September 5, 2016
In the late 19th century, the industrial revolution was at its height. Laborers worked twelve hour days seven days a week, and children as young as five and six worked in the factories alongside their parents. It was a period of unrest as unions campaigned for an eight-hour work day, Upton Sinclair wrote his staggering novel The Jungle, and protesters and police forces clashed in historic events like the Chicago Haymarket Affair.
The end result of this period in time was a victory for the labor movement. We earned the eight-hour work day and a new Federal Holiday, Labor Day.
A lot has changed in the past 130 years, and the labor force looks much different now than it did then. Factories are using increasing amounts of automation technology to produce better, more consistent quality products and streamline efficiency. On this holiday celebrating our workforce, we’ll take a look at a few
innovations that are going to make our jobs easier and safer in the
Manufacturing Trends for the 21st Century
- Internet of Things (IoT): The Internet of Things describes any sort of miscellaneous machine or tool that also has internet connectivity. In manufacturing, there is a vision of the “connected factory,” in which every machine on the assembly line will be connected to each other and the data center. This would allow the quality control teams to gather an immense amount of data on their operation. Using that data, they can identify trends, tweak different aspects, and make their overall process more efficient.
- Robotics: The first advance to come to mind would likely be robotics. Dangerous or complex tasks can now be completed by automated machines designed to carry out an action at increased speeds without tiring. Contrary to popular belief, many of the robots deployed in manufacturing are designed to assist rather than replace the human worker. This concept is known as “cobiotics” and is finding success in the aerospace and automotive fields.
- 3D Printing: 3D printing is poised to greatly impact the manufacturing industry. While we may be a long way from 3D printing full, complex machines like cars, we can still print select components and save money on shipping and distribution.Furthermore, 3D printing is proving immensely valuable in the prototype process. Instead of building a mold for plastic parts just to create a single prototype, components can be constructed (relatively) quickly on-site using a 3D printer.
- Augmented Reality: Augmented reality differs from virtual reality by overlaying digital images over the real world. The environment is real, it just has additional content provided by the augmented reality application. In manufacturing, this has value as a training and inventory tracking tools. If you could fit safety goggles with augmented reality capabilities, training and quality control could be done in the moment with the help of guided visualizations.
From Then to Now
On this Labor Day, we have much to be thankful for. We should thank the activists who fought 130 years ago to create the eight-hour work day, but we should also think every engineer and technologist who refined the manufacturing process along the way. Manufacturing today is safer, cleaner, and faster than the factories of the past, and the factories of tomorrow are sure to be far more so.
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