What does this year hold in store for manufacturers in the United States? The U.S. manufacturing industry could witness a transformation in 2024 as the sector embraces new products and new technologies. We’ve taken note of some emerging manufacturing industry trends in various areas, including microfactories, smart factories, and giga casting. In all respects, it looks like manufacturers will spend the year investing in or trying to keep up with new technology and new ways of producing, which could lead to some unanticipated manufacturing challenges.
Microfactories Enable Flexibility and Supply-Chain Resilience
Consumer goods manufacturers (and, indeed, a broad range of manufacturers in other domains) are likely to see the rise of microfactories, which are small-scale, flexible, and decentralized production units that can produce customized products closer to consumers. Microfactories are a response to the demand for supply-chain resiliency. According to a manufacturing trends article from Exploding Topics, “The hunt for resilience has seen manufacturers try to improve their flexibility to accommodate small part runs, and to rapidly switch production lines to assemble new models.” Microfactories provide this much-sought-after resiliency by using smart-factory features such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT), artificial intelligence (AI), and warehouse automation, all of which ultimately allow, as Exploding Topics says, “the point of production to be moved closer to the point of trade.”
Overall, microfactories are expected to enable more flexibility, customization, and localization of production, making manufacturing processes more agile. And since microfactories go hand-in-hand with smart factories, let’s take a closer look at the smart factory phenomenon.
Smart Factories Empower Industrial Manufacturing and Beyond
This year, many manufacturers of industrial machinery, machine tools, and other durable goods are poised to integrate more and more “smart factory” features into their manufacturing processes. Smart factories are manufacturing facilities that use advanced technologies to improve their production processes, efficiency, quality, and profitability. Smart factories collect and analyze valuable data from various sources, such as machines, sensors, and people, to optimize operations and supply-chain resilience. Some of the technologies that enable smart factories are supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems together with 5G and the IIOT, machine learning, and robotics and automation. Deloitte recently said that “the potential benefits of smart factories are vast—ranging from gains in asset efficiency, labor productivity, and product quality to substantial cost reduction.” Smart factories offer:
- Increased throughput using intelligent and adaptive machines, improved coordination and communication, and real-time decision making.
- Lower operational expenses by automating tasks, optimizing energy consumption, and minimizing waste and defects.
- Reduced human capital by using robots to perform various tasks, such as material handling, assembly, and quality control.
- Scalable production by adjusting output according to changing demands and market conditions using data-driven insights.
- Fewer product defects by using sensors, cameras, and machine learning to detect and correct errors, monitor performance, and ensure compliance.
Research from Statistica demonstrates that smart-factory adoption has huge growth potential; Statistica expects “that the smart factory market will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.6 percent to reach around 244.8 billion U.S. dollars by 2024.”
However, implementing smart factories—or their microfactory counterparts—can have unforeseen complexities if not well thought-through in the planning stage. This may also be true of giga casting.
EVs Prompt New Giga Casting Car-Making Method
Rapidly gaining speed in the automotive industry is the science of giga casting, thanks to the explosion of electric vehicles (EVs). Giga casting is a technique that uses giant casting machines to produce large parts of a car body in a single piece instead of assembling multiple smaller parts. Giga casting can reduce the weight, cost, and complexity of car production and improve the performance and efficiency of electric vehicles. Tesla is the pioneer of giga casting in the automotive industry and has been using it to produce parts of the Model Y and Cybertruck.
More automakers have followed Tesla’s footsteps and adopted giga casting for their EV production. For example, in July last year, Toyota revealed its plans to giga cast its new EV model, set to debut in 2026. Also, according to Inside EVs, last year, Ford and Hyundai invested in giga presses from IDRA Group, the same company that supplies the presses to Tesla. Most recently, Volvo announced its purchase of two new 9,000-ton EV giga presses from IDRA Group, which will be installed at its dedicated EV plant in Slovakia.
We’re curious to see which automakers will be next to adopt giga casting and how the industry will adapt to this new car-making method, especially regarding the manufacturing space needed for these endeavors. More on that below.
The Complex Challenges of Change in the Manufacturing Industry
The continual shift in manufacturing to integrate new processes and new technologies comes with new, and often complex and unexpected, challenges. For example, adopting giga casting may create unforeseen space challenges at factories and foundries. With such a large production footprint required for casting, manufacturers may have to investigate the use of vertical rather than horizontal spaces to complete their machining or assemblies. Similarly, space is of the essence in microfactories; limitations of physical space will compel manufacturers to be resourceful and inventive in their use of robotics and automation to achieve their desired outcomes.
Smart factories require significant investment in equipment, software, infrastructure, and integration. Careful planning and strategy are needed at the outset to ensure successful ROI. In fact, Design For Automated Assembly (DFAA)—where products are designed so they can undergo automated assembly— could be a forward-thinking tactic for achieving smart factory goals. In already-existing factories, manufacturers may find an incremental approach for transitioning to smart factories the best for their budget and business objectives. One such significant step is successfully integrating SCADA systems into their production processes to capture valuable real-time data for quality control and operation optimization.
If you are a manufacturer encountering a tough factory challenge—be it space, throughput, or scalability—contact us today to begin exploring ways to address the complex challenges presented by advances in manufacturing.