Most manufacturers have implemented valuable technologies somewhere in their organizations, like CAD software that aids in design and drafting, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions that integrate and optimize processes and production. Both are common in most manufacturers because the associated ROI is typically very significant.
Today, technology has advanced to include things like augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI) — tools that used to sound almost space-age yet are available, and practical, for even small manufacturers. Evolving technology will continue to transform every component of the chain, from R&D, supply chain and operations, to sales, marketing and customer service.
What will drive value in manufacturing in the coming years will be improved operational efficiencies and product innovations. If you want to maintain a competitive edge and grow your business profitably, consider these three emerging manufacturing technologies:
1. 3D printing
3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is becoming more widely recognized as a way to save time and money. This technology helps manufacturers:
- Increase production speed: 3D printing can create products or prototypes in a fraction of the time, reducing your manufacturing timeline down from weeks to hours. With that increased speed, your business can realize shorter lead times and get products to market faster.
- Reduce costs: The costs associated with 3D printing, as well as some of the available materials, can be high. However, 3D printing equipment is becoming more competitively priced. And the process uses materials more efficiently, decreasing waste and lowering your overall costs. Additionally, 3D printing can help reduce expenses on storage. Products can be made closer to the time of sale so that you can better manage what products need to be stored and for how long.
- Improve flexibility: 3D printing offers fewer limitations than traditional manufacturing equipment. It makes it simpler to construct complex structures and add in more intricate details, which gives designers the freedom to focus on making high performing products.
2. AR in manufacturing
AR can provide a new, more effective way for your organization to convey information.
AR usually functions as a pair of goggles that interact with workers as they perform tasks. It can provide on-screen instructions, alerting them of issues and giving them feedback about the speed and accuracy of their work in real-time.
Outside of executing tasks, this technology can be used to track inventory, provide hands-on training and deliver a variety of data that can be used to gain insight into the efficiency of the entire operation.
3. Artificial intelligence
AI is present in many of the solutions that manufacturers are already taking advantage of, including ERP and CRM. This technology can help automate repetitive tasks or use your business’s data to create insights such as predictive forecasting or enhanced data and analytics.
Some possible benefits for manufacturers include:
- Predicting equipment and machine maintenance needs
- Process optimization
- Forecasting demand
- Minimizing scrap
But complex solutions aren’t the only AI available. Increasingly popular generative AI tools also present opportunities for manufacturers, and you can start using many of them in your business today, for free.
Generative AI can act as a resource to help you create anything from your strategic plan to a training program for upskilling an employee.
For internal and external communications, generative AI can help you draft things like emails, social media posts and reports and adjust that content to a specific audience or level. For example, you can use it to make technical reports easily digestible or make more targeted marketing materials.
This technology is still developing, so it’s important for your people to be aware of opportunities and willing to experiment on ways it can help improve your operations.
How Wipfli can help
Manufacturers today can’t afford to overlook technologies that can reduce costs and pave the way for new products and added revenue. But it’s a big commitment — and one that doesn’t happen overnight.
If you know technology is the key to maintaining a competitive advantage, reach out to Wipfli to talk with one of our experienced manufacturing consultants. We can help you leverage the power of digital technology to improve results in your manufacturing business.
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