Look anywhere in the business world today and you will see stories of disruptive innovations in industry. Airbnb is shaking up the hospitability industry; Uber is giving taxis a run for their money; and let’s not forget that 3D printing can be used to make anything from new houses to skull implants.
In fact, McKinsey Global Institute estimates that disruptive technologies could have an economic impact of up to $US33 trillion by 2025. And the manufacturing industry is not immune.
Now is the time to consider how new technology investments can not only drive efficiencies and reduce costs, but how they can open the door to new growth opportunities. After all, disruptive technologies are already helping leading manufacturers boost productivity, attract and engage new consumers, inspire new market strategies, and ultimately drive substantial business growth.
So what should you pay attention to?
Here’s our pick of disruptive technologies you need to watch…
Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, have been buzzing above our heads for years now. They are used in the military, for farming, filming and fun. Almost anywhere that requires extensive yet cheap aerial surveillance can benefit from drones. Now, the use of drones is extending into the supply chain. Deutsche Post, the world’s biggest courier company, is using a drone to deliver medication to the remote German island of Juist. This has been such a success that the company is considering using the “parcelcopter” to make more regular deliveries.
Did you know 29% of people’s daily screen time is spent looking at smartphones, compared with 5% just five years ago? This is not just about shopping, banking and watching videos on your mobile — mobile devices are making waves in the business world too. Think service delivery, worker productivity and customer experience. Diageo is already on the case with its smart bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label, launched at the 2015 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. (Here’s a reference to this smart labelling in these labelling trends that food & beverage manufacturers need to know.) The label can send personalised messages to consumers’ mobiles with special offers, cocktail recipes and even film content. Have you realised the true power of mobile devices in your business?
‘Internet of Things’
The “Internet of Things” (IoT) simply refers to the trend where everyday possessions are connected to the internet and each other. So clothing, machinery, home appliances, and practically anything else you can think of, use wireless and near-field communications (NFC) to communicate with each other and the rest of the internet without human intervention. For example, Whirlpool has introduced features enabling consumers to start the washing machine from their iPhone.
In the plant, IoT enables manufacturing technology to be connected and “talk” to each other, for example, sending and receiving critical notifications. This might be a product or packaging defect or equipment failure. Needless to say this has massive potential for business process optimisation, reduced downtime and waste, and increased quality overall. See how respected antipasto manufacturer and distributor AusFresh workers use their smartphones to tap into their iDSnet Portal. Find out more by clicking on the link to the Intelligent Software Solutions brochure from here. And you may be interested in how Industry 4.0 brings together the IoT, artificial intelligence and data science in a digitalisation of industry.)
Robotics has gradually been taking on more and more tasks in the production line, and this shows no signs of slowing. Now, advances in robotics technology are extending to human-machine collaboration. Sensors are being used to help robots better detect and respond to its environment. And robots are more connected to the world around them, thanks to the “Internet of Things” and cloud computing. All of this means robotics are starting to be used for those tasks that have traditionally been managed by humans, but which are laborious or uncomfortable. By using robots for repetitive or even dangerous tasks, manufacturers can save on labour costs, increase plant safety, and drive efficiency. (You may find this blog on how next-generation robots are transforming manufacturing interesting.)
Self-driving cars are taking over the headlines. Everyone from Google to Mercedes-Benz has a prototype and is deep in testing mode. While there’s no clear vision of how this might impact the supply chain, there’s no doubt it will happen. After all, if consumers can tell a car to take them to the supermarket, what’s stopping manufacturers from using self-driving vehicles to move or distribute goods? Watch this space!
Emergent Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence, or AI, has been the stuff of movies for decades. (There’s even a movie titled “AI”!). AI simply means a machine can understand and respond to its environment. “Emergent AI”, however, means machines which can learn automatically by taking on large volumes of information. This has huge implications for productivity and the economy in the future, as machines may be able to take over and perform tasks better than humans.
Imagine a world where the final product is always manufactured close to the final customer. This is “distributed manufacturing”. With distributed manufacturing, the raw materials, assembly and product fabrication are decentralised. So rather than the product being in a large centralised factory and then distributed to the customer, it’s assembled in different places so the final product ends up much closer to the final customer. Take a table, for example. Rather than sourcing the wood and bringing it to one central factory in Melbourne, the digital plans for cutting part of the chair would be distributed to local manufacturing hubs. The consumer or local fabricators can then assemble the parts. This would open the door to greater customisation of goods, not to mention a lower carbon footprint for the company.
Ever since the invention of the steam engine, technologies have been continuously advancing and driving the growth of manufacturing industries. It’s never been more critical for manufacturers to take notice of emerging technologies and consider the challenges and opportunities they present.
While we’re feeling disruptive, check out this wrap-up of the PKN and F&DB Live Forum on the trends disrupting the food, beverage and packaging space; and this piece looks at how 3D printing could completely restructure supply chains, improve customisation, push the boundaries of innovation and speed-up manufacturing.
Will drones and “IoT” soon be the future of the supply chain? Tell us what you think.
Matthews has a whole library of free, downloadable whitepapers, brochures and case studies here to help answer your technical questions.