Don’t Buy Into These “Trends” About Manufacturing

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June 28, 2016

We’re constantly being told about the ways that manufacturing is changing. It’s becoming even more automated and connected. But while it’s true that it is changing, some of the supposed “trends” about manufacturing are bunk. Here’s why you shouldn’t buy into them.

Nanomaterials Are Coming To Mass Market Soon

Nanomaterials have been in the news a lot recently, especially the world’s first 2D material, graphene. Graphene is a material that promises a lot. It promises to be stronger than steel. It promises to be a conductor of electricity. And it promises to make our smartphone displays fully flexible. It has been variously described as a wonder material that will make its way into practically every consumer product you can think of.

But here’s the problem. Right now only microscopic quantities of graphene can be manufactured. And even these are at high cost. The graphene revolution will come. But it will be at least a decade before we see it make even a small impact on the overall shape of manufacturing. Until then, traditional materials will continue to dominate.

The Days Of Subtractive Manufacturing Are Over

We’re in a bit of an additive manufacturing storm at the moment. It sort of reminds one of the storm that accompanied the Dotcom boom in the late nineties. We’re seeing a lot of hype around the idea that so-called subtractive manufacturing might be coming to an end. This is the process that has been used since the industrial revolution. Manufacturers take big sheets of material and then cut them down to what they need, wasting the rest.

But here’s the problem: additive manufacturing can’t produce component parts quickly enough. And for the foreseeable future, it will only be used to make niche parts for low volume products. Current technologies, like plastic injection moulding, are here to stay because they can produce at a high volume.

Automated Systems Will Replace Workers

Two big concerns are usually raised when the idea of automated systems are mentioned. One is the Elon Musk’s and Stephen Hawking’s idea that intelligent machines are dangerous for humanity. The other concern is that machines will take our jobs.

We’ve seen experimental robots demonstrated that can learn and think for themselves. And so it certainly looks like they might. But when you delve a little deeper into their capabilities, you soon realize that they probably won’t. Why? Well, while it’s true that they can learn and interact with their world, they’re still not anything like people. They don’t have any sense of general knowledge. That means that they’re unable to put their actions into context. Yes, they might be able to put different widgets in different boxes by learning about those widgets. But they have no idea why they’re doing what they’re doing. And so they still require significant oversight by real people.

Their tactile abilities are quite lacking too. Their grabbers are primitive compared to human hands and much slower in an unstructured environment. Human hands are evolved to be able to grab and handle objects. But emulating this in a machine appears to be out of our technological reach for the time being.

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