When the pandemic hit, the cracks began to show in our supply chains and the global ecosystem we once knew was forced to circumvent time-costly and inordinate supply chains and design processes, says Joel Tortolero, CEO of Wikifactory. With a lack of product resources and a remote workforce, a shift that experts had predicted would take five to ten years of progressive change, suddenly had to happen in a matter of weeks.
So, as we find ourselves propelled through this fourth industrial revolution, the challenge for companies will be to make their supply chains more resilient without weakening their competitiveness. Can large corporations modernise manufacturing by making their existing models work with greater use of machine learning, simulation and other technological advances?
Technology, AI and early adopters
Many industries are seeking new technology that will help them meet the current high demand for products, as well as help create longer term gains in efficiency and sustainability.
In the open source upsurge, we have witnessed a vast global community of untapped ingenuity step forward to solve real problems, collaboratively and with purpose, and they are now looking ahead at innovation to future-proof our built environment.
Those businesses actively looking for solutions are turning to tech disruptors who can provide the global digital platforms for all elements of the production process. These agile and innovative new entrants to the market will be the key to unlocking more streamlined and effective supply chains that can adapt to meet the changing needs of consumers.
Businesses such as Manyone, for example, set out to create an AR Projector and adopted a combination of new technology and digital tools to create a better and more usable product. Its team of technologists explored new tools at their beta stage and discovered technology which enables them to share the design concept of the product online with creators from around the world. Engaging and collaborating with other like-minded creators with ease was vital to the end-product and provided valuable use cases, context and creativity.
Manyone also has several AI tools at their disposal to enhance their work. Examples include photogrammetry or volumetric video capturing which enable them to extract 3D information and convert it into a 2D or 3D model or capture three-dimensional spaces. Tools such as these are a far cry from the 2D workspaces many engineers and designers are used to, but have become an essential part of the research and concept phase for developing products.
‘Digital Transformation’ in manufacturing
Though these digital tools are undoubtedly altering manufacturing, ‘digital transformation’ as an all-encompassing term has become a buzzword in the industry.
We already know that many companies and factories in all sectors already use advanced CAD software, simulation solutions and complex digital machines, so they are already digitised.
But Industry 4.0 is more of an internet-based transformation than a digital one. Where we were once talking about the Internet of Things, a new internet-based solution has emerged, the Internet of Production (IoP), a future-fit fix that provides decentralised manufacturing on-demand through the internet.
As supply chain crises persist in the coming months and years, and a new found strategic interest for local manufacturing grows, what if the next generation of hardware and product design startups could be empowered to develop products in a way that is more like software development?
Global startups have tackled this question. New technologies that promote collaboration, and provide the tools to iteratively improve and extend the end-to-end digital thread for design to production are already being implemented across global supply chains.
Internet of Production in manufacturing
The IoP is a single online infrastructure which every element of the supply chain is plugged into. It allows Big Industry, factories, individual engineers and product designers to collaborate, design, prototype and manufacture on-demand, at scale, and exactly where the products are needed - helping businesses achieve a new level of digital collaboration with data, models and knowledge in production.
The ability to do everything in one place dramatically improves efficiency and productivity, significantly increasing speed to market. Additionally, products can be made more accurately, using local suppliers and better materials, and the production lifecycle can be drastically more sustainable if we shift production online.
Not only does the IoP enable greater participation and accessibility, it also opens the door for greater innovation in design thanks to its ability to bring people together to collaborate on products. By giving everyone the tools to design, iterate and prototype their ideas, we can attract a new wave of diverse and unique engineers into the sector. This increased accessibility means that the products being created are better suited to our diverse society and provides fresh talent with skills and knowledge about technology and new tools that will appeal to companies large and small.
What now for Wikifactory and the manufacturing sector
In 2021, The Sage ‘Discrete Manufacturing in a Changing World’ report found that adopting circular economy and servitisation strategies are critical in driving new revenue and profitability opportunities for discrete manufacturers. The UK, compared to its global counterparts, is making good progress.
A year later, however, there is still a way to go before we achieve a truly circular economy and stabilise the manufacturing sector.
We need to embrace the advancements available to us, and our response to the internet and technological breakthroughs, must be integrated, comprehensive and collaborative. Now, more than ever, we need to accelerate our adoption of digital technology and virtual networks which can transcend physical constraints to secure the future of our global ecosystem.