Published On: Thu, Dec 15th, 2016

Technology Is Making (Nearly) Everything You Buy Cheaper: This Is How

Fortunately, we live in a world of high technology where the very latest technological trends as almost immediately felt by the average person. Back at the beginning of the 20th century, nearly a quarter century after the invention of the telephone, most people still didn’t have one of their own. It took almost 40 years for half of the US population to own one. Today, however, the process is a lot faster. Within years of a new invention, people and businesses already have access to it and can start using it to make their lives better and their costs lower.

We often talk about how technology impacts consumers, but we don’t always look at it from the point of view of businesses. It turns out that technology has helped to dramatically drive down costs in the business sector to the point where today’s consumer goods cost significantly less to produce. Take electronics, for instance. The price of personal electronics, like televisions, have fallen by more than 78 percent, according to Bankrate, and computers by 88 percent. The question, therefore, is how is all of this achieved? And will these trends continue? Let’s take a look at the technology that is allowing it to happen.

Increasing Use Of Predictive Analytics

One of the problems in manufacturing today is just how many points of failure there are along each production line. Often if just one machine stops working, the entire operation has to be suspended, and production gets backed up. As you can probably imagine, it’s expensive when this happens and can cause company costs to skyrocket. These costs then get passed onto consumers in the form of higher prices.

But what if there was a way to predict whether a machine was about to fail? That would certainly enable costs to be reduced because another machine could be prepped and readied according to a prearranged timetable? Of course, predicting when a machine would fail was difficult in the past, simply because there were not enough data being generated and stored by production facilities. But today, that’s all changed, thanks to the internet of things, the declining price of sensors and big data technologies. Now all of these techs are combining together to make predicting when a machine will fail much easier than ever before.

Forbes called the implementation of predictive analytics on the factory floor the biggest trend in manufacturing in 2016. Companies are now able to predict when a machine will fail, based on the performance of other machines, as well as direct telemetry data collected from sensors, and make plans well in advance to schedule maintenance and replacements.

Of course, this isn’t the only way that predictive analytics are being used in industry. Big data is allowing companies to do other things, like scale production to meet demand in real time, coordinate their logistics and improve product quality. It’s all about making manufacturing more responsive to the demands of the outside world in a way that isn’t as costly as it would have been in the past.

Increasing Use Of Virtual Reality

If you’ve ever used a VR device, either on your smartphone or connected to your computer, you’ll know just how powerful it can be. Nothing prepares you for the level of presence you experience when you don your headset and find yourself immersed in a digital world.

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Flickr

But it’s not just through games and interactive video that consumers are benefiting from VR. It’s also something that is helping manufacturers drive down the cost of design, development and sales.

Rob Honeycutt is CEO at SafeRack. He explains how virtual reality is changing the way in which manufacturers innovate and share their products. It’s now possible, he explains, for manufacturers to reduce the time it takes to get designs and quotes from other companies. VR means that clients of big manufacturing companies are able to see the product in a digital world without manufacturers having to go through the time-consuming and expensive process of making a prototype.

Increasing Use Of Modular Equipment

In the past, the equipment that manufacturers bought used to be off-the-shelf and relatively standardised. Then, as processes improved, and the people who build machines got better at what they did, more bespoke options hit the market, giving manufacturers flexibility. The problem with all of this, however, was that this flexibility came at a price. It was expensive making bespoke equipment for manufacturers that were one-of-a-kind.

Now, though, car companies, bike companies and household appliance companies are changing the type of equipment they are buying. No longer are they opting for machines that are one-size-fits-all where they can help it. Instead, they’re looking for devices that are modular and can be scaled to fit any environment.

For instance, spray painting a bicycle frame or an alloy wheel for a car used to involve placing the component in a large powder coating machine that came in one size, and one size only. But now manufacturers can view coating equipment that is modular in design, meaning that they can configure it in multiple different ways to save on space, drive down costs, or quickly expand their operations.

These sorts of innovations are particularly good news for anything made at low volume since it means that low volume equipment doesn’t have to be as large as higher volume alternatives.

Increasing Use Of The Connected Economy

When people in manufacturing hear about the internet of things, they tend to let out a big collective yawn. After all, this is something that has been talked about for years now but is yet to be implemented on a large scale.

One way to think about the internet of things is to see it as the web was, back in 1995. Most people back then, with perhaps the exception of Jeff Bezos, had no idea how radically the Internet would change the world. And people today can’t quite get their heads around how the internet of things will do the same. But the IoT will rule in the future, and it’s growing fast. According to the latest estimates, the growth rate of IoT devices is 20 percent per year, meaning that one new device is added for every five existing devices every year.

The basic idea here is to get factories talking to one another and their supply chains to make the whole operation a lot more efficient. This, in turn, it is hoped, will drive down prices for consumers and make companies more competitive.

The problem at the moment isn’t that the technology isn’t ready – it is. It’s that the manufacturing sector doesn’t have the experience required to make the IoT a reality. Companies see the IoT and don’t quite understand how smart manufacturing and the connected economy can really help them. Things will change quickly, however, as more companies start using the internet of things to drive down their costs and eek out an advantage over their competitors. Once this happens, the rest of the industry will follow suit and consumer prices for manufactured goods will fall even further.

Increasing Use Of Nanotechnology

There’s a general feeling that nanotechnology is a technology of the future – not something that is being used today. In fact, nanotechnology is so exotic that even techno-optimists, like Google’s Director of Engineering, Ray Kurzweil, see it as something that is still decades away. But the first generation of technologies, manipulated on the atomic scale, are already here.

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Wikipedia

Take silicon chips, for instance. These are now manufactured on a process that can produce details around 10 billionths of a millimetre in size  – or dozens of atoms across – meaning that we already have a form of nanotechnology in manufacturing. Nanotechnology is also making it possible to make smaller memory cards, tennis balls that last longer, bandages that heal wounds more quickly and so on.

The darling of nanotechnology in the manufacturing space is graphene, a material that is some 200 times stronger than steel. Graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms, has so many wonder properties and is so strong that it will change how manufacturers operate forever. Even now, graphene is being touted as forming the basis of the next generation of computer processors, a material that will make machinery nearly indestructible and something that can be used to build a space elevator.

Increasing Use Of 3D Printing

The use of 3D printing is exploding in the world of manufacturing. According to the latest data, it’s growing at a CAGR of 25 percent and is expected to generate more than $20 billion in revenue by 2020. After that, the sky’s the limit, with projections out to 2030 showing that it will constitute an enormous chunk of the economy.

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Pixabay

For manufacturers, 3D printing is beneficial because of the fact that it helps to reduce the costs of complexity. Companies can use a 3D scanner and scan an object anywhere in the world and then send the scanned object over the internet and get it printed out at another location. This is allowing customers to theoretically produce products of any size and shape for clients, all at the costs of the raw materials. Safe to say, it’s a game-changer.

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