What are some of the emerging digital technologies out there that manufacturers should be paying attention to?

What are some of the emerging digital technologies out there that manufacturers should be paying attention to?

Welcome to “Ask Deb from QA,” a new column from MxD.

Every week, Deb from QA — with decades of experience on the factory floor — will answer your questions to demystify and explain the digital manufacturing industry.

Please submit your questions to debfromqa@mxdusa.org

Dear Deb: What are some of the emerging digital technologies out there that manufacturers should be paying attention to?

Do you have any idea how much Deb loves reading about new trends? Trends in food, fashion, even the cool new words the kids are using. 

I said read about, not necessarily follow. I don’t care how much you pay me, I’m never wearing a Lady Gaga meat dress. (You’ll also never catch me saying “totes mcgotes.”) Some trends are fleeting and ephemeral, like a meteor shower that shines bright for a minute and quickly burns up in the atmosphere.

Within digital manufacturing, there’s a lot of exciting innovation going on. Keeping track of all of it can be overwhelming. My suggestion is to focus on the technologies that have already emerged but are still in their nascent stages. For the mom-and-pop shops, the new (but not super new) technology will be most relevant, with the biggest opportunity to help grow the business.

In my last column, I talked about sensors and microcontrollers. This technology isn’t new. But what is new is just how much prices have dropped in recent years. Now you can get an off-brand programmable logic controller for as little as $100, and that’s something Deb couldn’t have said even five years ago. 

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are playing increasingly bigger roles in our industry. But whereas it felt like science fiction in the not-too-distant past, your standard PC — the one you can play Fortnite on — now has enough horsepower to do basic AI and machine learning. Augmented reality can be done with your tablet or smartphone! The point is, technologies that once sounded pie-in-the-sky are now accessible on machines you can buy at Best Buy. Which means your factory can have that same emerging technology too.

Many processes that previously required expensive hardware can now be done via cloud-based software. Take something like a manufacturing execution system: Not every mom-and-pop company could afford having one to do digital work instructions or data gathering. Today, there are companies that will let you rent those services on a monthly basis. It’s inexpensive and seamless and doesn’t require IT people or engineers on site. 

There are monthly subscription softwares for positions that previously required a dedicated on-site staffer. Is there someone who stands on your assembly line with a clipboard, manually counting defect rates? Now you can easily and inexpensive lease a real-time analytics app. (MxD partner Tulip is one great example.)

Just remember: What’s “emerging” and interesting to me isn’t the technology itself, but the availability and cost for people like you and me. You should be paying attention to those trends.

Assuring quality,

Check out last week’s Ask Deb here:
I’ve been called back to work during the COVID-19 pandemic. What can I do to protect myself?

Deb from QA wants to hear your questions. Send ‘em to debfromqa@mxdusa.org and she’ll answer as soon she’s done with her shift.