We are in the midst of a manufacturing evolution. It’s the latest in a history of industrial revolutions dating back over 300 years, each defined by technological advancements that have transformed how we manufacture goods.
Broadly speaking, we can define the revolutions in terms of a few key concepts and technologies:
1. The First Industrial Revolution (1760-1840): Mechanization & Steam Power
2. The Second Industrial Revolution (1870-1914): Mass Production & Electricity
3. The Third Industrial Revolution(1950-2000): Automation and Computerization And right now it’s happening again, for a fourth time. and it will be driven by data.
Also known as " industry 4.0" & it refers to the fourth industrial revolution that’s happening all around us and includes cutting-edge technologies like additive manufacturing, artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, and the Internet of Things.
How do you go from concept to prototype within hours instead of weeks?
Additive manufacturing (AM) is a disruptive and rapid growingtechnology that allows designers and engineers to create prototypes
in a fraction of the time. While impacting several industries across
healthcare, aerospace and robotics, it is particularly changing the
game for automotive manufacturing.
The ability to manufacture, test and customize automotive parts is
giving rise to automotive innovations with the freedom of design all
over the world.
It enables us to make parts that would be otherwise impossible to
produce with traditional (i.e, “subtractive”) manufacturing processes,
either through by part consolidation—a method famously employed by
GE in the manufacturing of the LEAP engine fuel nozzles—or through
new geometries, like those found in conformal cooling systems.
Additive manufacturing can even lead to a new type of factory: a
micro factory. Local Motors is pioneering the AM revolution in
automotive, with micro factories dedicated to producing vehicles
locally through additive manufacturing techniques.
Like Industry 4.0 technologies more generally, Additive manufacturing
can improve processes throughout the full product life cycle.
In the US, 80 to 90 percent of each initial prototype has been 3D
printed among several major automakers. After deployment of a
vehicle, this technology can proactively reduce disruptions in the
supply chain by replacing faulty parts without costly wait times
otherwise experienced with third party suppliers.
Moreover, customers now have the ability to make their dream cars
come to life.
Although air intakes, exhaust system parts and ducting are some of
the most popular components to be printed, many customs parts such
as brackets, spacers and grommets are becoming more commonly
desired to satisfy unique requests from customers.
Additive manufacturing gives customers and automakers the tools to
enhance their individual creativity. In turn fueling the quest for
automakers to out-innovate one another. With major OEM like BMW
and Vollkwagen printing thousands of parts a year in their designated
additive manufacturing centers, AM’s advantage creates a battlefield
with unlimited possibilities for them and their competitors to discover.
Virtual and Augmented Reality
When thinking about virtual reality (VR), like most, my thoughts
gravitate to gaming. however games don’t capture the full potential of
this revolutionary technology.
Additive manufacturing is not the only tool that has impacted the world
of prototyping for innovators.
Similar to the way in which a video game console with motion control
functions, Mercedez-Benz has implemented a “virtual assembly
station” that allows designers to perform virtual assembly of parts and
test out different situations that can arise with an avatar of their
VR can also prevent late detection of design errors, a major
predicament in developing a new car model. The ability to simulate
prototypes in terms of their volume and size and get a detailed view of
how all the parts are connected together is transforming innovation
before engineers can even pick up a tool to start building.
Audi is one of the major OEM that applied this tech with their VR
“holodeck” which is a virtual environment that houses a 3D image of a
car. The holodeck gives engineers the ability to visualize a realistic
idea of a new vehicle model in the early stages of conception, in turn
saving time and costs by reducing physical testing efforts during
development stages of the product.
Imagine test driving a car without driving it off the lot.
The VR experience takes place in a simulated isolated reality. For car
retailers this means they can reduce showroom size, in turn
significantly cutting costs of rent, inventory and salaries, while also
enhancing customer experience.
Customers have the ability to change a car’s configuration and
aesthetics in a matter of seconds. This flexibility is but one reason
why Audi has deployed more than 1000 VR showrooms and are
planning on expanding.
On the other hand, augmented reality (AR) technology combines
digital creations with that from the physical world. Users are able to
see existing environments overlaid by computer generated images.
Augmented Reality enables advanced driver assistance systems to
help drivers stay more focused.
These days, we rely predominantly on our cell phones for GPS in the
car and it’s hard not to get distracted when a message pops on the
screen. With augmented reality head-up display (HUD), data such as
warning signals, speed, navigation and much more can be displayed
right on your windshield perceived by drivers as a part of the road.
Hyundai and WayRay have released the world’s first Holographic AR
Navigation System and it looks like it is straight out of a sci-fi movie.
Internet of Things
From cellphones, TVs and lamps to airplane engines and oil rig drills
– the Internet of things (IoT) can connect it all. If it has an on and off
switch, chances are this technology can be used to connect devices
to the Internet and to each other to facilitate the sharing of data.
IoT is notably transformative for the automotive and manufacturing
industry and this can be attributed to the idea of “connected vehicles”
and “smart factories”. These ideas employ a network of sensors to
collect data and use cloud software to transform it into valuable and
actionable insights about productivity and safety.
Product development and delivery is optimized in various areas within
manufacturing plants with IoT technologies.
Sensors in machines are empowered with the ability to measure and
reduce excess energy consumption, in turn lowering costs and fueling
environmentally sustainable operations. Operations are further
improved with better asset tracking. IoT technology is able to alert
manufacturers when stock is low allowing for automation in the
inventory systems, as well identify potential equipment failures to
decrease unexpected downtime.
With connected vehicles, safety on the road will greatly be improved
by both detecting accidents and bad driving.
Your car will be able to automatically detect collisions and
immediately contact emergency services. The same tech can also
monitor driving habits and send recommendations to drivers so they
can continuously improve on their skills.
IoT will help control traffic like never before, making morning
commutes hassle free.
While preventing accidents will lead to far less congestion, IoT can
also be used for swarm intelligence in traffic, allowing traffic operators
to coordinate cars to reduce common chokepoints when roads are
busiest during the day.
Along with efficiency of driving conditions on the road, IoT can also
improve the roads themselves. Building roads that can detect
maintenance needs to ensure they are not left in poor conditions for
extended periods of time.
The automotive industry has a history of harnessing the newest
technologies to bring safe, efficient, and innovative vehicles to the
market. It’s no surprise that, as a result, AI has been playing a huge
role in the industry and will continue to do so for years to come.
AI is fueling a new world of transportation where driver seats in cars
The most talked about innovation is in autonomous vehicles – the
concept of utilizing AI such that drivers are not required. Cars would
be able to use AI to drive themselves thereby alongside IoT
technologies, reducing accidents and traffic congestion.
The optimizations enabled by AI start right on the factory floor and
extend far beyond it onto the road.
Predictive maintenance of vehicle data can alert manufacturers of
potential failure points – it can be used to identify defects in parts and
make adjustments quickly, with one of the biggest advantages being
Safety on the road is of utmost importance, along with on-road vehicle
failures, reckless driving being one the greatest threats and AI gives
us the ability to greatly minimize this risk.
Driver monitoring allows for vehicles to determine when a driver is, for
instance, falling asleep at the wheel and then assist the driver to stay
awake. In case of an accident, AI can also adjust airbags to account
for the driver’s specific body orientation to provide a cushiony landing.
Now that you’ve gotten a peek into the 4 technologies that are driving
this modern day industrial revolution, what do you think will define the
next wave of technological advancement?