From Lean to Leading-Edge: Innovations Reshaping the Manufacturing Industry  

Author: Scotty Lee, Content Marketing Manager, Seagull Scientific 

  • The manufacturing industry drives innovation in product development, with a focus on faster turnaround times and cost reduction. Best practices emphasize flawless operations and reduced downtime to boost profitability. 
  • Lean manufacturing, pioneered by Toyota, forms the basis for many innovations, focusing on waste elimination, efficiency improvement, and continuous process enhancement. 
  • Key innovations in the manufacturing sector include automation for process efficiency, generative AI for process improvements, additive manufacturing for rapid prototyping and complex geometries, smart systems with the Industrial Internet of Things, digital twins to simulate environments and monitor assets, and label management software to track and trace throughout the entire supply chain. 

The manufacturing industry and the innovations within it are responsible for producing the next generation’s complex and innovative products. As technologies shift and customer desires change, manufacturers are expected to not only continue their innovations, but are also expected to produce with faster turnaround times through process efficiencies and cost reduction methodologies. Best practices within the industry aid in striving for flawless operations and reduced downtime – ultimately increasing a company’s bottom line. Innovations can be found by both looking at existing methodologies and looking to new technologies.  

Many innovations hold lean manufacturing as the center guiding principle to build the foundation to develop new methods and process iterations. Lean manufacturing was first pioneered by Toyota in the early 1930’s, Toyota’s Production System, known as TPS, started the foundation of lean manufacturing principles. Taiichi Ohno and Eiji Toyoda, among a few others, are credited with developing and implementing the TPS which focused on eliminating waste, improving efficiency, and continuously improving processes. The lean manufacturing business model emphasizes eliminating non-value-added activities (waste) while delivering high quality products on time at least cost with greater efficiency. While lean manufacturing focuses on process and cost efficiency, occasionally there are environmental benefits that are also seen through waste minimization. 

Best practices for the manufacturing industry 

Within the global manufacturing sector, key innovations include: 

  1. Automation – process efficiency is an iterative improvement strategy that never ends. Forbes states one of the ways that many manufacturers find opportunities to make great strides in improvements were from replacing manual efforts with automated systems, software, and hardware. With the power of Automated Intelligence (AI), the industry can bring to reality the things that were once only thought to be possible. Triaging and automating decision workflows, to leveraging AI for quality assurance, to speeding up repetitive tasks, and improving workplace safety, machines are able to help increase productivity so that humans can revert their efforts into creativity and high-level decision making. 
  2. Generative AI – generative AI, also known as gen AI, can help the manufacturing industry make additional process improvements throughout the entire operations process. In the planning stages, gen AI can consolidate cross-functional feedback and insights to make improved demand forecasts. This can also help shape inventory planning recommendations which can lead to less products sitting idly. Within the manufacturing process, gen AI can be used to predict failures, reduce defects, and produce dynamic instructions using root cause analysis. In the final delivery stages, gen AI can help by automating document generation, verifying completions before transit, and communicating with customers. 
  3. Additive Manufacturing - Additive Manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing is becoming more prevalent throughout the industry for rapid prototyping, tooling, and producing production parts. Additive Manufacturing allows for previously unfathomable complex geometries and customization of parts in conjunction with Finite Element Analysis. This new technology allows for rapid tooling and prototyping helping engineering teams reduce time-to-market and reducing overall development costs. 
  4. Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) – the IIoT involves connecting machines, sensors, smart devices, software, and systems to collect and exchange data so that all systems can use the real-time data to make decisions regarding predictive maintenance and process optimization. This allows an operation to be fully driven by data to make overall improvement changes and asset-tracking assists with machine utilization optimization by proactively addressing potential equipment failures before they occur. 
  5. Digital Twins – digital twins are virtual representations of physical assets, processes, and systems. Digital twins allow for engineers to build and test out virtual simulations, monitor assets in real time, optimize processes in a controlled environment, and allow for reduced research and development costs. Gartner’s research shows that major asset manufacturers are launching digital business units that are customized to their exact use cases to predict business performance more accurately. 
  6. Label Management – label management plays a critical role within the various innovations within manufacturing by ensuring that products are accurately identified, tracked, and traced throughout the entire operations process all the way down through the supply chain. Innovations within label management primarily follow ways to abide by compliance and regulations, increase supply chain visibility, quality control, and product differentiation. Labeling software that can take complex data and automate processes for floor workers’ operational processes helps make great strides in achieving lean manufacturing. 

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