3 Major Manufacturing Changes Loom

New technological capabilities will enable manufacturers to customize everything, while turning consumers into inventors. And, as price points decline—while accessibility increases—manufacturing juggernauts and early-stage startups have infinite possibilities ahead.

Recently, I was fortunate to see a speech from Futurist Peter Diamandis. He spoke about what the future world of work will be like and specifically talked about the workforce within manufacturing. According to him, manufacturing is about to be transformed.

Old constraints such as specialization in manufacturing skill set and tooling are going away, new technologies are being added rapidly, and the type of employee needed in manufacturing is going to drastically change, Mr. Diamandis says.

New technological capabilities will enable manufacturers to customize everything, while turning consumers into inventors. And, as price points decline—while accessibility increases—manufacturing juggernauts and early-stage startups have infinite possibilities ahead.

3D printing farms, smart factories and autonomous co-bots will turn concepts into commodities overnight. In this column, I will examine the three major paradigm shifts that Mr. Diamandis predicts.

Mass Customization. Fixed costs will begin to reach variable costs in the production sphere, allowing companies to no longer fabricate millions of the same product or part. Customer data-driven design will allow for cost effective, tailor-made commodities and one-off production items.

Technological convergence will soon allow startups and corporations to personalize products at unparalleled scale. Artificial Intelligence will go from merely automating production, to configuring custom products to meet individual demands.

Previously a niche and prohibitively priced tool, 3D printing is hitting its exponential growth phase, Mr. Deamandis says. By 2021, IDC analysts expect 3D printing global spending to be almost $20 billion. Cost-effective 3D printing takes manufacturers directly from design to production, eliminating lengthy design processes, multi-stage prototyping, tooling costs and mass production, where design becomes adaptable and production is expedited.

While conventional 3D printing requires some form of support for objects as they’re printed, multi-axis printing technologies almost eliminate this dependency, opening up new structural possibilities.

Smart products and electronics no longer have to be manually embedded with circuitry. Using an array of conductive inks, manufacturers can print circuitry directly into their products, all at one time with conductive inks. With high thermal stability and at only a few microns thick, evolving conductive inks have the potential to revolutionize hardware production.

Democratized Invention. Incubator studios and fabrication equipment labs are jumping onto the scene. Flaunting AI-aided robots and swarm 3D printers that work overnight, these urban workshops basically serve as new testing grounds—the physical hands for digital designs.

With democratized platforms, everyone can be an inventor via newly accessible CAD-like design software and easy-to-use interfaces.

New hardware studios and accelerators are springing up daily, eager to collaborate with digital startups and designers, by providing the physical building space and manufacturing capacity for now unincumbered entrepreneurs. This allows any manufacturer, wanting to build any product, to become completely dematerialized.

Smart, Autonomous Factories. For established corporations with high production quotas, Industrial IoT, AI, collaborative bots, and new technologies such as Li-Fi are the next frontier.

Manufacturers are now using the Internet of Things, whereby device connectivity allows smart products to communicate seamlessly and automate cumbersome tasks.

With new sensors, ML tools and inspection drones coming to the market, not only can manufacturing equipment correct for errors instantaneously, but production will conform to changing demands in real time. Smart factories will manufacture smart products through machine-to-machine (M2M) communication with data transfer between smart bots, with the goal of adapting to workflows in real time.

Aiming to eliminate the risk of recalls—one of the most costly and dreaded catastrophes for big manufacturers—AI is coming to the rescue. Landing.ai now produces machine-vision tools that can find microscopic defects in circuit boards and products hidden from our visual range. With precise, on-site quality analysis, errors are communicated immediately, and IIoT-connected machinery can halt any output before it ever becomes a liability.

But what about defective machinery? As predictive analytics are engineered to near perfection, machine learning techniques can detect abnormalities and risky indicators long before they cause issues.

Yet as cloud-connected, collaborative machines begin managing themselves, what’s to stop fully automated factories operating in the dark or without heat? Potentially nothing.

Smart sensors now convert data, communicate with fabrication machines, and turn off devices when performance or safety are at stake. IIoT allows us to analyze production quotas, do predictive maintenance and input designs remotely.

There will be an upsurge of self-employed, creative minds building needed products, on-demand personalized there will commodities built at record speed and an economic boom of unprecedented dimensions.

We’ve seen a skyrocketing software industry, bringing millions of jobs and brilliant services to our economy. As physical constraints to fabrication disappear and design platforms abound, we are on the verge of a second boom.