2016 will be the year of robotics, big data, automation and serialisation, say industry experts.
The manufacturing industry is transforming before our eyes. Fuelled by rapid globalisation, changes in customer expectations and the digitisation of practically everything, manufacturing has faced some big challenges and even bigger opportunities over the past few years. Technology is evolving daily at a hypersonic pace. The consumer’s expectations carry more weight than ever. And there is competition coming from every direction and dimension — and not all of it’s legal.
So how will this play out in 2016? Will it be the year of unparalleled innovation making “Industry 4.0” a reality? Will it see the rise of robotics and automation into a new realm? Will 2016 be a year of action for manufacturers? We asked four industry experts for their predictions…
A) Pierre Pienaar,
Education Director, AIP, & Vice President – Education, WPO
“The industry is showing signs of remaking or makeover in areas including automation and affordable robotics, 3D printing, e-commerce, team interaction and design.”
Automation and affordable robotics: “The increasing affordability of general-purpose robotics will influence the industry’s reinvention. More affordable robots will mean that the smaller manufacturing companies can turn to automation.
“In 2016, manufacturing jobs will start to shift around more involved work, including the training and maintaining of robots, and optimising manufacturing processes.
“The rise of robots in manufacturing has also sparked debate about employment; there is the belief that further investment in robotics won’t mean massive workforce reductions. Instead, it is thought that new roles will be created by the automation trend, creating a new era of innovation and product development.” (You may find this blog on how next-generation robots are transforming manufacturing interesting.)
3D printing: “There is a huge future in 3D printing. The progress in the past five years has been overwhelming. For example, 3D printing in many materials and simple electronics will enable customisation and manufacturing to come closer to the point of consumption, leading to more distributed manufacturing work.
“Improved resolution in 3D printing, the ability to print in more and different materials, as well as being cheaper, will influence this aspect. I see great opportunities in this area.”
E-commerce: “Another driver in reinvention is the internet. It is believed that the manufacturing industry is going to continue to rely on data to make operations much more streamlined and efficient.”
Team work: “In the past, manufacturing and marketing have been two separate departments. The manufacturing team would develop a product and then the marketing team would take over once completed. More recently there has been a move for companies to involve both teams from the initial idea stage, and then work together through until the product is launched. In this way, the manufacturing team pays more attention to the marketing aspects of their product from day one. And the marketing team can share customer insights contributing to product development rather than just aesthetics.”
Design: “Lastly I have to mention design thinking, which is becoming more commonplace in corporate thinking. This important aspect will drive change for the better. I would like to take it one step further and say ‘design with the end in mind’. Ensure that the design takes into account all aspects of the supply chain from cradle to grave — and back to the cradle.”
“I believe that the challenge is to ensure that those undertaking the job or function have the knowledge and skillset to achieve the desired results. More staff need to be suitably trained — especially in packaging technology, where I see a void in five years if something is not done about it now.”
ADVICE FOR 2016
“Downtime is expensive. This is reflected in the popularity of service products for managing the repair and maintenance of equipment assets. Also, ‘smart’ pieces of equipment now have sensors and other technology to provide real-time diagnostics. I see more focus here in 2016 and beyond. The next logical step will be to provide the customer with a ‘one-click’ method for ordering the parts needed to get equipment back into service, or even for the e-commerce system to place an order, based on data received directly from the machine — without human intervention. Manufacturers will sell more parts directly to consumers, even if it’s still through their dealer channel.”
B) Stuart Shaw
Red Meat Business Manager, Scott Automation & Robotics
“In the meat industry, tightening stock supply combined with a weaker Australian dollar and a strong export demand is leading to rising costs of processing in Australia. A need to reduce costs and create greater efficiency with better returns to remain competitive in the global market will drive automation in Australia meat processing.”
“Meat-processing opportunities will be created from a growing and shifting demand in global markets and changing patterns in domestic consumption, leading to lower cost and more convenient domestic consumption.”
“The biggest challenge to meat processors will be creating greater efficiency and better returns, while experiencing increased raw material and operating costs.”
ADVICE FOR 2016
“Consider technology to assist creating new opportunities while improving efficiencies and operating costs.”
C) Andrew Steele
Industry Manager – Food & Beverage, GS1 Australia
“Packaging and labelling will be on the top of the menu for the Australian manufacturing industry in 2016. With all the noise around food labelling — including Health Star Rating [HSR] and Country of Origin [labelling] [CoOL], 2016 will be a watershed year for food companies to focus on their packaging. There will be a lot of information to include while still having enough real estate space to promote effectively their brand on the label.
“With the continued growth of private label, including expansion into more categories, companies will need to review their product range and decisions will need to be made to remain in the competitive space. Questions companies will need to ask are: Is our brand strong enough to survive? Is it under threat from private labels? An alternative option would be for companies to start to consider creating their own private label offering for retailers.”
“Inline printing presents an interesting opportunity for solution providers as technology improves. Take for example the Matthews’ inline serialisation solution that has been used for dairy export to China for product anti-counterfeiting and authentication.”
D) Mark Dingley
GM Operations, Matthews Australasia
“Robotics has gradually been taking on more tasks on the factory floor, and, thanks to the new generation of more affordable robots, now big and small manufacturers are embracing the technology. We’re already seeing robotics technology extend to human-machine collaboration — and this trend will explode in 2016. Robots will better detect, respond to and connect with their environment using a combination of sensors, the Internet of Things [IoT] and cloud computing. As a result, those tasks that have traditionally been managed by humans, but which are laborious or uncomfortable, can be taken over by robots. This will help manufacturers to save on labour costs, increase plant safety and drive efficiencies along the line.”
Read more about disruptive technologies here.
“This becomes more powerful still when you consider the integration of digital technologies. The advances in digital connectivity means we are getting closer and closer to perfect visibility across a supply chain — right through to the end-user. One way this is playing out is through smart packaging. Manufacturers are finding ways to add value to the consumer with digital content, which can be accessed via their smartphone while simultaneously gathering valuable data.
“Another trend set to grow in 2016 is dimensional weight. Manufacturers and suppliers across all industries are starting to look at how they can optimise packaging and shipping costs. In the USA, FedEx and UPS impose penalties for shipping ‘empty space’, forcing many distributors to find smarter and more economical ways to package goods. The good news is there’s already lots of technology out there that can be used to automatically measure dimensional weight, such as cubing and weighing equipment.”
Read more about the growing trend towards cubing and weighing and other supply chain changes you can’t afford to ignore.
“Counterfeiting is a critical issue in manufacturing right now, especially food and beverage. Counterfeit goods are competing with Australian exporters for space on shelves overseas, and in a frightening number of cases they are actually outselling the real thing.
“The answer is ready and waiting in anti-counterfeiting, authentication and serialisation technologies — but businesses still aren’t taking advantage of these as they should. With goods exports set to proliferate in 2016, now is the time to apply serialisation and anti-counterfeiting to protect consumer safety and brand integrity.”
ADVICE FOR 2016
“Don’t get left behind. Manufacturers and processors, big and small, should take the time to look for ways to drive efficiencies in their business and across the supply chain. This might be new technology investment that boost productivity and open the door to new growth opportunities, or the implementation of serialisation to protect your brand and consumers from counterfeiting.”
Of course, there’s only so far predictions will get us… As the 1971 Nobel Prize winner in physics, Dennis Gabor, said: “We cannot predict the future, but we can invent it.”
The best and perhaps the only way for manufacturers to ensure they continue to thrive and grow in 2016 is never to stop looking for ways to do things better. In a world that’s moving so fast, the worse thing you can do is stand still.
Here’s a reminder on riding the wave of change. Also, check out the manufacturing stories that shaped 2015, and 2015’s triumphant brands, along with the lessons to be learnt. And just for interest, go back a year and look at the manufacturing stories that shaped 2014.
Photo credit / sapfirr