By Joanne Moretti
As one of the largest manufacturers in the world, we take our role in the industry very seriously. The brands we work with expect us to be on top of the latest technologies and trends and right now they are asking us about our industry 4.0 in terms of our Smart Factory journey. But for us it’s not just about leading from the front, it’s about taking those enabling technologies, exploring what they can do throughout the whole product lifecycle, and ensuring they can be used reliably on an industrial scale.
There is a group of exciting technologies that are likely to have a real impact on manufacturing in the coming years. Some will help us achieve the objectives of the forth industrial revolution, others could fundamentally impact upon the way products are discovered, developed, designed and delivered. Choosing the right technologies to use is no simple task, especially when you consider the mission critical nature of many of the products we produce. Engineering rigor plays a huge part in selecting which processes will find its way into our factories. We have more than fifty years of manufacturing experience and have learned that there is more to applying a new technology than simply buying the latest equipment. Our teams work hard to ensure the techniques we use are repeatable, reliable and robust. We don’t use technology for its own sake, we need to be sure it adds value for us and for our clients.
I can’t remember a time when there was so much disruption for our customer and for us. It’s both exciting and unnerving for the industry as we negotiate our way through the choppy waters of digital transformation. We’ve always embraced change and now is no different.
Our commitment to the digital thread throughout our business has already reaped benefits for our customers and we are able to share technology advances and support them as their industries change radically. Retail, Healthcare, Automotive, Apparel and just about every other industry is changing in ways never imagined, both in the products delivered and in how they are realized. We are committed to helping those industries find the best solutions from ideation to delivered solution by being the smartest partner in the industry.
Here are a few of the key technologies we’re using to fuel our own industrial revolution:
Augmented Reality (AR)
The days of using our tools to simply affect our will have gone and we are now moving into an augmented age where rather than just use our tools, we are working with them to achieve more than ever before. Many of the technologies mentioned below augment our performance, some intellectually and some physically. Within the term Augmented Reality we are bringing together virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality to deliver whatever is needed to ensure the process can be performed better, more robustly, most efficiently and in a repeatable, reliable manner.
We are using VR tools like the Microsoft HoloLens to accelerate the ideation phase of products, sharing designs and ideas over physical distances and reducing the need to manufacture multiple iterations of prototypes. These tools also have applications in equipment maintenance and can allow engineers to troubleshoot remotely.
We are expecting VR to find more applications in our business, and with Jabil Optics being closely involved in the development of VR equipment, we find ourselves at the vanguard of this technology as a developer, a manufacturer and a user.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
This really is the big one! Many of the tools discussed here provide the brawn for the digital transformation of the manufacturing industry, but AI provides the brains. AI is one of the game-changers in almost every industry and is developing at an alarming rate. Machine learning is achieving more every day, getting smarter than even the most optimistic experts expected. AI, along with personal assistants like Alexa and Siri, is finding its way into our day-to-day lives and that will happen in the factory too.
According to Forrester, AI investment grew three-fold in 2017. A PwC survey found business leaders believe AI is going to be fundamental in the future, with 72% describing it as a “business advantage.” AI has a huge role to play throughout the value chain and the digital thread connects every stage. Design techniques that use AI to assist designers are already being trialed. Some companies are using AI to identify market trends and product demand. AI is the only way to manage the huge amount of data collected by the smart manufacturing equipment and software in which we have invested. And AI has a huge amount to offer the complex supply chains of now and the future.
Robots and Cobots
We love robots, whether it’s hosting kids from local schools at the “Robot Block Party” at our Blue Sky Center in San Jose, or working with the world’s leading robotic companies to industrialize their solutions in an SMT environment.
Cobots, or collaborative robots, are part of the movement to a more augmented age, delivering a flexible workforce that augments the fantastic skills our more than 150,000 staff have with automated skills to make them even more effective.
According to International Federation of Robotics (IFR), by 2019, more than 1.4 million new industrial robots will be installed in factories around the world.
For the first nine months of 2017, 27,294 orders for robots valued at approximately $1.473 billion were placed in North America, the highest level ever recorded, representing growth of 14% in units and 10% in dollars over 2016.
Where robotics will really come into its own is when it is combined with AI to create automated systems that learn directly from the human co-workers, perhaps using AR to create the seamless human machine interface.
Offline programming is nothing new, we’ve been doing it for years, simulating manufacturing processes, preparing line changeovers, creating test programs, etc. But the digital twin has so much more to offer beyond those process-based solutions. This technology has the ability to create digital twins at a product level, process level, line level, factory level, supply chain level and even at an entire ecosystem level.
Once you have a digital twin, the opportunities to simulate change, disruption and stress on that twin can provide huge value. This might mean exploring the impact to the supply chain of higher demand in a specific region, or a change in component availability. It could mean exploring the addition of another equipment set, or a change to a process.
We are working hard on creating digital twin solutions that provide us with the ability to simulate and plan better and give our clients the visibility and transparency they need to be agile in a rapidly changing market.
Additive Manufacturing (AM)
This is a big deal at Jabil. We are very proud of the work we’ve done in this area and we’re excited by what it offers us and the brands we work with. For us it’s been a long journey. We’ve been exploring 3D Printing and other additive techniques for many years. We’ve watched the sector move from the hobbyist to mass industrialization and helped some of the major brands with their product development.
We partnered closely with HP on their Multi Jet Fusion technology, helping them to build a solution that would suit a large-scale manufacturing environment. This taught us a great deal about the whole additive process and led to the “printing the printer” program, where we printed more than fifty parts for the printer on the printer itself. We like to use the term “Additive Thinking”, taking a whole new approach to design, manufacturing and beyond.
We recently commissioned a 3D Printing Trends Report that showed more than 80% of manufacturers are already using 3D Printing, 63% say they will more than double that use in the next few years.
Additive Manufacturing may be the enabler that helps us achieve mass customisation, or “lot size of one”, a key element of Industry 4.0
Indeed, we used the technique with Superfeet to create custom footwear insoles for its customers.
We suspect that Additive Manufacturing could also impact the distribution of manufacturing. Our Vice President and General Manager of Global Automation and 3D Printing, John Dulchinos said recently in an interview:
“Today, we have about 100 factories spread around the world, ten years from now we may have 1,000 factories, or 5,000 factories, all smaller, and all concentrated in locations that are closer to where our end-markets are and where customers are, allowing us to produce products on demand.”
These are just a few of the game-changing technologies that are taking us forward on the journey to Industry 4.0 and the Smart Factory. We are convinced they, and others, will have a major impact. Just as we are convinced that our own digital transformation will help our clients on their digital journey. They are just a part of what our engineering teams are working hard on to ensure that Jabil remains the smartest manufacturer on the planet. Empowering the brands that empower the world. If you would like to learn more about Jabil’s approach to Industry 4.0 technologies and processes, or engage us to do a readiness assessment, please visit us below.