The Future Factory: How Technology Is Transforming Manufacturing

Technology is reshaping manufacturing technology right down to the simplest features like heat and lights.

Dramatic as this may sound, fully automated factories with no heat and lights have been in operation for some time. Famously,  FANUC the Japanese robotics maker, has been running a “lights-out” factory since 2001. Robots can work on their own for almost a month straight there.

“Not only is it lights-out,” said FANUC VP Gary Zywiol in CB insights, “we turn off the air conditioning and heat too.”

Let’s look at three major areas where technology is transforming industrial manufacturing processes.

1. Labor augmentation & management

A write-up about the production line noted that people were only involved to supervise automated processes. These were computerized workstations that dictate step-by-step instructions and remove human error from furniture assembly.

A decade ago, industrial robots assisted workers in their tasks. Now workers — those who remain — assist the robots in theirs,” the New Yorker wrote of Steelcase’s system. This is one of the more dramatic changes, and it happened fast. One of the major changes is the talent pool manufacturers are looking for.

To quote a retired Siemens executive “People on the plant floor need to be much more skilled than they were in the past. There are no jobs for high school graduates at Siemens today.”

2. Resource tracking through blockchain

Blockchain could be used to untangle the mess of data on resource tracking from procurement to customer relationship management. Often, these issues will emerge from the use of disparate, outdated software, and an operational system involving almost 100 different management systems. Blockchain and distributed ledger technologies offer the promise of a universal data structure. A number of companies are deploying blockchain programs with the specific goal of this simplification.

3. Machining and assembly

One of the most obvious applications for automation is to take over mind-numbing tasks, or dirty dangerous jobs. Modular design has allowed for a more complex range of production processes to become streamlined, while mass production techniques are refining to meet a growing consumer demand for customization. 3D printing holds the potential through many startups to deliver complex materials with exotic properties using this technology.