From the first days of the Industrial Revolution, the manufacturing sector has been subject to a swathe of technology trends that have transformed the ways goods were produced. In the first wave of change, cottage industry workers were replaced by machines in factories, transforming the nature of manufacturing through automation.
In the 20th century, mass production was ushered in, while in more recent times, robotics has powered further transformations to the assembly line. Now in the 21st century, manufacturing is undergoing a revolution again, this time through digitisation and the rise of new technologies that improve productivity, processes and drive new ways of thinking.
Here, we take a look at some the emerging technologies now shaking up this industry sector.
Productive 3D printing
One of the most impactful technologies in manufacturing is 3D printing, which can cut down production times and give more flexibility in the design of products. Keech, which manufactures parts mostly for mining, rail, defence and agriculture companies, has cut the time to manufacture several products from two years to six months thanks to 3D printing.
Herbert Hermens, CEO of Keech, says 3D printing allows the company to be design parts more accurately as well as employ more complex geometries, thereby cutting out the rigorous, time consuming casting processes its engineers usually go through.
“We are able to translate the theoretical into a practical application by making the models overnight. It allows us to almost overnight go to customers and ask them what they think of the design and then come back and make those modifications,” he says.
“When you can cut down a design cycle, as we have in some cases down to a quarter of what it was, all of a sudden you are saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in the design process.”
Having more design flexibility with 3D printing has also allowed Keech to broaden and enhance its product range. Recently, the company engaged with CSIRO as a commercial arm to start printing medical products.
“It is absolutely being able to design this to the end-user requirement,” Hermens says. “We can change designs so that our productivity is much higher and as a consequence, the customer finds much better value in our products.”
In addition, thanks to these clever innovations around design, Keech’s engineers found a way to reduce the amount of material used to manufacture a hinge while keeping the same level of integrity. The engineers cut a third of the weight of a 3D product, dropping production costs by 10 to 15 per cent.
However, the success of 3D printing at Keech is just as much about its engineers as it is the technology itself. Understanding how materials behave is crucial to getting the most out of the 3D printers, Hermens says.
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