The Next Generation
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a monumental impact on global manufacturing, disrupting supply chains, affecting workforce availability, and given the scarcity of resources, also presenting incredible opportunities for companies to innovate and accelerate digital transformation at an unprecedented rate.
The next generation of manufacturing is upon us—and evidence of this shift to digital-first thinking can be found right here in Michigan, with three major manufacturing trends emerging that will be critical to how manufacturers operate in the future.
1. Software Transformation
In September, General Motors announced its plans to transform into a software company that just happens to make hardware: vehicles. It’s a new software-driven business model that will enable the automaker to offer consumers services beyond its vehicles and pivot with customer demands and market shifts.
While GM isn’t the first company to make the software leap, it’s a significant milestone given the century-old manufacturer’s history developing hardware. It’s a model that is positioning the company for the future, and one that others in the industry should be emulating.
Why? Because a software-driven business model is at the heart of Industry 4.0 transformation and will be critical to staying competitive in today’s market—no matter what industry you serve. With a software-first mindset, companies gain infinite flexibility to pivot during technological disruptions as customer demands shift in a fast-changing world.
2. Additive Manufacturing
Machines, materials, and software innovations are sparking a renewed interest in additive manufacturing—and all companies should be paying attention, especially as on-demand and customized products made to individual specifications become the norm. With its unparalleled ability to increase speed-to-market, lower costs, reduce waste, and customize specialty parts, 3D printing will forever change the way we make products and will accelerate the circular economy, linking material, design, and production in a continuous and sustainable loop.
For a glimpse into where additive manufacturing is headed, look no further than Relativity Space, a company that’s building the world’s first entirely 3D printed rocket ship. Last month, the company released a time-lapse video of a 3D printed nose cone built for its Terran 1 rocket. The nose of this launch vehicle is 3D printed using zero fixed tooling, a milestone for the aerospace industry.
3. Distributed Manufacturing
As Industry 4.0 transforms hardware companies into software companies, businesses will have greater flexibility to invest in learning while mitigating the ever-increasing burden of owning capital equipment. With software as the backbone, distributed and localized manufacturing will give companies added flexibility and agility and enable them to send 3D digital design files across secure networks to entire ecosystems of manufacturers.
The building blocks of the distributed manufacturing model are happening right here at Automation Alley through our innovative program Project DIAMOnD. Powered by 3D printing and enabled by software, Project DIAMOnD is creating the country’s largest distributed 3D printing marketplace and network, the most significant effort of its kind. To date, Project DIAMOnD—which stands for distributed, independent, agile manufacturing on demand—has delivered 3D printers to 300 Michigan manufacturers.
The long-term objective of the program is to facilitate the creation of a self-governing, open, and scalable marketplace, and to expand and empower manufacturers on the platform by introducing new technologies into the mix beyond 3D printing. By reducing the financial risk, providing interactive training, and creating a connected network of users, this innovative program has the potential to change how small manufacturers use and pay for Industry 4.0 technologies.
COVID-19 has pushed all industries to think outside the box, has forced the acceleration of the digital transformation known as Industry 4.0 and will forever change the way business—particularly manufacturers—operate. It’s a technological and cultural shift that forces us to ask: What is manufacturing? And who does manufacturing?
Software transformation, additive manufacturing and distributed manufacturing will require new ways of thinking and working, but these three critical pieces to the Industry 4.0 puzzle will also spark innovation and enable flexibility, resiliency and sustainability while empowering companies and people to achieve success in the digital world.