The world is currently in the midst of its 4th Industrial Revolution -- one driven by information and automation. As with previous revolutions, today's technological advancements are threatening to upend established industry and labor practices through overwhelming productivity increases. Artificial Intelligence and machine-learning systems are not just fundamentally shifting the ways we interact with computers and data, they're also changing how we'll manufacture the modern world.
The days of "dumb" production line robots that repetitively weld or rivet in a preprogrammed sequence without fail are coming to an end. Tomorrow's factories will run themselves and coordinate along the entire supply chain, with human oversight of course, but they won't look - or operate - like any manufacturing facility you've seen before.
"You need to have smart machines before even thinking about having a smart manufacturing system. These machines collect and produce data that are needed for AI," Vibhu Bhutani, Chief Strategy Officer, Softweb Solutions, said during a recent panel discussion hosted by the Industrial Design & Engineering Show. "The next building block is to have a platform that these smart machines can connect with and that enables data collecting into cloud services."
That data then needs to be ingested by a data analytics platform and worked into actionable instructions that the smart machines can understand, Bhutani continued. "These building blocks create a connected manufacturing floor and once that is in place you can use smart manufacturing," he concluded.
Those smart machines will likely be of the additive variety if Weber has any say. "HP has actually been working on 3D printing for years," said Tim Weber, Global Head of 3D Printing and Advanced Applications at HP. "But we never took it to market for a couple of different reasons," citing the lack of a truly disruptive product and the relative smallness of the market.