by John Hitch
1. Ain’t nothing But A 5g thAng
The catch- 22 of the modern age: just as Internet speeds
get to a point you’re happy with, data traffic expands to
a point where the digital lanes are congested again.
Manufacturing networks will soon need to accommodate
data to and from robots, drones streaming 4k video, and
augmented and/or virtual reality applications, along with
dozens of other processes and devices. Look for 5G networks to alleviate these loads by speeding up download
times to hyperloop-fast levels. AT&T’s 5G mobile network
is expected to launch this year, and there’s hardware ready
to handle it. Samsung’s 5G Home router could be 76
times faster than average Internet speed (500 MB/sec
to 6.5/sec), and Qualcomm reports its Snapdragon X50
5G modem supports up to 5 GB/s download speeds.
And 5G was a major component of the recent 2018
Consumer Electronics Show.
“The impact of 5G is groundbreaking and will accelerate
innovation in all of the technologies we showcase at CES,
from smart home and appliances, drones, and robotics to
self-driving vehicles and smart city technologies,” says Gary
Shapiro, president and CEO of CTA, which runs the event.
2. AR And VR: ReAlity foR the Rest of us
In probably the least bold prediction of the bunch, we are
betting that many more plant and factory workers will wise
up and start wearing smartglasses. A handful of Fortune
100 companies deployed successful pilot projects in 2017
to leverage the power of augmented and mixed reality, with
the surprise emergence of Google Glass Enterprise Edition as the industry’s most notable event. This year, Vuzix
already firmly cemented as a leader in the space, made
news by unveiling an Alexa-powered version at CES 2018.
We got to test several pairs, including the aforemen-
tioned Google Glass 2.0, and the Vuzix M300, as well as
the immersive VR-based Oculus Rift. They all have room to
grow, and with 5G they certainly will, but there are plenty
of cost-effective choices out now enough now to provide a
quick enough ROI for several warehouse, maintenance, and
factory floor applications. It’s no longer hype; it’s reality.
3. We’ll find out ho W BlockchAin WoRks
I get that this enigmatic data-sharing and record-keeping
system constantly moves peer-to-peer style, like a cold
virus at a daycare, and the uncrackable security and sheer
size make crypto-currency such as Bitcoin possible. Kind
of. But imagining how it works, other than aliens or magic,
is beyond me. And everyone having a clever analogy to
explain it doesn’t quite help.
But in 2018, as this mysterious network (or is it a platform?) proliferates into even more of the digital realm, it’s
certain more manufacturers will start using it to handle
records, supply chain, and any massive and/or confidential
amounts of data. So we’ll be hearing from plenty of experts
who can dumb it down for us. One thing we do know: the
value is clear, even if how it works isn’t.
4. chinA dominAtes metAl 3d PRinting
Additive aficionado Gordon Styles, who runs a custom
manufacturing service Star Rapid out of Hong Kong, loves the
direction companies such as Renishaw and Desktop Metal
have taken to make metal 3D printing a real manufacturing
solution. Material costs still seem to be a limiting factor.
“The price of titanium ‘powder’ needs to halve to allow
more engineers to use it,” says Styles, who explains the
material is actually graded micro-diameter spheroids. “It’s
by far the best material for metal 3D printing: it’s the most
accurate, gives the best build quality, the best surface
finish, and is 62% the density of stainless steel.”
He says it could take three months to get 10 kilos of
the restricted metal from the U.S. where it’s processed,
even though it was mined in China. What’s changed, Styles
explains, it that China has innovated a more efficient way
for the plasma process to spit the balls out, “jumping five
to 10 years ahead of the West.” The result is titanium
parts that cost half or 1/3 the traditional cost.
“China decided metal 3D printing is an enabling technology of the future,” Styles says. “They don’t care how
much it costs; they will be leaders.”
5. fAsteR mAchining
Star Rapid’s major business is in machined parts, and
after working with CNC machines for the last 30 years,
he says he has never been more excited.
“Programs like hyperMILL are doing stuff you could
only dream of four or five years ago,” he says. His list of
equipment manufacturers to investigate this year include
Matsuura, Makino, and DMG Mori.
The change will be evident this year.
“Workers spend hours pouring over solid verification
so a part won’t crash in the machine,” he says. “Makino
designed an anti-crash function, [the Collision Safeguard],
so it just stops and backs up. These advances are astonishing. I’ve never seen such an acceleration in machining
as in last five years.”
6. PRedictiVe (not PReVentAtiVe)
Jeremy Wright, director of product management for Advanced Technology Services, says that because of the
availability, affordability, and installation of Io T sensors,
the factory maintenance and MRO provider has gone from
a “company that fixes broken things to a company a lot
more focused on things not breaking in the first place.”
The interest from customers wanting to go from reactive to proactive has been quite significant. By the end of
2017 the company has a total of 35 reliability engineers
who specialize in the predictive maintenance; at the start
they had zero.
7. the ResuRgence of Welding
The American Welding Society’s most recent data indicates the country will need 370,000 welders by 2026,
and that the current shortage is expected to continue.
Check out page 29 to see how welding equipment leader
Lincoln Electric is infusing the industry with a much needed
8. RoBots fliP the scRiPt
Experts we’ve talked to always say robots that can move
like humans are years away, but when Boston Dynamics’
Atlas backflips around a room like it was auditioning for
a stage production of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,”
and Japanese android Erica’s neural network allows it to
learn in a more nuanced way, it’s not difficult to imagine
sometime soon that mobility and intelligence will be combined into one. For our most baseless (yet not unlikely)
prediction, we think that will be this year. The only question
is if it will dream of electric sheep or enslaving humanity?
Eight Manufacturing Predictions for 2018
Last year in the industrial world, a lot of exciting emerging technology finally emerged from R&D labs and CAD
files to the front lines of plants and factories. Here’s how we think 2018 will keep that momentum rolling.