As we know it today, the roots of manufacturing in America go all the way back to 1790. That’s back when an ambitious English immigrant named Samuel Slater set up the first textile factory in our still very-young nation. Suffice it to say, working conditions were not excellent, production could have been better, and worker safety was not exactly a priority.
A lot has obviously happened since then—including a number of revolutionary inventions, not one but two world wars, and many more global milestones. Against this backdrop of change and disruption, competition has driven companies to innovate and invent new technologies capable of increasing safety, production, quality, and more.
Coming up with—and implementing—new ideas used to be a very, very slow process, with knowledge sharing within or even across industries being a virtual non-starter. Viewing this scene through our modern perspective, though, we can only imagine how attending an advanced manufacturing conference could have driven industry improvements more quickly, or at a greater scale.
But now, over 200 years after the first factory’s doors opened, it’s a different scene. If you’re interested in learning a little more about how advanced manufacturing technology has brought about a (literal) industrial revolution, you’ve come to the right place. This blog will explore the topic from a relatively high view, and will introduce you to Rally, a new cross-sector manufacturing conference.
How Has Technology Changed Manufacturing?
Generally speaking, technology has made manufacturing operations safer, as well as more productive, efficient, and sustainable. These impacts, of course, weren’t felt all at once. In fact, tracing the positive impacts of manufacturing technology over time requires us to look all the way back to the 1800s, when the first industrial revolution (of three) occurred.
- The first industrial revolution occurred between 1760 and 1840. Building off of the successes of the Agricultural Revolution, the first industrial revolution saw the emergence of more consistent, stable, and efficient manufacturing processes—enabling production operations to scale much more quickly than ever before.
- The second industrial revolution took place from around 1870 to 1914. Also known as the Technological Revolution, it brought us into a more modern manufacturing era by inventing technologies that enabled the further standardization and streamlining of manufacturing processes, leading to what we know today as mass production.
- The third industrial revolution, also known as the Digital Revolution, was most significantly marked by a transition from mechanical manufacturing processes and analog electronics to digitized processes and technologies. This revolution, which started in the latter half of the 20th century, continues through the present-day.
That brings us to the current and a fourth industrial revolution known as Industry 4.0. While Industry 4.0 is an umbrella term that covers a wide range of industries, processes, and technologies, Forbes offers a concise definition of its scope, suggesting that it’s poised to “take what was started in the third with the adoption of computers and automation and enhance it with smart and autonomous systems fueled by data and machine learning.”
What Is the Impact of Industry 4.0 Technologies on Manufacturing?
Industry 4.0 technologies have had—and continue to have—a profound impact on manufacturing in America and around the world. Some of the general benefits of Industry 4.0 developments include…
- Increased profitability through more efficient and productive manufacturing methods.
- More organizational flexibility and scalability of operations.
- Better knowledge sharing, leading to better, data-infused decision-making.
- Improved sustainability through optimized processes, better equipment and facilities, and waste reduction
What Are Some Modern Examples of Manufacturing Technology?
With exciting new Industry 4.0 advancements seemingly always on the horizon—and companies more motivated than ever to innovate and improve—it’s a thrilling time to be in the manufacturing industry. And it’s hard to overstate the role of technology in production and operations management within manufacturing.
To wrap up, let’s explore 3 key developments that you’re likely to find in a majority of modern manufacturing facilities, and the positive impacts of each manufacturing technology.
- Internet of Things (IoT) | Smart factories use connected IoT devices and related technologies to create more modernized, data-driven manufacturing facilities. This enables leaders and decision-makers to collect real-time feedback to better understand—and optimize—their processes, resource usage, and more.
- Cloud Computing | To maximize their productivity and efficiency, manufacturers need an accessible and comprehensive view of their operations. By making infrastructure and applications accessible via the internet, cloud computing provides the infrastructural foundation for integrating key processes such as engineering, supply chain, production, distribution, and more. This ultimately works to lower IT costs and simplify scalability (among other benefits of manufacturing industry modernization).
- AI and Machine Learning | When used well, AI and machine learning (ML) can unlock game-changing insights and increase manufacturers’ ability to collect, interpret, and act on vast amounts of historical and real-time data. These technologies can also be used to streamline, standardize, and optimize processes through custom automations.
There are two important things to note here:
- The examples of new technology in the manufacturing industry listed above probably don’t sound too “revolutionary.” This just goes to show that we are firmly within the fourth industrial revolution, and that its innovations have been widely accepted as mainstream best practices within manufacturing.
- We’ve only addressed the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing. As noted by McKinsey & Company, while “leading manufacturers are now realizing significant value from data and analytics, AI, and machine learning,” a majority “remain stuck in pilot purgatory, struggling to capture the full potential of their transformation efforts or deliver a satisfactory return on investment.” This in no way devalues or suggests any disadvantages of manufacturing process innovation; rather, it represents a substantial opportunity for improvement and modernization.
Where Can I Learn More About the Future of Manufacturing Technology?
The Rally Innovation Conference is a cross-sector conference developed to provide manufacturing leaders the opportunity to not only hear from guest speakers and industry experts about what’s on the horizon, but also to connect and collaborate with people within your own industry and others. Understanding the impact cross-sector collaboration can have on critical thinking and innovation, the conference is organized into six distinct innovation studios centered around the following themes:
To learn more about the workshops, speakers, and sessions for this year’s conference, you can browse the agenda. If you’re ready to make this year the year of innovation, consider registering for this year’s conference before it fills up. We’ll see you in Indianapolis!