- By Renee Bassett
- Talk to Me
Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing aren’t just for petrochemical campuses and automotive assembly plants. Digital transformation isn’t just for food and pharma operations. Machine builders, job shops, and other midsize manufacturers may think they are too small, too specialized, or too ordinary for automation, but they are wrong.
Sure, all the case studies and proofs of concept for advanced manufacturing solutions seem to come from mega companies—or from lab-based startups that are somehow getting paid to fly drones or build BattleBots®. But 2022 may be remembered as the year when digital tools matured, and automation found its way to the masses. This very real Industry 4.0 revolution was on display at IMTS 2022, the biennial trade show and conference put on by the AMT – The Association for Manufacturing Technology.
Cancelled in 2020 by pandemic restrictions, IMTS 2022 came roaring back into Chicago in September to showcase digital manufacturing innovations by and for machine builders. More than 85,000 registered for the six-day show, whose theme “Digital Manufacturing. Implemented.” was on display in more than 1 million square feet of exhibits.
Nine technology pavilions showed solutions such as multitasking machining centers, robots/cobots, and digital twin and manufacturing execution/work order software. The co-located Hannover Messe USA show and conference encompassed nearly 500 of the 1,800-plus exhibiting companies and highlighted industrial automation systems, wired and wireless networking, and much more.
The advances in digital manufacturing technology on display at IMTS 2022 put solutions within reach of small- and medium-sized businesses and should amaze even industry veterans, said Peter R. Eelman, chief experience officer at AMT. “For example, visitors can learn how to set up and run an entry-level automation solution in 30 minutes. Computed tomography inspection systems now operate with almost push-button simplicity, and digital twin technology is as easy to use as a favorite CNC control or CAD/CAM program.”
Greater affordability and ease of implementation for cobots, pallet changers, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices, and manufacturing execution software means automation is not just accessible to job shops, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and small-to-medium-sized manufacturers; it is increasingly essential for these operations to staying competitive.
“If OEMs and job shops can digitize it, they should,” said Eelman and others. “Digital tech is the best way to increase productivity with an existing talent pool, control costs, make reshoring/near-shoring more attractive, reduce time to market, and respond with agility to a volatile market.”
My takeaways from four days of talking to IMTS 2022 attendees and exhibitors: Automation is power. Machine monitoring is smart. Software speeds setup and changeover. Cobots empower people, not just processes. Private wireless industrial networks are here. IIoT devices are essential and increasingly easy to implement.
The year 2022 may well become known as the year of industrial transformation. What are you doing today to make the jump to light speed when it comes to automation and innovation? Let me know.
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