Given what we've all experienced in the last 2+ years, looking ahead, there are 5 trends for the world of industrial automation.
Manufacturing repurposing. Over the past 2 years, we've seen everything from a shortage of toilet paper to a lack of chips for semiconductors. The shortage of chips has led to a massive hole in the industry, from cars to appliances, with all manufacturers feeling the pressure. Most of the semiconductors in the world today are made in China and Taiwan.
Increased demand, difficulties in the supply chain, and shortages of raw materials have led to a growing number of manufacturers looking to relocate their facilities to North America. The recent trade agreement between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada has encouraged manufacturers to return factories to North America.
The retooling will increase demand for automation, as manufacturers will be forced to incorporate additional processes into production to remain competitive in the low-cost labor market and make up for staff shortages. According to a recent Reuters article, sales of robots were at a record high in 2021, as more and more manufacturing companies are exploring ways to ramp up production with robotics technology. Between January and October, 29,000 robots worth $1.48 billion were ordered, up 37 percent from the same period in 2020.
Increased focus on cybersecurity
News of ransomware attacks on U.S. businesses points to the importance of increasing cybersecurity. Last year, Colonial Pipeline was invaded by Russian hackers using a VPN network used by employees to access their systems remotely. Bitcoins were paid for the ransom, and since then, the hackers have become even more daring, continuing to attack infrastructures, manufacturing facilities, and even individuals. Therefore, companies increasingly need to implement a solid and dynamic cybersecurity plan to protect their assets and operations.
Traditional and additive technologies
Over the past few years, 3D printing has taken over the world. With improvements in tools and materials, technology has come a long way since the concept of 3D printing first emerged in the 1940s. We now see 3D printing applied to additive manufacturing, allowing us to prototype industrial objects more quickly and with greater precision. As the list of printable materials continues to grow in all areas, businesses need to ask themselves what ratio of traditional and additive manufacturing is appropriate and how quickly should they integrate new technologies? In less than two years, hearing aid manufacturers in the U.S. switched from conventional technology to additive manufacturing, allowing for greater manufacturing flexibility and customization.
The importance of predictive maintenance
Predictive maintenance has been in use for a long time, but the need to collect information about every step of the industrial manufacturing process has increased dramatically in recent years. Every step along the way of a manufactured product is analyzed. Sensors monitor vibration, temperature, noise, humidity levels, etc., to reduce waste and losses, ensuring that the line operates at the highest efficiency.
Condition monitoring systems inform you when bearings or motors are nearing the end of their service life. Gone are the days when a technician is sent to the production floor to perform routine preventive maintenance on an engine simply because the schedule dictates it. With the ability to monitor every aspect of an engine's performance, you can now determine when it will fail and when it needs to be replaced. This reduces the likelihood of downtime or reduced line capacity, minimizing production throughput.
Environmentally sustainable and responsible ways of doing business
Industrialists are much more focused on protecting the environment than just 10 years ago. Much of this has to do with consumer habits. Today's consumers are more likely to purchase products made from sustainable materials from reliable manufacturers who take their environmental responsibilities seriously. In addition to this trend, rising energy and other resources are encouraging manufacturers to switch to greener processes. By considering the complete life cycle of the manufacturing process, the product itself, and the help and raw materials, manufacturers strive to minimize the impact on the environment.
In the new year, the future of industrial automation opens up new opportunities to develop better processes and produce higher quality products for customers. With a lot of effort and a little luck, these 2022 trends will allow "dreams of the future" to become a reality, improving the way we work and live for years to come.