What is Advanced Manufacturing?

This article aims to provide an overview of what advanced manufacturing is, and how it will change Australian manufacturing businesses.
The video below from the CSIRO Roadmap for Advanced Manufacturing, provides a good overview of how these technologies will affect manufacturing processes.

Increasing Levels of Customisation

Advanced manufacturing technologies allow for ‘mass-customisation.’ This is where materials and products can be individually customised at a high volume and at a relatively low cost. Doing away with the standard sizes of mass-produced elements. This changes the way consumers interact with products and creates new and exciting opportunities for businesses.

Advances in Digital Networks and Analytics

It’s not just the physical capacity of these technologies, its also about the capacity for technologies to make decisions. Which, as the video says, ‘Blurs the lines between manufacturing and service provision.’ This means that smart manufacturing technologies are able to do more than just repetitive tasks, they can interpret and analyse data to make complex decisions. As part of the Design Robotics project we are working toward making robotic arms ‘see.’ Vision Robotics involves providing the robot with ways to see via cameras and scanners, and with this scan data, robots can make decisions about work processes. There are also lots of different ways that robots can access data for analysis to make working decisions.

The Need for More Sustainable Operations

Probably one of the greatest contributions Advanced Manufacturing Technologies (AMT) make is the facilitation of more sustainable practices. Less waste, more efficient practices and better material usage through increased accuracy are all ways AMT contribute to more sustainable operations.
There is so much that Advanced Manufacturing has to offer. The purpose of this article was to introduce the broader benefits and aims of these technologies in the Australian Manufacturing sector.

Knowledge Sharing Opinion

Selecting Suitable projects for Advanced Manufacturing Technologies

In an exciting development, UAP has invested in Advanced Manufacturing Technologies, but how do they decide when to use these technologies? We sat down with UAP’s General Manager Amanda Harris and asked her, ‘How do you decide which projects are best suited for using Advanced Manufacturing Technologies?’

UAP ready for Industry 4.0
One of the great things about the way UAP works is their capacity to accommodate such a variety of different ways to work and different tools to work with, as Amanda tells us, ‘We have all the different tools of the trade here and a wide, wide array of projects to employ them upon. In addition, we have a team of talented people with decades of experience. Our  expertise ranges from people who are working in digital spaces to specialists working with more traditional tools.’
In our research, we have found that Advanced Manufacturing Technologies (AMT) are most easily taken up by large firms (defined by having 500+ employees), while small to medium enterprises experience more difficulty in transitioning to new technologies. However, the unique and agile way that UAP conducts business provides them with an advantageous position to adopt new ways of working. As Amanda explained to us, ‘Because we have a broad skillset and specialist team members, who’ve been working here for 10 years, 20 years, they are experts within their field, so that makes it easier for us to key in the next step. We have the advantage of being able to draw on knowledge of existing processes and techniques, and then understand where there might be gaps in them.’
It is also the case that UAP has strived to continually adapt to new ways of working, making a move to AMT a gradual one, rather than a huge leap. Amanda feels that UAP are in a good position to begin working with AMT, ‘Every project we have is unique, and our team is used to solving problems or approaching a process that we haven’t undertaken before. So while adapting to new technologies can be a steep learning curve and potentially intimidating, we’re practised at the unfamiliar. .’
Another important success indicator for the implementation of new technologies in existing firms was support from upper-level management. Amanda told us that at UAP, ‘we want to be the innovators.’
How are projects selected for Advanced Manufacturing Technology?
In explaining how she selected projects that were suitable for AMT, Amanda explained that ‘for me; it’s about making small progressive steps.’
Amanda emphasised that using technology was about developing their existing, internal processes. ‘I don’t mind what the technology is or what kind of innovation we’re looking at… if we can see there is a way that we can develop our Intellectual Property, and in doing so widen our delivery capabilities (or make existing tasks easier!), then that’s something we want to turn into an advantage. Ultimately, making commercial projects more successful is what drives us to attack anything new.’ She also highlighted that the application was more important than the technology by itself, reflecting on previous work completed by the firm that, ‘often here, if we try to innovate for innovation’s sake, we don’t see a lot of traction, and that’s because the commercial side of the business always wins. You have a pipe dream and a deadline. I think everyone can predict the winner when those two things are matched up. So what we’re doing now, is trying to chip away at the pipedream by using every deadline to our advantage. Sure, we might not develop and test an entirely new process start to finish on a project. But we achieve the first step of that new process on project one, the second step on project two and so on. And of course there are some failures in there, so we also work with a Plan B in mind, that is more traditional, just in case.. because, well the deadline is still looming.’
For that reason, Amanda always selects projects where using these technologies align with the commercial requirements; she told us, ‘to break that cycle is to find a commercial project that will benefit from that kind of innovation and then key that innovation in. It can’t just be a superficial inclusion that doesn’t help the process.’ The other factor that determines if a project is suited to the use of AMT is the availability of time within the programme to accommodate training and any setbacks with the technology, as Amanda explains, ‘The next checkpoint is the scenario where you have a little bit of programme or time within those projects, those are ideal. This isn’t always the case though, at the moment we’re using Augmented Reality to set out fabrication parts for a project that has an incredibly short timeline. In this case, we’re ahead of where we would be traditionally, even though we’re adapting to newer technology – the time savings are that great. This is only possible with the talent and engagement of our team, and their ability to collaborate. In this case, we have Steve Walsh, our Head of Fabrication, working with Luke Harris, our most tenured digital designer. Together they are bypassing the need parts of the traditional workshop drawing set, and making the assembly and fabrication occur at pace, to meet a very tight deadline.’
Baby Steps
As with most of the research on the successful integration of AMT in firms, there needs to be a steady progression of technology used by staff, gradually leading up to the employment of AMT. Amanda reiterated the practical importance of this in the day to day operations and meeting client expectations. She told us that, ‘the way that we try to make these developments is to incorporate those steps so that we’re not trying to solve any problems that we can’t see any other way to resolve.  The ideal scenario is not to take a commercial project and be in a position where the only way we can deliver it is with new technology. Instead, the intent is to find a commercial project, identify a way that I think we can improve a step within it, a small step, and then deliver within our existing delivery model.’
The delivery of good quality projects is always the priority
The most important consideration is that the project will be delivered – on time and fit for purpose. The technology has to be employed in such a way that it won’t hinder project deliverables, as Amanda tells us, ‘if a piece of equipment or tech failed, we just can’t be in a position to not deliver for the Client. So there’s a lot of steps in qualifying the tech.’ As such, it is always more about the process of delivering the project than it is about the technology itself.