Manufacturing is entirely reliant on all kinds of technologies, from the mechanical to the digital. And yet even with all of the advances which have been made over the centuries, there are still limits which impinge upon the productivity and profitability of modern manufacturers.
Understanding these restrictions is helpful not just to appreciate the state of the industry today, but also to look at how it might evolve and overcome them in the future. So let’s explore the boundaries of where tech can take manufacturing at the moment, and how this might change going forward.
Automation is imperfect
Much is made of the role which automated systems and solutions play within manufacturing, and people have been working to take manual processes out of the equation for a long time.
This has led to a rise of robotics and artificial intelligence in recent decades, enabling production to be accelerated and reducing the amount of errors which occur without compromising on quality.
However, automation is not all good news for this sector. Aside from the fact that it undeniably takes jobs away from workers, there is also the issue of automated systems being less well equipped to think creatively and solve problems on the fly.
No doubt in years to come these imperfections will be ironed out, and man and intelligent machines will work in harmony across manufacturing as well as in many other industries.
Costs can be prohibitive
Whenever new manufacturing technologies are developed, they tend to be preserved for large organizations with budgets big enough to afford them. This leaves smaller firms at a disadvantage, and means that growth is stifled even if up-and-coming companies have the innovative ideas with the potential to disrupt the market.
Thankfully this limitation is largely overcome thanks to the availability of used equipment. For example, there are many types of plastics machinery in the second-hand market, as demonstrated by the large variety in this collection. Aspiring organizations can therefore afford to jump on the latest bandwagons and compete with incumbent brands more successfully.
Sustainability is a growing concern
Modern consumers are far more attuned to the climate crisis and its links with various industries than at any point in the past, largely because the effects of global warming are increasingly apparent rather than merely being theoretical.
This puts manufacturing in an especially precarious position, since businesses need to both meet the demand for new and improved products while also ensuring that their operations are less problematic from an environmental perspective.
Technologies can exacerbate this; for example, if production processes are automated then new machinery is required, which requires vast resources to both develop and power.
On the flip side, technology can also resolve problems of sustainability. From big data platforms which are able to reduce emissions, to breakthroughs which allow for more eco-friendly, biodegradable materials to be implemented in place of traditional plastics, tech is helping manufacturers to go green.
The law of diminishing returns applies
Regardless of the process you are looking to optimize, there are hard limits on how far you can push it before the amount of effort involved in squeezing out improvements is too great to be justified by the end result of your labors.
In manufacturing, this means that certain technologies are simply too expensive and impractical to enhance in a meaningful way, which at some point leads to a plateau being hit.
However, this does not mean that innovation is impossible; quite the opposite. When these limits are reached, it is typical to return to the drawing board and consider whether there is an entirely different approach which might overcome them. Rather than flogging a dead horse, invent the automobile.
Manufacturing technology is in a constant state of evolution, with developments shaped both by industry need and consumer demand. This makes it tricky to talk about limitations with any certainty, because what seems impossible today could be overcome with ease tomorrow.
Businesses in this sector are also having to contend with significant challenges and market pressures at the moment which are entirely out of their control. Thankfully it is adversity which breeds innovation more reliably than almost any other scenario, so manufacturers are finding fresh approaches to each problem in turn.
Whether you are inside the industry or an eager outside observer, manufacturing technology has much to offer, and also has an impact across much of modern society.