From Going Green to 5G: How the Manufacturing Industry is Evolving
In 1995, Clifford Stoll predicted that the internet would be a huge flop. “The truth,” Stoll wrote in an issue of Newsweek, is that “no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way the government works.”
Of course, viewing this statement in 2022, it’s easy to say that the theory Stoll proposed was completely off base. The internet, of course, completely changed how we communicate, receive our news, gain entertainment, and work. Predictions about how technology will change and impact our world are not easy to make. Nevertheless, it’s important to stay up-to-date on emerging technology and understand how these changes could benefit or hinder you as a technician.
This article will specifically talk about the changes impacting the manufacturing industry and how the industry is evolving so that you’re able adapt and adjust along with it.
Green Is King
It’s been proven that adopting eco-friendly practices improves an industry’s bottom line, keeps customers happy and works to protect the future of our planet. Best practices, incentives and new technological developments have led to drastic changes within the last decade, promoting greener values. Let’s look at a few examples of how the manufacturing industry has adopted these practices.
“Green” Car Manufacturing
One of the most prolific shifts towards adopting electric and green practices has been spearheaded by German car manufacturer, Audi. In addition to rolling out a new fleet of all-electric cars, they’re also changing up the factory in which these cars are built and assembled. Audi’s E-tron electric SUV facility in Brussels, Belgium is the first EV factory to be certified carbon-neutral by the European Commission. They started with installing a 37,000 square-meter photovoltaic farm on their rooftop, which produces 3,000 megawatt-hours of electricity per year, saving 700 metric tons of CO2 per year.
Audi’s factory is also the only EV manufacturer to assemble its batteries in the same factory as their cars, allowing for greater efficiency and quality control. They use biogas to heat their facility and purchase carbon credits to offset less pleasant, but necessary, practices such as incinerating used solvents from the assembly process. While it’s been an expensive endeavour, they project their investment will pay off in the next five to 10 years, and have made a carbon-neutral commitment for 2030.
Boosting Efficiency & Updating Facilities
One of the easiest things a manufacturer can do is conduct an energy audit to see where improvements can be made in their facility. Targeting inefficient and outdated equipment and infrastructure are more ambitious, but necessary, projects that will lead to better green practices. For example, certain equipment should be replaced with energy-efficient alternatives, as inefficient machinery can consume up to 70 per cent more energy than needed. Similarly, electric, solar or wind energy sources should be installed where possible.
Manufacturers may even consider building their own sources of renewable green energy on the premises of their factories, as they may be eligible for tax breaks and other incentives. Many will also receive compensation for energy they generate and contribute back to the grid.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
The merits of reducing waste, reusing when possible, and recycling materials is paramount to conserving energy within factories and helping to make manufacturing more efficient. Reducing waste is especially important in sectors that deal with raw materials. Going green is no longer a trend, but rather a modern and efficient business model that manufacturers around the world are implementing.
In addition to traditional greening practices of reducing, reusing, recycling and conducting energy audits, many manufacturers are also converting their factories to electric power. Aside from the benefits such as lower operating costs and increased market share, going green also provides many intangible benefits that are equally important. Chief among these include: employee morale, health and participation, as well as an enhanced company reputation for being a socially responsible business.
Solar Panels are the Future
Solar technology has come a long way since its early development—and it looks like it’ll remain the renewable energy source of the future thanks to organic photovoltaics systems. Researchers have discovered non-toxic organic solar cells that will form the basis of next-generation solar power, such as solar cells made from bismuth, also known as the “green element” that’s widely used in cosmetics, personal care products and medicines. One of the benefits of organic solar PV systems is that they can be created from a variety of natural materials, allowing for numerous possibilities. Below are three additional benefits of organic solar cells. They’re also more efficient, flexible, and more environmentally friendly.
According to Michael Strano, a professor of chemical engineering from MIT, these solar cells come from renewable sources and are more easily recycled. For instance, organic solar cells are made of polymers that are most commonly plastic, and can be assembled using existing polymer processing technology. This makes them not only cheap to produce, but their efficiency is half of inorganics at 13.1 percent. In contrast, “Mining the necessary chemicals for a conventional solar cell is often a destructive process and substantially increases the device's environmental impact throughout its life cycle.”
Going green is no longer a trend, but rather a modern and efficient business model that manufacturers around the world are implementing. In addition to traditional greening practices of reducing, reusing, recycling and conducting energy audits, many manufacturers are also converting their factories to electric power.
3D Printing is Changing the World
The vast majority of 3D printers out there—which are getting cheaper all the time—use plastic as their base material. This can cheaply and effectively produce many kinds of objects, ranging through musical instruments, medical models, prosthetics, and even clothing. However, for more hard-wearing applications, forward-thinking creators are increasingly turning to metal 3D-printing.
In a plastic 3D printer, a digital file is first created containing the design of the object to be printed. This can be constructed from scratch for a completely new object, or by using a 3D scanner to copy an existing object. Metal 3D printers follow the same principle, but of course metals generally (at least those that might be most useful for creating solid objects with a 3D printer) have much higher melting points than plastics.
The advantages include more strength, more durability and a greater range of uses. There is a way to go before this technology is ready for prime time, but when it is, it might just change the world. However, these techniques are expensive and don’t lend themselves well to low-cost consumer use. A group of students from Delft University of Technology has been working on a cheaper, open-source solution, available to a wide audience and capable of printing with decent resolution. Essentially, the team has taken a standard MIG welder and attached it to a Prusa i3, a standard plastic 3D printer.
Adding Another Dimension to Make 3D Manufacturing Real
Of all of the technologies that have emerged over the last couple of decades, one of the coolest and most useful would have to be 3D manufacturing. The advantages include lower costs, better speed, more flexible designs, and stronger parts. 3D printing also minimizes waste! Industries that will benefit from 3D printing include any industry that relies on customizable parts.
For example, if your car breaks down and you take it to your mechanic who informs you that you will need a new part which typically needs to be ordered. The mechanic would be able to manufacture the part and install it while you wait in the waiting room. 3D manufacturing and printing has the potential to redefine how we produce many of the goods we use and rely on.
3D printing has the potential to be a game-changer for our society, whether through the standardization of part prices based on the cost of the material used to increase the speed and accessibility of any type of part needed. It has the ability to reduce waste that is common with current manufacturing processes and may even open up new processes for creating, making, and inventing new products that previously did not exist. It’s a new area and industry that will require talented people to continue to develop and improve the technology and there will be a demand for well educated students that specialize as electronics technicians and PLC programmers.
5G: What You Need to Know
If you own a smartphone, you may be following (or have at least heard about) the rollout of 5G cellular technology—the fifth generation of wireless network technology following 4G, and the new global standard. 5G technology stands to revolutionize communication, offering a myriad of benefits, from increased bandwidth and device connectivity, to faster downloading times, and reduced latency. But you also may have heard that there are some concerns about this new technology, and maybe you’re wondering how it will impact different industries.
4G vs. 5G
The transition from 4G to 5G may seem marginal; an improved technology is available that will make our devices faster. However, the difference between the 4G network and a 5G network is actually quite significant. The waves for 5G technology use frequencies that are between 30 and 300 gigahertz, a range that is 10 to 100 times higher than those used by 4G and WiFi networks.
It’s said that 5G technology will offer at least a tenfold improvement in network performance compared to 4G. So while 4G has a peak speed of 10 Mbps, 5G has the potential to deliver speeds in the range of 10 to 20 Gbps.
Since the upgrade will be so significant and enable the connection of a wide range of devices, more people will be investing in IoT (Internet of Things) enabled devices. As such, it’s said by some that 5G technology is paving the way for an influx of security vulnerabilities for homes, businesses, and even at the government level. Another security risk arises from switching from one network (5G) to another (4G), which will occur by design when a sufficient 5G signal is not available. When the network switches from 5G to 4G, or even 3G, the system will be left vulnerable to threats that weren’t addressed in the earlier generations’ protocol.
In addition to potential security vulnerabilities, there are also concerns over the increased number of transmitters required to support the technology. 5G technology will require upwards of hundreds of thousands of wireless transmitters to be installed in towns and cities—about one every two to 10 homes. For this reason, some cities and communities are reluctant to adopt 5G, citing concerns surrounding safety and aesthetics. Experts will continue to test the new technology as it gradually rolls out and evolves, to ensure its safety and security. For now, everything we know about 5G networks leads us to believe that the benefits of the technology outweigh the concerns, provided that governments, service providers and their partners work to ensure the integrity of the network is prioritized.
With the rise of the "5G economy" the world will see the emergence of new jobs markets and a demand for new skills across industries. This includes electronics technicians, who will play an integral role in implementing and maintaining the 5G infrastructure. If this is of interest to you, consider enrolling in online technology courses to further your knowledge and skills.
Stay On Top of the Trends
Keeping your finger on the pulse when it comes to innovation in manufacturing is important, especially if you’re in the field. The manufacturing industry is ever changing, and the impact these changes have are hard to ignore. It’s important to consider how new trends in manufacturing might mean you’ll need to upskill or enhance your education.
If you’re interested in gaining more education as a technician, check out our online Electronics Technician Program. Or you can speak to a Program Consultant toll-free at 1 888-553-5333 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.