Making products and parts in brand new ways.
The past and future of Canada’s manufacturing sector are intersecting at an abandoned industrial site in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.
The 475,000 square foot building used to be a warehouse for local tire and shoe factories. But in 2017 it will become Catalyst 137 — an incubator for Internet of Things (IoT) technology. The facility will house up to 20 startup firms devoted to developing IoT software. In a nod to the site’s manufacturing history, IoT hardware components will be produced there, too.
There’s also Conestoga College’s new Centre For Smart Manufacturing in nearby Cambridge, Ontario. It will help SMEs develop, produce and assemble advanced sensors, electronics, software, prototypes and 3D printing systems — all for use in the manufacturing sector.
Both sites could turn southwestern Ontario into a hub of industrial innovation. Across Canada and around the world, however, digital technology is already transforming manufacturing. Here’s a look at how it’s unfolding, and how innovation in one province or region can impact and inspire us closer to home.
Expanding the Internet of Things revolution
Sensors, smart cameras and RFID tags can be embedded inside factory facilities and equipment, raw materials and even finished products. The data they collect can be analyzed for quality control, worker safety monitoring, asset tracking and inventory management.
Thanks to IoT, manufacturers can remotely operate equipment, monitor energy consumption in their facilities and adjust temperature and humidity levels for optimal production and warehousing conditions. The ability to track finished goods throughout the entire process helps them manage inventory (of both their raw materials and finished products) to avoid either stockpiling or falling short of demand.
Access to this timely, accurate data allows manufacturers to improve production quality, operate more efficiently and cut their costs. Perhaps that’s why 39 per cent of 593 global IoT decision makers surveyed by Forrester in 2014 said they were already in the process of implementing an IoT solution.
Predictive software and analytics
Although analytics is the key that unlocks insights into all of the IoT data we just mentioned, predictive analytics takes it even further.
By teaming predictive software with historical data patterns, manufacturers can forecast when equipment needs maintenance, materials must be ordered or demand for their goods will rise or fall.
A study recently released by Market Reports World predicts the global manufacturing analytics market will grow from US$3 billion this year to US$8.45 billion in 2021, an impressive compound annual growth rate of 21.9 per cent.
Sharing information faster and easier with the cloud
Cloud computing is enabling collaboration throughout the manufacturing process that can save producers time, resources and money. Multiple stakeholders can share designs, modifications, delivery schedules and pricing information in real time.
As detailed in a 2015 report by McKinsey & Co., Boeing credits cloud-based collaboration with helping to bring its latest 777 and 787 aircraft frames to market 50 per cent faster than previous models.
3D printing can eliminate costly shipping & more
3D printers are already being used for large-scale production of smaller sized items. About 10 million customized hearing aids, for example, have been manufactured via 3D printing. According to PwC, GE has used 3D printing to streamline the production of fuel nozzles for its LEAP engines from 20 tiny parts into one single piece. GE expects to save up to 75 per cent on production costs annually for that particular nozzle.
The most common use of 3D printers in manufacturing is to design prototypes rather than make finished products. 3D printing can speed up – or eliminate – many steps required to create a prototype involving dies, casts, moulds, milling and lathing.
In the future, however, 3D printing could revolutionize the entire supply chain. Today, many companies manufacture goods on one continent and fly or ship them to retailers and distributors on other continents. In future, companies could create 3D design prototypes anywhere, then email the digital files to manufacturers in various countries who 3D print the finished products in a market much closer to the final distribution channel.
In many ways, digital technology is simplifying the ‘old’ style of traditional manufacturing. Yet it raises complex new issues at the same time. As IoT becomes widespread, manufacturers will have to ensure the cybersecurity and privacy of all that data. They’ll also have find ways to protect their intellectual property if consumers make reproductions of their commercial products at home on 3D printers.
Besides finding the time and money required to retrofit older equipment with new digital technology, manufacturers must find the specialized talent needed to manage it, which is in short supply worldwide.
Despite these challenges, many manufacturers are venturing into the digital age because, as the McKinsey report phrases it, these new technologies “will unlock enormous value and change the manufacturing landscape forever.”
Now see how the Internet of Things will change your office forever.
About the Author
Christine Wong is a journalist based in Toronto who has covered a wide range of startups and technology issues. A former staff writer with ITBusiness.ca, she has also worked as a reporter for the Canadian Economic Press and in broadcast roles at SliceTV and the CBC.Follow on Twitter More Content by Christine Wong