Our industry is undergoing a transformational shift from automation to autonomy. We are fast moving from a situation of automated assembly lines and physical tasks, to a world where hyper-connected autonomous technologies lead a revolution across the entire value chain by using data to its fullest potential.
Predicting how the manufacturing landscape will evolve is vital to my product and technology teams, so each year we undergo an extensive research exercise to give us the full confidence that we’re developing technology that pushes capabilities on all fronts.
To help manufacturing leaders navigate change and shape a successful transformation, we wanted to share our findings. Come with us as we explore the 6 trends that support a successful shift from automation to autonomy.
1. AI & ML
Artificial Intelligence is changing the world. Its ability to process large volumes of data, spot patterns and harness findings to embed continuous improvement is transforming manufacturing.
We are already using machine learning on a daily basis to solve more complex problems for our customers across design, production and quality assurance – but for me that isn’t the most exciting bit – the real gain comes when AI can be harnessed to augment human potential.
Our customers produce reams of data throughout production and receive it in every form possible – simulation data, machine operating data, quality data and so on. These datasets and observations are useful on their own, but it’s impossible to connect them into holistic insights across the product lifecycle.
For example, consolidating quality KPIs and using AI to analyse them to their full potential through all steps of production will enable manufacturers to build connected workflows with unprecedented levels of insight and traceability even if they lack specialist knowledge.
Openness is the key as it enables you to complete the data picture. When AI runs analyses across completely connected data, it opens up a whole new world of insight. Data mining on this scale does more than solve isolated problems – it identifies and resolves underlying root issues that may never have been picked up.
At Hexagon, our focus is to help customers connect data from across their organisations, harnessing Open AI to drive manufacturing transformation. Here our Nexus platform takes the potential of data to new levels with openness. It empowers teams by connecting people, technologies, data, and AI and ML insights from multiple sources to offer an unrivalled path to transformation.
With production running at optimum, the human potential part kicks in. Open AI lifts our innovation, guides our development, helps us refine concepts and frees us to focus on creative solutions to customer and industry rather than production challenges. If you want to lead your sector with product innovation and quality reputation – Open AI is essential.
2. Robotics and automation
Robotics and automation continue to be big for our customers as they look to manufacture, produce their products in a more effective way.
Where on one hand you have AI and ML automating, mining data for insights and making recommendations, on the other you have factory automated equipment such as automated production cells, robotic welding and measuring devices and so on.
A big part of the benefit is that automation takes speed, safety and quality to new levels by eliminating human error from repetitive processes. The other exciting aspect is the realisation of a digital manufacturing process. Automating is one thing, but embedding intelligence is another. Replacing analog equipment with intelligent, data-gathering, automated hardware and software systems – you can create a platform for continuous improvement.
The data gathered by automated technology builds a picture of understanding of production like nothing seen before. Layering this even more richly with predictive insight and physics based simulation tools you can complete a digital feedback loop for continual improvement that transforms every aspect of performance.
As robotics innovation continues at pace, our customers are looking for technology to bridge their skills needs, connect digital insights and harness them. Embedding more intelligence into a system can mitigate skills shortages and avoid bottlenecks or delays in the value chain.
Automated robotic metrology is one of the most exciting developments in this field. Our PRESTO automated inspection cell can integrate with the wider manufacturing software ecosystem, simplifying data collection for smarter, autonomous manufacturing. With intuitive workflows and automated measurement, it can speed up the design process with lightning-fast feedback loops. By adding to the data picture, it’s impact extends beyond the production floor.
As with PRESTO, our aim is to create the technology foundations to support transformation, powering equipment, connecting insights, driving breakthroughs and empowering people with capacity for creativity.
As ever more areas of production are automated, it becomes important to harness intelligence and data to realise this cycle of continuous improvement.
As companies globally focus on meeting stricter legislation and carbon targets – innovation is taking hold. The desire to make things in more sustainable ways means we are making huge strides in lightweighting, materials design, 3D printing, product design and manufacturing processes.
Sustainability begins at the very start of the process with 80% of a product’s environmental impacts locked in at the design stage. Decisions made long before production and usage determine the footprint of everything we make.
This is steering the direction of innovation and many companies are rightly focussing on the design phase to create more efficient products. Simply by adopting the clean sheet approach, using generative design and consolidating components, new age automotive companies can take between 20 and 70% of the mass out of a structure. Find out more about the potential of eco design to transform production in our blog Beyond green factories: The power of eco-design.
As the eyes of the world focus on the full lifecycle of products rather than the usage cycle, we will start to see a huge decarbonisation of industry. Much of this will come from optimisation of current products, production, processes and of course the move to cleaner energy sources such as hydrogen, wind and solar – but much will be the result of innovation.
It’s exciting to think that just by using technology to lift our ideas – people, makers, and the manufacturing industry as a whole can essentially create a new model for consumption that puts us back in balance with the planet. As a benefit to business, cutting our footprint and improving performance across the value chain, means we can drive down operational costs to increase profit.
With big ideas and the right technology, anything is possible and that’s what inspires our product development here at Hexagon.
4. 3D printing
It is my belief that 3D printing will be one of the biggest catalysts of digital manufacturing, making anything possible, repeatable and scalable on a local and global basis. What it will unleash in terms of innovation will be exciting to see.
That said, it is a technology in development. Consistency across different global locations cannot always be guaranteed. Simulation is vital and still underutilised, and different sectors are moving at different speeds. As ground continues to break in terms of speed, power and materials – more and more capabilities will be unlocked.
One reason 3D printing is so important is that it’s at the very heart of flexible or anti-fragile manufacturing. Upturning the centuries old method of configuring a production facility to make specific products or parts – 3D printing is more versatile meaning you could print a drone in the morning and car parts in the afternoon.
Digitalisation itself is just as important in the realisation of true smart manufacturing, which is why our portfolio is focussed on creating open connected systems so customers can learn faster and accelerate their innovation with best in breed technologies. We want to support them with tools to simulate and test virtually, to select the right materials for the right task and to find ways of producing things that would never previously have been possible with the quality you expect from mature technologies.
As tools such as generative design become more and more embedded in manufacturing to help with performance and lightweighting, additive will become much more widespread. Being such an important shaper of the future of manufacturing, we want to keep our customers at its leading edge. If you’re not already – it’s important to start experimenting.
5. Digital twin
Digital twin technology is not consigned to a distant future, it is a now technology. In the most literal sense the digital twin is a bridge between real and virtual worlds. Many companies focus on virtual world simulation capabilities, where they test and iterate designs entirely overlooking the potential to overlay real-world performance data and close the gap between what is designed and what is made.
By enabling real-time data capture and analyses with digital twin, we transform its function and utility far beyond a static, single source of truth. Transformative technologies like machine learning and AI, enable our customers to augment the potential of their teams. This is when digital twin does its greatest work, providing accurate insights that empower customers to work in ways that go far beyond what is possible with the time and resources they have today.
It is this digital feedback loop that truly helps to supercharge design phase iteration and simulation taking product performance to new levels while removing the need for costly physical testing. Only by doing this can we look at big problems rather than bits of problems. By extension, modelling the system and its manufacture holistically will help you make informed decisions sooner, understanding the potential opportunities or flaws with a design, quickly predicting pitfalls or points of failure in manufacturing. Put simply, digital twins have the potential to help businesses get products to market faster and more cost-effectively while empowering leaders with the data and insights needed to quickly adjust.
As we look to advance digital twin capability for customers to create yet more immersive tools, the focus has to be on processing power. The ability to complete complex calculations in real-time is essential to maximise the potential of digital twin – so at the moment we’re working closely with customers in the areas of cloud, high performance computing (HPC) and AI and ML.
6. Industrial metaverse
In decades gone by, manufacturing was a more collaborative process. Teams of engineers with different specialisms would get together, thrash it out and solve problems. Being in the same room meant they understood the knock-on implications of anything they changed and were able to solve problems collaboratively with all of the best experts in the same room. More than this, problems were shared and ideas had a quicker way to the surface.
Right now though, our industry has one foot rooted firmly in reality and one in the digital world. While digitalisation has of course unlocked huge benefit, it has come at the cost of collaboration, with teams becoming ever more fragmented, departmentalised and remote – most notably after covid.
The industrial metaverse is the thing that promises to bring all of this together. Overlaying human collaboration on top of the digitalised manufacturing process in a digital yet recognisably human way will bring untold benefit.
Not only can people collaborate on problems at the same time to find the optimal solution replicating the iterative problem solving of non-digital manufacturing – teams can function globally with immediacy, improving design, reducing delays and getting products to market more quickly.
The technology will build a bridge between design and manufacturing. The industrial metaverse will close the net on issues by empowering technology and people to spot problems before they occur and allowing, as never before, technology and people to work together on the solutions. At all times, the precise nature of problems will be visible via rich contextual data.
Taking us beyond the simulation, digital reality and real-world data feedback capabilities of digital twin, the industrial metaverse creates a point of intersection and collaboration. Perhaps the most important bit, in an industry that is still fairly traditional and by no means fully digital, it will reduce the fear of emerging technologies by putting people back where they deserve – in the driving seat of manufacturing.
As a technology that is very much in its infancy, I look forward to working with customers and technology partners to unlock the full potential of the industrial metaverse.
From our research we truly believe that right now, these are the formative industry trends. We hope this helps you to shape a successful transformation strategy.