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2019 Tech Trends in Manufacturing

Sanmina, IoT, robotics, cobots, 3D printing, prototypes, advanced manufacturing, data analytics, cloud computing
The essence of what makes manufacturing tick is getting revamped by accelerated automation, regulatory scrutiny, IoT, and 3D printing.

We can expect ongoing major changes in manufacturing during 2019. To get a feel for where these trends are headed, we checked in with Gelston Howell, SVP at Sanmina Corp. Howell is a 20-year veteran in the electronics manufacturing industry. His position with Sanmina offers him a wide view into the manufacturing future, since Sanmina is a tier 1 contract manufacturer that has spent decades producing complex technology products for many of the world’s largest brands.

Sanmina Corp. has deployed a wide range of smart manufacturing technology across its worldwide contract manufacturing facilities. (Source Sanmina)

With more than 200 customers, Sanmina is an early adopter of automation, data analytics, and cloud connectivity. The company’s goal is to adopt emerging manufacturing technology to improve products and processes for its customer. Here’s Howell’s thoughts about key manufacturing trends he’s sees for 2019.

Manufacturing Automation Will Accelerate –for Certain Types of Products

Gelston Howell: Deployment of fully automated “lights out” production lines, as well as “co-bots,” or robots that collaborate with workers on certain tasks, will continue to grow. Yet contrary to recent hype about robotics replacing most human workers, the manufacturing of extremely complex, low-volume products will remain in the hands of skilled operators.

Some people think that eventually everything will be automated. Generally, automation is for efficiency or precision. In an assembly line that’s automated, we get to a certain step and cobots are a natural fit, especially If you need more force than a person can provide. A person can do part of it and the cobot can do the part that needs to be more precise. You have to go through the economics. If you are going to go down the path of automation, you had to go back to product design and design it for automation. You need design engineers who know how to design for production.

Regulatory Scrutiny Will Drive Technology and Improve Quality in the Factory

GH: As adoption of Class II and III medical devices increases to improve the quality of life for patients, so too have FDA regulations developed to ensure the safest possible manufacturing methods. New machine-to-machine communications and cloud technology are helping quality teams create “forced quality networks” to prevent some of the most common causes of manufacturing errors and ensure compliance. If an issue is uncovered later, these new technologies can be used to quickly isolate products that must be recalled.

On some of our production lines,  we scan the product’s  barcode before it is introduced into the assembly. The scanner will block out something that isn’t supposed to go on the line, so the operator is prevented from introducing the errant component. If you discover a defective component two or three years down the road, you can trace back to exactly what line it was on.

IoT Adoption Will Increase, Driving Cost, Quality, and Production Efficiencies

GH: Executives are under growing pressure to design global supply chains that can accommodate changing tariffs, regulatory requirements and supply chain disruptions. Over the past few years, real world implementations of manufacturing IoT and data analytics have started to provide real value to the enterprise – enabling executives to know exactly what’s happening in their factories in real time and from any location to avoid factory downtime.

Forced quality is one of those improvements. It enables you to connect the PLM with engineering documentation or PLM changes. We have an automotive customer who has realtime access to production data. It could be a test or optical testing system collecting parametric data into the cloud. Our customer can see that data and see if there are trends taking place. Having the realtime access to the test data is a game-changer. They may be in the Midwest at their facility on the other side of the world, and it’s almost like they’re in the factory looking at it in real time.

3D Printing Will Reduce Time for Product Development and Speed Time to Market

GH: While the production deployment of 3D printing has limited applications, many companies have adopted 3D printing for product development, significantly improving time to market. For several products in development at Sanmina, design changes of key mechanical components can be evaluated in prototypes on the same day.

You might have a plastic or metal part. The 3D printer can hold that tolerance and you can print it cost effectively enough to compete with die casting or machined metal. The 3D printer is a high value for prototyping. We can design the part in the morning, print it, and fly it that afternoon. That’s reduced product development time. Yet for high-volume plastic parts or metal parts, 3D printing is not necessarily appropriate.

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

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