What's Next for Advanced Manufacturing?

What's Next for Advanced Manufacturing? 

Manufacturing is defined as the act of converting raw materials into finished products by using manual or mechanised transformational techniques. The term ‘Advanced Manufacturing’ gained popularity in the early 2000’s and was used to describe innovations occurring in the industry. However if we look back in history, Advanced Manufacturing has always been around. There have always been new technologies designed and developed to produce what until then was not possible to make. Building better technologies and refining processes is a normal & necessary part of product development’s evolution. Otherwise we would still be trying to pour metal into sand to make our everyday products! So what might be next?


Reduced lead times to accelerate new ideas 

The spread of advanced manufacturing for prototyping and low volume production is already having a dramatic effect on lead times. We will likely see more advanced 3D printing capabilities and improvements to the quality and cost of manufacturing at all stages along the product development life cycle. From rough mock-ups to functional multi-material prototypes, pilot production and tooling. With advancements in 3D printing, it also is likely we will see a larger diffusion of in house equipment for advanced manufacturing to further cut down development times.

Lean and affordable customisation

More people are enabling themselves with the tools and technology to design and develop their products at home (or in dedicated hubs) and product viability is now often tested in online marketplaces before investing large amounts of capital for mass production. Customisation is also becoming more affordable for every day consumers. We are already witnessing a shift to simpler, cheaper, more streamlined solutions in many industries, particularly in high value sectors known for complex and expensive technologies. For consumers, customisation provides a huge amount of added value. I think this trend is here to stay. Below is one example of the production of custom designed and individually tailored earphones using 3D printing methods. 

More user-friendly and accessible design capabilities 

Software is making manufacturing tools more advanced and accessible. An example of this can be seen with 3D scanning capabilities now being built into mobile phones. The recent work by Anatomics Australia also represents radical advancements in 3D printing design capabilities. The Anatomics Australia team designed and 3D printed a titanium sternum and rib implant using CSIRO’s new 3D printer. The components are now implanted into a Spanish patient! 


Robotic Automation

Over the next 20 years, it is likely we will experience an explosion of growth in robotics manufacturing. Automation is all about lead time, cost and precision. But how might this affect product development? Do we standardise our design or make robots intelligent enough to build complex parts? And would we still need craftsman for more intricate jobs?


Collective ecosystems 

Platforms like Kickstarter have for the first time enabled start-ups and entrepreneurs to gain popularity, gather feedback and raise capital without giving away a stake of the business. Product development can now occur without early investment in the manufacture of a physical product. 

Makers Place have also begun allowing public access to advanced equipment which would be otherwise prohibitive to buy. These new collective ecosystems are allowing more people to get help and feedback from a dedicated community of experts. However it is difficult to say whether this will make the boundaries around intellectual property more complicated.