Ten years ago, the digital revolution was safely contained in a few niche areas. Digital technology showed up in the film industry, movies and online banking. But it was all pretty obvious stuff.
But since then, it’s oozed out into other areas you might not expect. What about taxi services and hotel bookings? How about 3D printing for heaven’s sake? You can’t get a much more obvious example of the digitisation of the world than that.
Because the digital world is enveloping everything, manufacturers need to get prepared. In many ways, manufacturing has always been at the forefront of technology. And so when new tools arrive, like new software, it should use them alongside existing tech like Mills CNC machines.
So what changes are we likely to see?
Manufacturers Will Become Service-Based
It seems ridiculous to suggest that manufacturing could ever become service-based. But it is likely that in the future that is where the real value will lie. Manufacturers won’t be all about churning out as many units en masse as possible. They’ll be about taking data from the environment and using that to the best of their ability.
It seems strange, but it is plausible. Consider this: by 2020 there’s going to be around 20 billion internet connected devices. There will be sensors of all kinds everywhere in the environment. And all those sensors will be generating massive data streams that need to be processed. Those data won’t be useless. Instead, they’ll provide critical information on how next-gen products should be designed.
Sensors will also be embodied in the products themselves. This will mean that cars will detect rain and feed that data to local weather stations. Tennis racquets could have gyros to detect problems with a tennis player’s swing.
Manufacturers Will Become Platforms, Like Everything Else
We all know about the concept of a platform from the tech worlds. It’s a service, like eBay or YouTube, where certain types of information goods can be exchanged. The race is now on among manufacturers to develop the next manufacturing platform. Many envision this as being a repository where people can download and share product design files. But it could be any number of things. One idea being pursued right now by the German government is “Industrie 4.0.” The idea here is to get manufacturers to go high-tech and launch software platforms.
One idea is to provide a platform that helps manufacturers run their equipment more smoothly.
The big obstacle to these changes appears to be cultural. There’s no technical reason why these new systems can’t be immediately applied to the manufacturing sector. But the sector is used to a certain mode of operation. It’s used to taking raw materials, processing them, and shipping them out to customers. It’s not used to the idea of a platform or trying to connect markets together in the digital space. In many respects, it simply doesn’t have the expertise.
But the industry will change, even if the change is forced from the outside. Somebody will come along, make a killer platform, and manufacturing will never be the same again.
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