The fourth industrial revolution has arrived, and with it will come unprecedented changes and opportunities.
As the core driving force of this revolution, digital technology is becoming faster and more economical, bringing more tangible benefits to more people. As emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, generative design and big data are accelerating the development of various industries, 3D printing technology is gradually subverting traditional manufacturing.
The profound impact of the digital transformation is incalculable, and rightly so. But the industry 4.0 era requires not only new technologies, but also new skills and new ways of thinking and working.
For many companies, the change is significant because it means injecting new investment, implementing organizational changes and upgrading employees' skills. Such changes are necessary to strengthen customer relationships and attract new business. Enterprises must make positive changes to embrace industry 4.0.
Unlocking new possibilities requires a shift in thinking
Take 3D printing for example. 3D printing technology, or additive manufacturing technology, can build a complete functional part from scratch by continuously stacking and bonding layers of materials, without the need to build an injection mold. The impact of this transformation on manufacturing processes and product forms is enormous. 3D printing results in improved overall efficiency -- shortening design cycles, reducing total production costs, and shortening lead time from production to delivery.
And it's not just that. 3D printing is changing the way designers and manufacturers work, using technologies and training that have never been the case before.
First of all, 3D printing technology can be said to open a new door for designers and engineers, giving them full freedom to give full play to their creative inspiration and get rid of the restrictions and constraints of the past.
Because injection moulds are no longer needed, designers no longer have to worry about drawing angles or seams, even if they are designed for mass production. In short, they need to shed the shackles of traditional manufacturing. What industry 4.0 needs is a new way of thinking, design ideas and skills, because additive manufacturing allows designers to create more complex, even unprecedented, new components, leaving traditional design thinking behind.
Second, unlike traditional manufacturing's linear workflow, 3D printing requires designers and engineers to work more closely at each node of the process. In the traditional manufacturing process, the interaction between the designer and the engineer is very limited. After the designer completes the product design, the engineer will carry out the prototype construction and test, and then build the injection mold for mass production. However, this also means that functional considerations only emerge in the second half of the development cycle, including material properties, structural integrity, and design durability.
The 3D printing ecosystem encourages a more integrated and interactive process. Designers must consider how a component is made from the beginning of the design cycle. New CAD (or computer-aided design) technologies already allow functional considerations to be taken into account during visual construction, so engineers must be involved early in the design process.
New digital technologies bring new opportunities
3D printing also provides opportunities for designers and manufacturers to learn and apply new technologies. Generative design and machine learning, two innovative technologies, are key to this opportunity.
With the popularization of digital manufacturing, CAD technology is developing and updating. CAD software can now be used in combination with virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) technologies, allowing designers to superimpose any computer-generated image onto a real scene. And CAD software has become easier to use, even for non-professional programmers. These trends are democratizing manufacturing, giving every creative designer the chance to become a maker.
Automated generative design software enables designers to quickly view component designs and generate multiple design permutations based on data parameters such as selected materials, production methods, and cost constraints. Autodesk, a leader in engineering design, proposed that AI systems could automatically generate multiple high-performance product choices from a single design by applying generative design principles. This is of great benefit to designers, as they can learn from hundreds of more designs generated by the AI system and choose one that best meets its important criteria. In addition, the original 3D design document can be directly connected to the 3D printer, calculate the exact amount of material used and quickly prototype construction, avoiding waste.
How can companies help employees cope with change more gracefully
With so many new tools and technologies to choose from, how to create the right working environment and employee support system is a key step for enterprises to transform to digital manufacturing.
The first is to encourage engineers to embrace and experiment with new technologies. These engineers, accustomed to traditional injection molding workflows, may find it challenging to learn new skills. But as they try new tools and learn new skills, they experience a whole new design force. Exploring new functions and discovering your limitations will help stimulate new ways of thinking.
Continuous training is essential as engineers try to familiarize themselves with 3D printing technology. At HP, 30% of Indigo printer engineers received DFAM training. From M.I.T. to nanyang technological university, some of the world's best-known universities have launched online courses and short-term classroom training to introduce mid-career engineers to the basics, applications and business implications of 3D printing.
HP also offers a lot of help to customers in the digital transition. In order to better understand the customer needs and current manufacturing methods, we start from the production line, to look at the different components of the production line, understand the application and standard of each part. This allows us to identify components that can be produced more optimally and quickly using 3D printing to minimize costs or impact on existing production cycles. In this way, we work with companies to help them determine which parts of the manufacturing process can be replaced with 3D printing.
Prepare the next generation for digital manufacturing
As engineering and design become ever more intertwined, mixed higher education courses will become more common among the next generation of engineers. Universities such as imperial college London and Pennsylvania state university have begun offering a master's degree in design engineering and a master's degree in additive manufacturing and design engineering, respectively. HP's hp-ntu enterprise lab, launched last October, will also focus on developing educational courses on additive manufacturing design, covering data management, security, user experience and business models.
These courses combine design thinking, engineering knowledge and practice to provide graduates with the skills needed to facilitate the development of digital manufacturing. Within a few years, they will be a major force in accelerating and standardizing digital manufacturing.
The industry is changing so fast that we have the opportunity to unlock countless new business opportunities if manufacturers use the right tools and technologies and motivate employees to explore creative solutions to business challenges.