford initiated mass manufacturing leveraging the concept of interchangeability, James Muspratt, around the 18th century, mass manufactured soda ash. Both types of manufacturing have moved a lot in terms of better consistency, lower tolerance adherence and higher volumes. The machines to mass manufacture in a classical progression scaled up/down in size, and became more flexible for different products to be produced on the same machines, as the decades progressed.
The first shift occurred around 1960s with the introduction of harder materials, the desire to manage complex geometries, to achieve better finishes. The traditional manufacturing was inadequate and gave way to the non-traditional manufacturing like EDM, ECM, water and abrasive jet machining, ultrasonic machining. One of the most revolutionary methodologies has been the laser cutting techniques for various material removal and contouring applications. With its origins in brewing and industrial fermentation, the second major shift occurred with the discovery of biotechnology that gained prominence in 1980s as a strong complement and in some cases replacement of classical pharma product drug development options. Key applications of industrial biotechnology include usage of energy-efficient and eco-friendly biocatalysts which synthesizes chemical products and minimises use of mineral aids/bases and other toxic substances. Likewise enzyme bio-reactors are at several places being used for treating industrial waste. In the next 20 years, Biotechnology is expected to have a substantial effect on the chemical industry with special focus on fine chemicals and speciality chemicals.
The third revolutionary shift is occurring with the understanding and ability to operate at the nano-level, nearly 1/80,000th of a human hair thickness. Nanomaterials have nanostructured components that are less than 100nm. In some sense, electronic miniaturization has been the true driving force for nanotechnology research and applications.The foundation for this defining technology occurred, with the development of the scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) in 1981, by Nobel Prize winners, Greg Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer of IBM.
The applications of nanotechnology based manufacturing are far reaching and transcend many industries. GM has developed a plastic nano-composite for its ‘step assists’, which enables far superior strength, longer life, scratch resistant and is at the same time rust proof and lighter. Likewise, we have Kodak develop LED colour screens made of nanostructured polymer films which consume much lesser power and are also thinner and lighter. Textile manufacturers are creating textiles where the fibres are being coated by nano-scale chemicals to achieve stain repelling properties. BASF has developed polymer dispersions using nano particles for paints, coatings and adhesives providing far superior properties of dispersion
Today more than 800 products and expected to reach a market of $ 1 trillion and would have impacted at least 30 per cent of all commercial products by 2025 and it can be only described as the beginning of the revolution.
If nano-technology is mindboggling, the next shift in the form of 3D or additive manufacturing is showing its head. Imagine in an accident one could get a 3D print of one’s own body parts nearly real-time! As illustrated, it is today possible to replicate human body parts say dental caps, broken bones, and other body parts using the revolutionary 3D additive technique.
3D printing or additive manufacturing is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. It is usually performed using a materials printer, and there has been large growth in the sales of these machines with the costs rapidly going down with machine manufacturers such as 3D systems (DDD) and Stratasys leading the way. 3D printing industry would find more prevalence where it is desirous to work on difficult / odd shapes, rapid transformation (desire for reduced lead times for pro-types), one off outcomes. Industries such as defence, aerospace, dental, medical, education, architectural, jewellery, and many others are finding feasibility of the applications of 3D printing.
3D printing will augur the next fundamental shift in manufacturing, which focusses on additive techniques to create parts and hence requires < 90 per cent of the raw material required to build a product.Many end user customers may prefer to have these 3D printers handy for quickly meeting their needs. If this happens, it would create a disruption in the business model, as big as the industrial revolution of distributed digital production of ‘a factory at home’ or at least ‘in the neighbourhood’ where people will for the design of the product instead of the product. Fuji Film is proposing to open over 1,000 such 3D printing Kiosks in times to come.
Dimension 4 – Shifts in Digital Intelligence Integration One of the major driving forces for transforming how globally business is performed is the digital intelligence integration in manufacturing. We have come a long way from the simple digital calculator to computer enabled plants.
The development of digital intelligence seems to be tracing the path of evolution of how biological intelligence has evolved from small amoebic cells having basic survival intelligence to humans with evolved intelligence.
Digital intelligence – Machine level: The first shift happened when the initial digital intelligence was introduced through NC (numerical controlled based machines) and which evolved to CNC (Computer based Numerical Controls) based programming and machining, providing further flexibilities in multi-product manufacturing from machining centers. These evolved machines are equivalent to small units of digital intelligence.
Digital intelligence – Plant level – Core Operations: As Information Technology evolved, organizations were able to integrate multiple machine banks and later most plant operations for plant optimization contributing to the second significant shift. Most major chemical and petrochemical chemical plants run their operations from a central computerized control room using a distributed control system (DCS) where the plants are automatically governed through auto-feedback and controls fed in. As the manufacturing equipment’s reliability improved, organizations were able to create large integrated lines, i.e. flexible manufacturing systems (FMS) which also integrated material handling systems besides networked NC programmed machines.
Digital Intelligence – Business and Design level Integration: When IT systems further evolved and started integration the manufacturing with supply chain operations, the industry started witnessing its third shift. ERPs such as SAP, Oracle became the order of the day to enable managing businesses across plants and geographies. Today various ERP packages are made available on the cloud, allowing several SMEs to benefit. The contribution of ERPs has tremendous impact on the leaning of operations including smooth global distributed operations of purchase and supply.
Working to meet the need for reducing time-to-market and integrating R&D with manufacturing, IT systems developed to support domain expertise via modelling / simulation software largely as CAD / CAE /CAM (Computer Aided Design, Engineering and Manufacturing). Today most manufacturing firms with an R&D wing use some form of IT software to accelerate their design and manufacturing processes. Virtual reality is the next stage in modelling and simulation, where various aspects of manufacturing, design and business would get a chance to “feel” the product in virtual mode.
Digital Intelligence – Decision Support Systems: As IT systems across business and manufacturing plants started capturing large sums of data; it became a latent need to fathom what the data was representing to make more informed and intelligent decisions. The progress in the electronics industry creating more capable chips and the development in the programming languages, substantially enhanced the computing power to develop programs which could synthesise large amounts of data and identify patterns and where decision rules were fed, even recommend actions. Decision support systems such as developed by i2, plant maintenance software and other customised software became the next wave in digital intelligence and formed the fourth shift.
Digital Intelligence – Open Source Manufacturing: The era of the web has totally transformed how we communicate and do business and with real time information available reasonably easily and many humans and agencies opening up sharing of knowledge, the new digital intelligence shift would be open source sharing. Access to information such as product / manufacturing processes from patent data bases, domain expert views, lab research results of private / Government funded, and universities’ research would take manufacturing to an all newer high. Organisations which are able to co-opt and synthesise such data would benefit from the cutting edge transformation of collaborative open source manufacturing.
We have come a long way from the first major chess computer “Deep Blue” which defeated Kasparov the then reigning champion in sample few games to GPS guided cars and nearly auto cook cycle microwaves. It is expected that at the rate digital intelligence is progressing by 2050 we would have computers which will have the computing power of a human mind, which will further have an impact on how we do business. This transformational shift would again significantly impact the human – manufacturing interface, where people’s time for managing operations would further go down.
Dimension 5 – Shifts in Robotics One of the fundamental desires of human nature is to create and be released of mundane tasks it perceives as boring. Additionally war has unfortunately led to several human deaths. As the advancements have occurred in technology on various fronts from sensors, artificial intelligence and the significant advancements in materials, the ability to have a robot which can fulfil all commands has been driven closer to reality.
The competitive advantage offered by robots is the ability to do several things more efficiently and quicker than humans whereas the mechanical advantages offered include greater output per hour with consistent quality, continuous precision in repetitive operation, Robots also move towards an ideal factory worker, where they normally don’t get sick or need substantial rest, and can typically go on 365 days 24X7 without getting bored, with repetitive and unrewarding work.
The first fundamental shift in manufacturing occurred with the induction of the single hand industrial robot in the automotive industry and for a long time 9 out of 10 robots were operating for the automotive industry. Today robots operate in several industries and carry out a much wider application.
Though for a long time single armed robots have ruled the industrial production, with advancements in robotics, a third shift is loomingin the introduction of a two armed robot that can be employed as factory workers which could revolutionise the assembly lines.
In times to come, the fourth shift will occur as robots would enter many walks of our lives, with the US army targeting a large part of its soldiers to be robots and iRobot fervently working on independent mission robots, and likewise South Korea / Japan which are leading the Robotics usage pack, planning to have a personal attendant equivalent robot in every home.
ConclusionParadigm shifts have normally happened outside the industry. Most experts within the system, miss the shift or find it difficult to believe the shift is on the horizon. Oliver Wright claimed in 1908 “No flying machine will ever fly from New York to Paris” or for that matter Irving Thalberg, MGM movie producer, stated in 1927, that “Novelty is always welcome, but talking pictures are just a fad”….we can only guess, what Irving might have stated, if someone were to ask his views on 3D and 4D movies!
Many of the potential disruptions would hence look impossible or the difficulties to overcome them insurmountable. But man has demonstrated time and again, that nothing is impossible….anything can be achieved if there is a will, whether it is the will to fly at faster than the speed of sound or fly a solar powered microlite aircraft, send an unmanned craft to mars, conquer the deep sea at 20,000 feet with submarines, build the Eiffel tower or for that matter provide everyone the opportunity to own a mobile phone, a solar powered calculator / lamp, build a mass commercialise < $ 3,000 dollar car or a mass produced <$ 100 laptop – it is only a matter of time.
Anticipating and preparing for the future itself would give the organisations a jump start once they envision in their strategic roadmap and evaluate the commercial viability of what science and technology has to offer in times to come.