The electronics manufacturing world is evolving. Recent years have seen significant changes thanks to the adoption of innovative technologies, which are encouraging manufacturers to re-imagine how products are designed and produced in the smart factories of tomorrow.
Since the 18th century, we have moved through various revolutions – shifting from farming to industrial production to the IT revolution, which enabled automated production through the advent of electronics and technology. Now, as digitisation takes hold, we face the dawn of a Fourth Industrial Revolution. But how will this impact electronics manufacturing?
The Fourth Industrial Revolution
During the 18th and 19th centuries, rural societies across Europe and North America became more industrial and urbanised in what was known as the First Industrial Revolution. This was then followed by the Second Industrial Revolution between 1870 and 1914 – a period of growth for pre-existing industries and expansion for new ones such as steel, oil and electricity – which saw electric power used to create mass production. Major technological advances during this period included the telephone, light bulb, phonograph and the internal combustion engine.
Starting in the 1980s, the Third Industrial Revolution has seen advancements including the personal computer and the internet, as well as information and communications technology. The Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) builds on this, transforming technology to become further embedded within societies and even the human body. This new era is marked by emerging breakthroughs in a number of fields including robotics, AI, nanotech, renewable energy, quantum computing, 5G networks and IoT, decentralised consensus, 3D printing, and autonomous vehicles.
Not just a label
When computers were introduced in Industry 3.0, they were disruptive thanks to the addition of entirely new technology. But Industry 4.0 has been identified as an evolution rather than a revolution – it’s not just another label or another technology.
The underlying basis for Industry 4.0 lies in advances in communication and connectivity rather than technology. These technologies have great potential to connect billions of people through the web, drastically improve the efficiency of businesses and to help regenerate the natural environment through better asset management.
This rise in digitization opens up new ways to respond effectively to customer needs and enables machines, computers and even data itself to have an active role in the manufacturing and production processes – reducing the need for human involvement and making the smart factory a reality.
Optimization & automation in electronics manufacturing
The current trend of automation is still evolving, and we might not have a complete picture of what that means for electronics manufacturing until we look back 30 years from now. But in the coming years, the industry is likely to see widespread adoption of automated equipment and smart technologies on the factory floor.
These optimized technologies will help to automate recurring tasks, transform communications, and allow operations to be executed with minimal manual intervention. Resulting in enhanced productivity, better allocation of resources and faster process cycles with greater quality control.
For example, 3D automated optical inspection (AOI) machines could replace 2D systems and augmented reality could be used by production managers to monitor and report on a range of factory floor metrics. While smart materials and intelligent labelling could improve speed and agility by enabling manufacturers to track deliveries in real time and automatically notify operations of delays.
Embracing new ways of working
Industry 4.0 and digitization are set to cause even more disruption in the decades ahead, making it crucial for the current workforce to continuously adapt skill sets and embrace the changing landscape.