Advanced manufacturing is trending, and not without reason. It can up labour productivity by 30%, create 22,000 new jobs with salaries up to 50% higher than current ones, and add S$36 billion in manufacturing output and revenue for firms by 2024. It is hence unsurprising that advanced manufacturing have been leading the fourth industrial revolution, also known as Industry 4.0. With that in mind, here are three new trends what all manufacturing companies need to be familiar with.

3D printing

For the uninitiated, 3D printing is the process of creating a physical item using a digital file. This usually involves laying down many successive thin layers of material until the final product is formed.

3D printing used to be science fiction. Today, it is a quick and cost-effective way for product designers to create, test, and troubleshoot prototypes. It is cheaper for companies to fail or make mistakes in the designing phase.

Beyond that, companies can leverage this technology to produce items quickly based on actual demand as opposed to spending money storing unsold inventory in warehouses. There is no longer a need to waste time producing heavy machinery through moulds, fixtures, and other tools.

On top of that, firms need not wait for critical spare parts to arrive after five to eight months. These parts can be 3D printed in a matter of days in-house. Ultimately, all these benefits point to a reduction in the time to market and enable a just in time inventory system which is crucial for SMEs to gain a foothold in the fast-paced manufacturing industry

For small companies, 3D printing allows small quantities to be realised in which focused product teams can roll out products in batches to fulfil consumer demand or launch new products on a frequent basis. For large corporations who are keen on large scale mass production, 3D printing is also helpful. Its production line is easier to alter than that of a traditional manufacturing’s. Tweaks to the machine for instance, such as printing speed or the product to be produced, can be toggled quickly.

3D printing is not only revolutionalising the manufacturing industry alone. In a case study explored by Deloitte, Invisalign created a new business model thanks to 3D printing, which allowed it to generate over $500 million in revenue globally in FY12 from a single product created by a 3D printer.

Augmented Reality (AR)

AR is a concept that is often confused with Virtual Reality (VR). The former adds digital elements to a live view of reality as seen from cameras. The real environment appears to be modified by computer-generated graphics. Pokemon Go, furniture fitting on the IKEA Place app, and face filters on Social Media sites are all examples or AR.

VR, on the other hand, is a complete immersion into a virtual world. The perception of reality is drastically changed with everything seen being something that is digitally created. Many immersive games from Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR requires you to don a VR headset or goggles to engage in VR technologies.

AR is another disruptive manufacturing phenomenon that has transformed the manufacturing process. A digital version of a machine or process can be cloned online. This virtual version, known as a digital twin, can then be tested for errors and reworked for improvements. Through such digitalisation, several processes in the value chain can be combined into one. In this case, testing, as well as research and development, can be concurrently done to save time and costs associated with physical prototypes. Modifications and edits can be made at the product design stage before it gets manufactured.

An assistive technology, AR can also be used to aid workers in their tasks. For instance, AR devices such as electronic glasses can create graphics in an employee’s field of vision to provide real-time guidance. Together with the use of cameras and sensors, simulations can be created to train new employees as well.

Predictive maintenance

As its name suggests, predictive maintenance is a tool that helps you predict when a piece of equipment will fail to operate optimally through monitoring. With that information, it maintains the equipment and keeps it in check.

A key focus in smart factories, predictive maintenance has been trending. With 98% of firms saying that an hour of downtime can cost over $100, 000, it is obvious how disruptive breakdowns in critical equipment is.

According to McKinsey & Company, widespread adoption of such technologies can lower firms’ maintenance costs by 20%, lower unplanned outages by 50%, and increase machine life by years. Specifically, the statistics collected about the machines’ efficiency, output and quality will help to identify the frequency of maintenance needed. By anticipating maintenance requirements for machines through an analysis of operational data, patterns can also be charged to prepare the team for scheduled maintenance.

As various component parts of the machine respond differently to production stresses, predictive maintenance helps to identify when to replace parts of a machine, and when to dispose of it in its entirety to maximise lifespan. With the monitoring and collection of data running in tandem with the equipment while it is in operation, no time is lost in the production process.

Benefits of advanced manufacturing

One successful local SME, a precision engineering company specialising in the design and manufacturing of wafer probe cards for semiconductor wafer tests, is on track to double revenue figures by 2020 largely due to investments in advanced manufacturing. By steering away from manual, low value-added work as well as paperwork and upgrading operators into programmers, the entire value chain has been upgraded. In June 2017, their S$6 million digital manufacturing facility with various advanced manufacturing technologies enabled machine data analysis which aided in the development of measures to minimise stoppage and the planning of maintenance schedules.

The company invested over S$1.5 million in research and development in the last decade and saw an impressive six-fold increase in revenue. With this success story in mind, SMEs can, too, strive towards digitalisation with the SMEs Go Digital programme which was one of the key Budget 2019 discussion items.

Keeping up and financing new initiatives in the field of advanced manufacturing is crucial for manufacturing firms big and small with the intention of growing the business. SMEs lacking the working capital to do so can consider P2P lending platforms such as Funding Societies. Through this business financing option, business loans can be secured to fulfil higher-value services that better differentiates the company from competitors. This can, in turn, help firms determine how to better set prices to profit.

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