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Ben Vickery

Innovation

Five Technological Applications Driving Manufacturing Innovation

‘Let’s go invent tomorrow instead of worrying about what happened yesterday.’

Published: Wednesday, June 8, 2016 - 14:33

A manufacturer can be innovative in various ways by using new business models and adopting measures to improve processes and enhance existing products. But to stay ahead of competition, manufacturers often turn to technology. Here are five technologies that are driving manufacturing innovation.

Additive manufacturing, aka 3D printing

Additive manufacturing was developed during the 1980s. Today it covers any and all processes involved in printing a 3D 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. Through the control of a computer, material builds layer by layer to create a precise replica of an original design. This can significantly decrease the waste and expense of developing new products.

Historically, additive manufacturing technology has been expensive. However, recent advancements have made additive manufacturing more affordable, and it’s anticipated to become a common option for smaller manufacturers. It’s creating more efficient ways to manufacture custom parts, to provide goods for untapped markets, and to help companies become more competitive.

Advanced materials

According to a report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST): “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. Advanced materials will fuel emerging multibillion-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 to lower cost and speed production so that advanced composites can be integrated into a much wider range of products and applications.

Cloud computing

Cloud-based computing uses network-connected remote services to manage and process data. Companies are increasing the use of this technology across various geographic locations to share data to make better business decisions. Cloud computing helps reduce costs, improve quality control, and shorten production times.

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 communicate via the internet, and computerized manufacturing machinery will talk to each other to send and 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. That means reduced downtime, less waste, and lower costs. This technology will lead to the development of new types of positions for the manufacturing workforce.

Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology deals with matter between one and 100 nanometers; a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. Nanotechnology has traditionally been used in aerospace and biomedical industries. Now nanotechnology is being used to manufacture lightweight, stronger materials for boats, sporting equipment, and auto parts, as well as personal care items such as eyeglasses.

Nanostructured catalysts make chemical manufacturing processes more efficient by saving energy and 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.

First published May 24, 2016, on the Manufacturing Innovation blog.

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About The Author

Ben Vickery’s picture

Ben Vickery

Ben Vickery serves as senior technical advisor and sustainability program manager at the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). Vickery’s focus is on the E3 (Economy, Energy and Environment) initiative, a coordinated federal and local technical assistance initiative to promote sustainable manufacturing and economic growth throughout the United States. Vickery has developed several MEP’s technology acceleration initiatives, including Technology Scouting, a pull-based approach to technology transfer and commercialization, and Technology Driven Market Intelligence, which helps organizations better understand how a product, technology, capability, or product idea might be leveraged to create business opportunities.