By  David Warren, Director, Single Source Technologies

“You can’t escape death, taxes … and change,” said MFG Meeting 2017 Speaker Kirk Rogers, Technology Leader of GE's Center for Additive Technology Advancement. Change and innovation were two of the predominant messages presented over the three-day MFG meeting held in sunny Amelia Island, Fla.  

May I be direct? If you missed the meeting, you missed out on some GOOD and inspiring thinking and networking. While we can’t recreate the great conversations with other manufacturing executives over dinner and cocktails, or recreate my stellar score in the golf outing (okay, thankfully that high score cannot be recreated), we can give you a synopsis of the technologies that will change our businesses in the coming years. Doug Woods, AMT President, presented “Fast-Forward Future: The Competitive Technologies You Need to Know” on the meeting’s second day. Here are the top five big technologies that will affect manufacturing:  

Artificial Intelligence

Of all the changes, Doug advocated that artificial intelligence will have the largest impact on manufacturing. How? Imagine that software with AI automatically receives an order from a customer. The software can check inventory for the required supplies, check availability on the correct machines, and automatically schedule production. If supplies for the part are low, the software could automatically place an order to replenish. With a deep knowledge base and the ability to make decisions from millions of options in nanoseconds, AI can make better, faster decisions than humans in many applications, increasing productivity and quality. Think about a cross-country road trip: Would you rather use Google maps, or tape together 10 maps and calculate the route yourself?  

Advanced Robotics 

Laurie Harbour predicts that by 2025, the global share of tasks performed by robots will increase from 10 to 25 percent. Wider robotic adoption will boost manufacturing productivity by up to 30 percent. As a result of the proliferation of advanced robotics, manufacturing labor costs are expected to drop 18 to 25 percent.  Collaborative robots, those that can work alongside humans and don’t need to be confined to a cage, will be one of the forms of increased advanced automation.

Additive Manufacturing

There is lots of talk about additive manufacturing, but is it just for quickly creating prototypes? GE seems to see a huge future in additive production. Rogers predicts the additive market will experience 30 percent CAGR between now and 2020. Rogers stressed that AM must be applied to the right parts — those with lower production volumes, where time to market is critical, and/or where the supply chain might be constrained.  

Generative Design

Generative design combines AI with cloud computing to create iterative product designs. An engineer inputs design goals and constraints, such as material type, weight, strength and cost into a generative design application. The application uses algorithms and AI to produce thousands of possible designs. The engineer can then further modify the goals and constraints, and the application helps narrow the design output to the most relevant solution, which is then sent to production. Today, generative design is being used for things such as athletic shoes, bridges and automobile chassis.  

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality is technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, providing a composite image.  (Think of the Pokémon GO game, with millions of people walking around “catching” AR images with their smart phones.) Imagine you are a service technician, dispatched to repair a malfunctioning machine. With AR, you might point your smart phone camera at the portion of the malfunctioning machine, and the AR application superimposes detailed part numbers and specifications for the part on your screen. You can then tap on the part, explore the bill of materials and add parts to the work order in real time. AR can save time and cost by allowing people to work faster and with less errors.  

Doug closed his address with a challenge to us: “Don’t fear change. Leverage it!”