Few technologies stand to transform industry as much as additive manufacturing, or 3D printing. Mike Regan, Director (HP Labs / CTO), HP-NTU Digital Manufacturing Corporate Lab, tells us why.
Today, the world’s most successful companies are not those that insulate themselves from accountability. Rather, they’re the ones that routinely take stock of whether they are performing as the public expects—and now demands—of them. More than ever, this thoughtful self-evaluation is paramount, especially on the heels of a thought-provoking World Economic Forum last month.
Recently, Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF), issued a sweeping manifesto in which he challenged companies around the globe to define their universal purpose in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0). It is a thoughtful dissertation that urges leaders to spend as much time fulfilling human and societal aspirations as they do generating wealth.
Industry 4.0 promises to completely reshape how businesses operate, make products and deliver them to markets throughout Asia and the world. While still in its early stages, this paradigm shift could lead to the creation of more than 133 million new roles, according to a study made by the World Economic Forum. As history has proven, though, radical change is difficult. Redefining value creation for the future invariably triggers some hesitation at the highest levels of business.
To that end, HP partnered with the Nanyang Technological University to launch the HP-NTU Digital Manufacturing Corporate Lab, which aims to drive the innovation and skills required for Industry 4.0 in Singapore and across the region.
Still, companies recognise they must embrace technology—and change—to advance their businesses and serve a greater purpose in this world. In the coming year, therefore, I expect robust government and business discussion around three key trends: the continued march of digital manufacturing; the rise of additive manufacturing and its implications for the environment; and the need to fill the ongoing digital skills gap.
The Tech Driving a Digital Manufacturing Revolution
To thrive in Industry 4.0, digital transformation is imperative. IDC predicts global investment in this area will approach $7.4 trillion between 2020 and 2023. The manufacturing sector, a major driver of global prosperity and economic health, has been the most active, with manufacturers spending more than $345 billion globally on digital transformation in 2019 alone.
In the year ahead, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), which enable the automation and optimisation of processes from design to delivery, will likely constitute much of that investment. A McKinsey survey found that nearly half (47 percent) of companies have implemented at least one AI capability, with robotic process automation, computer vision and ML being the most common. Manufacturers reported deriving the greatest value from such technologies, especially for streamlining operations, improving visibility into supply chains and asserting more control over business strategies and operations.
Manufacturers will also continue embracing the cost and operational advantages of cloud computing. This will not simply mean outsourcing all data to third party servers. Rather, most enterprise organisations will pursue hybrid strategies involving a blend of public and private clouds as well as edge computing. In fact, a global Nutanix study found manufacturers plan to more than double their hybrid cloud deployments to 45 percent penetration in two years.
Virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) are also on target to become more prevalent on factory floors. IDC says worldwide spending on VR and AR will jump to $18.8 billion in 2020 compared to last year, with discreet manufacturing making up $1.4 billion of that total. Asian-Pacific automakers, in particular, are embracing VR and AR innovation. Toyota, for instance, is using the technology to build cars faster and give customers a virtual glimpse of what is under the hood—without even lifting it. Hyundai and Kia, meantime, have established a VR design evaluation system to help enhance vehicle development processes.
Creating the reliable and trustworthy digital ecosystem outlined in Schwab’s manifesto requires leaders to invest in emerging digital technology that creates value, not just in their own supply chain, but also throughout their workforce and for their consumers.
How 3D Printing Will Build a Better World
Few technologies stand to transform industry as much as additive manufacturing, or 3D printing.
Advances in materials have made it possible to finally use this technology for more than just producing prototypes. It can now be used to make entire products. 3D printers will play central roles in the production of everything from consumer goods to aerospace and defence equipment to artificial limbs and organs.
Along the way, it’s likely this nascent industry will lead to substantial economic growth. In fact, the Asia-Pacific region is becoming the fastest growing 3D printing market in the world, according to AMFG, an additive manufacturer software provider. AMFG forecasts spending on 3D printing in the region will grow 18 percent to reach $3.6 billion within five years, led by China, Japan and South Korea.
Committing to 3D printing serves Schwab’s vision to “continuously expand the frontiers of knowledge, innovation and technology to improve people’s well-being.” Additive manufacturing also has significant implications for the environment, reducing the negative effects of manufacturing, from production runs to shipping.
In a recent study made by A.T. Kearney, a model on the sustainability of 3D printing showed CO2 emissions could be reduced by 130 to 525 Mt by 2025, including a 5 percent reduction in manufacturing intensities due to 3D printing. The study went on to say that if 3D printing was applied to higher production volumes, it could even decouple energy and CO2 emissions altogether from economic activity. Embracing 3D printing wholeheartedly can help companies meet the Manifesto’s directive for organisations to become “stewards of the environmental and material universe for future generations.”
Considering the Skills Gap in the Era of Rapid Innovation
Rapid innovation and the digitisation of analogue processes are tenets of the Industry 4.0. As we move through this decade, millions of new tech-oriented jobs will be created, often without enough qualified candidates to fill them.
To address this disparity, businesses will need to make it their mission to retrain current employees and contribute to educational institutions to ensure the next wave of entrepreneurs and workers are ready for the inevitable changes coming to the manufacturing sector. This investment in new and deepening skills will create a pathway for the profound ideas and solutions our global well-being depends on right now.
This is a time to celebrate change and a commitment to technologies that will make life better and more sustainable for everyone across this region.
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