Manufacturing is going through another significant industrial revolution. And 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is right in the thick of it.
As innovative technologies are getting more intelligent by the day, the world is now experiencing a fourth industrial revolution, also known as Industry 4.0. This newest phase of manufacturing is characterized by increasing automation and smart machines and factories that help informed data produce goods more efficiently and productively than ever.
To see where the industry is now, let’s review where it’s been. The three previous industrial revolutions have increasingly set the stage for today’s industrial technologies.
First industrial revolution
The first industrial revolution took place in the late 18th century and helped permit mass production using water and steam power instead of only human and animal power. Goods were built with machines rather than produced by hand.
Second industrial revolution
A century later, the second industrial revolution was marked by introducing assembly lines and oil, gas, and electric power. These new power sources brought mass production and the beginnings of automation to manufacturing processes.
Third industrial revolution
The third industrial revolution began in the middle of the 20th century and added computers, advanced telecommunications, and data analysis to manufacturing processes. Factories became more digitized by embedding programmable logic controllers (PLCs) into machinery to help automate processes and collect and share data.
What is the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0)?
In short, Industry 4.0 is revolutionizing the way companies manufacture, improve and distribute their products. This phenomenon encompasses three technological trends driving this transformation: connectivity, intelligence, and flexible automation.
Industry 4.0 is characterized by how businesses take what was started in the third revolution and enhance it with smart and autonomous systems fueled by data and machine learning.
The merging of the third and fourth revolutions has been made possible by the emergence of digital solutions and advanced technologies, which experts associate with Industry 4.0. These include:
- Industrial Internet of Things
- Big Data
- Cloud computing
- Additive manufacturing (AM)
- Advanced robotics
- Augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR)
These technologies drive manufacturing’s digital transformation by integrating previously unrelated systems and processes through interconnected computer systems. Embracing Industry 4.0 opens a wealth of benefits for companies, including greater agility, flexibility, customization, and operational performance.
How Does Additive Manufacturing Fit In?
Additive manufacturing (AM) is a crucial technology driving Industry 4.0. Within Industry 4.0, 3D printing is becoming a valuable digital technology that offers almost limitless possibilities for manufacturing, from tooling to mass customization across virtually all industries.
AM makes it possible for parts to be stored as design files in virtual inventories so that they can be produced on-demand — a model known as distributed manufacturing. This approach to manufacturing reduces transportation distances, and associated costs and simplifies inventory management by storing digital files instead of physical parts.
These benefits are important across many industries, including:
Aerospace: AM offers weight-saving capability and the ability to produce complex geometric parts.
Automotive: A variety of materials in the automotive industry are made using additive manufacturing because they can be rapidly prototyped while offering weight and cost reductions.
Medical: This sector is finding an increasing number of applications for additively manufactured parts, especially for custom-fitted implants and devices.
Additive manufacturing plays a significant role in Industry 4.0 because it allows for customization, reduces waste, and helps manufacturers print where and when items are required. The latter benefit lowers shipping costs and speeds time to market.
Another significant impact additive manufacturing can make in Industry 4.0 is creating scalable factories built for the future of global business. When Industry 4.0 and additive manufacturing are combined, products that are first-to-market, fully customized, and dynamic are created.
Not only is additive manufacturing an important part of Industry 4.0 now, but it will remain a critical element in the future, too. As manufacturing companies push beyond prototyping and small-scale production experiments in their factories, additive manufacturing will be at the heart of their production systems and become a core competency.
Investment in additive manufacturing is high, and the technology will continue to develop rapidly, especially with the help of data and artificial intelligence. Additive manufacturing is quickly becoming a critical piece of the Industry 4.0 factory of the future.
Marr, B. (2019, July 11). What is Industry 4.0? Here’s A Super Easy Explanation For Anyone. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2018/09/02/what-is-industry-4-0-heres-a-super-easy-explanation-for-anyone/?sh=2fb557509788.
Dimension, N. (n.d.). Additive Manufacturing’s Role in Industry 4.0. Nano Dimension. https://www.nano-di.com/blog/additive-manufacturings-role-in-industry-4.0.
Industry 4.0: 7 Real-World Examples of Digital Manufacturing in Action. AMFG. (2020, December 18). https://amfg.ai/2019/03/28/industry-4-0-7-real-world-examples-of-digital-manufacturing-in-action/.