Digital Strategy

How Advanced Manufacturing Can Improve Manufacturing Processes

May 13, 2021

What is advanced manufacturing and how can it help you streamline your manufacturing goals? Here’s a deep dive.

In business efficiency, locating it, improving it, and maintaining it is important. The word “efficient” is a cornerstone of every business conversation - so much so that it’s almost hard to hone in as a specific term and these days, it’s an ever-shifting idea that may never be fully realized. The current technologies surrounding the manufacturing process are evolving day by day, and each one allows for improving efficiencies at nearly every turn, in a myriad of ways. The tricky part is, how do you choose which innovation to go after, and how do you implement them? Don’t worry, we’re going to untangle that knot in this article about the huge value that advanced manufacturing provides.

What is the Definition of Advanced Manufacturing?

According to manufacturing.gov, advanced manufacturing is defined as, “the use of innovative technologies to create existing products and the creation of new products. Advanced manufacturing can include production activities that depend on information, automation, computation, software, sensing, and networking.”

Now, this description may feel a bit vague. Even after reading it through, you still may be asking yourself, “What is advanced manufacturing?” And that’s O.K. That definition was painted with a broad stroke on purpose. As you’ll learn over the course of this article, the definition of advanced manufacturing is general for a reason. One organization can utilize advanced manufacturing technology in a manner that is totally different from another organization, but the truth of the term remains: innovative technologies used to create new products or expound upon those already in circulation.

What is the Purpose of Advanced Manufacturing?

May the best product win. That’s the essence of advanced manufacturing. When you want to know how to improve production efficiency, advanced manufacturing. It provides an organization the opportunity to let the quality of their process and products determine success rather than size or capital. Because of advanced manufacturing, capability is not determined by large numbers of employees or manufacturing space. Instead, capability in business is determined by processes that provide a proper match, and offer quality-consistent products at lower prices than traditional manufacturing models.

Let’s say, for example, that you are an electric vehicle manufacturer. After months and months of prep work, you’re finally at the production phase and you get to fire up the actual manufacturing of the product. But as this is happening, the R&D team realizes that the frame of the vehicle can be made for cheaper than they originally knew, and it will increase safety. Trouble is, your manufacturing plant already has all the proper tools and raw materials to produce the frame according to the original plan. Well, as it happens, maybe you can pivot. By utilizing something like 3-D printing, your company can produce a new tool, on site, that allows for the new method of manufacturing the vehicle frame that will result in a safer and cheaper end product. In the traditional manner of manufacturing, the decision was made and you were rolling with it for better or worse. Under the current capabilities of advanced manufacturing, your business can be versatile at any given moment; maximizing efficiencies at the drop of a hat, and bettering your bottom line.

In a nutshell, the goal of advanced manufacturing is to:

  • Increase added value
  • Increase quality
  • Increase flexibility
  • Increase responsiveness to market
  • Reduce time to market
  • Reduce unit quantities
  • Reduce material content
  • Reduce inventory

What Industries Use Advanced Manufacturing?

Companies that are poised to gain value from advanced manufacturing are those in industries where sophisticated tech is already the norm. Advanced manufacturing only succeeds if the IT infrastructure is solid. This comes into play in industries like electric vehicles, robotics, high volume goods, aerospace, and some others.

Unfortunately, advanced manufacturing simply can’t be internalized by any company out there. Sure, any business can pay for composite materials, or cloud computing, but if they don’t have the framework in place to utilize those tools then they mean nothing. So, a certain level of technological groundwork must already be laid within your business for advanced manufacturing to be helpful.

Difference Between Advanced and Traditional Manufacturing

Traditional manufacturing companies take raw goods and turn them into a physical product. They need space, manpower, and a long-term strategy to recoup their investment. Lower-skilled and physically demanding labor is common, as is  a hierarchical organizational structure. Think: assembly lines. Traditional manufacturing is a classic bastion of economic development, even though the new methodologies of high performance computing that will lead the next wave of manufacturing are closer than they are far. Traditional manufacturing relies on semi-skilled labor, mass production, and nearby highways/railroads to operate effectively.

Advanced manufacturing piggybacks on innovation already in play, which makes it useful only to companies with technology at the forefront like medical, pharmaceutical, aerospace, and data collection.  Advanced manufacturing relies on customized production strategies, skilled labor, digital infrastructure and an open flow of information.

  • Traditional Manufacturing
  • Characteristics
  • Advanced Manufacturing
  • Mass Production 
  • Production Strategy
  • Customization & customer-focused
  • Hierarchical
  • Organizational Structure
  • Flat, open flow of information
  • Abundant labor supply
  • Labor Supply Criteria
  • Skilled/technical labor available
  • Unskilled & semi-killed
  • Skills Required
  • Semi-skilled & technical skills
  • On-the-job-training/High school
  • Education
  • Technical degree from a college
  • 3 semi-skilled workers for every skilled worker
  • Labor Force
  • 4 skilled workers for every semi-skilled worker
  • Casting, welding, molding, brazing, machining, etc.
  • Production Technology
  • Additive & rapid manufacturing: 3-D printing, material deposition, powder bed, etc.
  • Investment into production
  • R&D/Innovation
  • Re-invest revenues into R&D
  • Low-Cost
  • Energy
  • Low-cost, highly dependable
  • Space
  • Infrastructure Requirements
  • IT/Digital infrastructure
  • Highway/Rail accessibility
  • Logistics
  • Global supply-chain management
  • Low crime
  • Quality of Life Criteria
  • Cultural amenities

As we mentioned, not every industry is poised to adopt the benefits of advanced manufacturing. Some simply don’t need to, and others simply aren’t advanced enough to. But based on what you know about advanced manufacturing now, it is easier to imagine the following industries excelling in it’s implementation:

Advanced Manufacturing Industries

Robotics

“3D Systems Corp. Arevo Labs, KUKA Robotics, 3Diligent, etc”

Electric Vehicles

Tesla, Envoy Technologies, Lucid Motors, Hyliion, etc.

Air structures

Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Virgin Galactic, Northrop Grumann, etc.

Medical devices 

Paragon Rapid Technologies, Keystone Industries, Medtronic, GE Healthcare, Philips, etc.

Pharmaceuticals

Aprecia, Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Pfizer, etc.

Consumer Products 

Olympia Entertainment, HP, Chanel, Dr. Scholl’s, SmileDirectClub, etc.

Transportation 

Chevrolet, Rad Power Bikes, Local Motors, Gulfstream, Mercury Marine, etc.

Energy Sector

Chevron, Halliburton, GE Oil & Gas, Shell Global, BP Global, etc.

Examples of Advanced Manufacturing

Advanced manufacturing is used to develop new technology, new markets, and new methods to enhance existing products. The specific techniques of advanced manufacturing are ever-changing, and will continue to become cheaper (until new, never-heard-of advanced manufacturing tactics roll out someday) as technology innovates and evolves at a seemingly exponential pace.

The following list is not exhaustive, but it is a well-rounded set of manufacturing technology examples. These advanced manufacturing techniques offer competitiveness, workforce development, and high-quality metrics in your everyday manufacturing systems.

Cloud Computing

This is a crucial example of advanced manufacturing for industries that operate across the globe simultaneously. Cloud computing is the practice of utilizing a network of remote services which are all connected through the internet and allows for different access points for processing, managing, and storing information. Cloud computing allows manufacturers to reduce expenses, enhance production speed, and maintain cohesiveness from anywhere on the planet.

Additive Manufacturing

This is poised to explode. We have just scratched the surface of the effects of additive manufacturing. We know it sounds like another piece of classic manufacturing jargon, but it’s a game-changer. Methods like 3-D printing, fused deposition modeling, powder-bed laser printing systems, as well as others produce extremely complex products from a continuous piece of material. Failure points are reduced through additive manufacturing, and so are thermal dissipation problems, weight, complexity and other factors. This type of value-add allows the manufacturer to produce a product much closer to its customer. This method will only grow in the coming years.

Smart Manufacturing

For manufacturers looking to enhance efficiency, smart manufacturing is likely more available than one may think. The idea behind smarter manufacturing is to utilize machines to analyze data and make informed, real-time decisions or calculations beyond human capabilities. Modern CNC machines produce readily available analytics and machine learning, allowing the manufacturer to make procedures and information available when required.

Learn more about smart manufacturing trends in our 2021 Modern Manufacturing Report.

The Internet of Things

IoT - or the Internet of Things - is the ever-communicating, fully updating, always innovating communication stream that occurs amongst all of your advanced gadgets. This is next-generation now! IoT enables connected devices, personal or professional, to speak to each other as well as transmit important, real-time data and diagnostics. This drastically affects the manufacturing industry due to never-before-known insights on the lifecycle, efficiency, or status of the devices we rely on to run a business.

Robotics

Automated robotics systems enable precision movement, precision joining, heavy lifting, and improved consistency across production units - making it an obvious example of the major benefits of advanced manufacturing - particularly in prototyping. Robotics excel in areas of work that are considered hazardous. Other benefits include toning down waste, overhead, and risk. You’ll find robotics processes in industries like forging, aerospace, consumer goods, automotive, even non-profit, and others. This is one of the most value-adding tools in modern advanced manufacturing.

Virtual Reality

Complicated prototypes may just be a thing of the past, and with that goes the money, time and energy spent in producing them. Skilled professionals that make use of virtual reality for product design, and manufacturing innovation to create realistic models of products enable their organization to comprehend the designs digitally and take care of any problems prior to the production phase. This greatly reduces the time frame of the traditional prototype build-and-review cycle.

Nanotechnology

This one is still a little ways away, but be assured this rapid transfer of science is coming in full force. First generation nanotechnology is featured mostly in the arenas of modern biotechnology and space technology. Nanotechnology allows for a variety of benefits such as: quicker computer processing, production of clothing material that lasts longer and keeps warmth better, production of bandages which can heal wounds faster, and creating smaller memory cards which hold more memory space. It will truly revolutionize the manufacturing industry when widely available.

Laser Machining/Welding

High-precision and rapid parts processing is done through laser machining and laser welding, and it is a difficult task to do well. It can also be a highly wasteful task. By increasing the precision of the heat transfer, lasers don’t put the integrity of the part at risk and simultaneously eliminate poor joining and cracking. An example of how advanced manufacturing enterprise makes business more efficient and safer, too.

Advanced/Composite Materials

The more innovative, specialized products we create, the more advanced materials we need to supply them. Advanced or composite materials are an example of advanced manufacturing which enables specific cocktails of metals, ceramics, glass, plastics, etc. to serve a specific application. High strength alloys and recyclable plastics are just two examples of important composite materials today.

How Does Advanced Manufacturing Fit Into the Value Chain?

A value chain is any number of interrelated activities a company uses from creation to completion of a product to give them a competitive advantage. Value chain management includes (but is certainly not limited to)  ideation, design, acquisition of raw materials, manufacturing, marketing, selling and servicing. 

Where does advanced manufacturing fit into the value chain?

Anywhere, really.

How to Implement Advanced Manufacturing

To understand best practices for implementing advanced manufacturing, you need to better understand the steps of value chain analysis. The primary and secondary activities in the business must be fully determined, each activity of the value chain must be analyzed for cost and value, and competitive advantage opportunities must be identified.

Advanced manufacturing in the form of virtual reality prototypes can make ideation phase more efficient and practical. Advanced manufacturing in the form of additive manufacturing can make the design phase less wasteful and more accurate. Advanced manufacturing in the form of composite materials can make the acquisition of raw goods phase safer, easier and quicker by using only the ingredients necessary for the product and nothing more.  Advanced manufacturing in the form of laser welding or robotics can make the manufacturing phase simpler, and more efficient. Advanced manufacturing in the form of cloud computing can make the marketing and selling phase easier by processing real-time data from across the globe, keeping all teams in check and on time.

Here’s some examples of how, once you understand the steps of the value chain analysis, you can look for places to implement advanced manufacturing.

Understand each of the primary and secondary activities in the business

When taking a deep, investigatory look into the crucial activities of your business, you realize there are any number of potential steps in the value chain. If a primary activity is inbound logistics, then advanced manufacturing in the form of the Internet of Things may be an excellent source of efficiency for your business. Your trucks’ 14-minute-early arrival time is communicated in real-time to the warehouse, allowing for a smooth unload process and wasting no time or energy. Or if your truck is carrying a refrigerated load and the refrigeration breaks, the diagnostics on your truck will communicate that to the control room, which can divert the truck to the nearest service station without any product spoiling. 

This is a tough one to comprehend completely, but if you can surpass the unknowns and come up with an accurate cost estimation of each activity in your business’ value chain - that’s when you can whittle down the inefficiencies with advanced manufacturing. When you come to grips with the fact that your current manufacturing tools are low-value, high-cost then you can start to realize the benefits of robotics or laser machining on the manufacturing floor. Advanced manufacturing is designed to stomp out inefficiencies of any kind.

Identify competitive advantage opportunities

Focus on either cost advantages or product differentiation. That’s how you optimize the value chain, and you can do it better with advanced manufacturing. 3D printing is a form of advanced manufacturing that can become a major factor in cost advantages for example. Producing products, on-site, with as little material as possible is just one way that you can drastically reduce time and energy along the value chain.

3D printer manufacturer Formlabs was able to reduce 5+ weeks in prototype delivery. See how they got there.

Summary

If you’ve learned anything from this article, we hope it’s that there are any number of advanced manufacturing processes that could streamline your manufacturing goals right now. Whether you’re a logistics-heavy company with physical goods out the wazoo, or a high-tech firm with every bit of your valuables tucked away in the corners of the cloud - there’s an advanced manufacturing option that will make your business better. 


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Skylar Reddy

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