Disruptive Technologies that could be Game Changers For Manufacturers

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There is plenty of emerging technologies, but only a few fits the billing of true breakthroughs. There are, however, some truly game-changing technologies that are poised to disrupt the status quo, significantly altering the way people live and work and rearranging value pools. Businesses need to be aware of these emerging technologies and which ones might change the way they do business.

A recent report by McKinsey & Company entitled, “Disruptive technologies: advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy,” identifies 12 such technologies that could drive truly massive economic transformations and disruptions and bring both benefits and challenges along with them. The report’s authors estimate the potential economic impact of these “game changers” is between $14 trillion and $33 trillion a year in 2025.

Several of these disruptive technologies will change the way products are designed and manufactured. Let’s take a look at some of these emerging technologies that will have a significant impact on the future of product development.

Advanced robotics. Increasingly capable robots and robotic tools, with enhanced “senses,” dexterity and intelligence, will take on tasks once thought too delicate or uneconomical to automate. These advances could make it practical to substitute robots for human labor in more manufacturing tasks.

Energy storage. Technology advancements in these devices or physical systems that store energy for later use, such as lithium-ion batteries and fuel cells, will make electric vehicles (hybrids, plug-in hybrids and all-electric) more cost-competitive, bring electricity to remote areas and improve the efficiency of the utility grid.

Mobile Internet. By 2015, wireless web use is expected to exceed wired use. Applications across businesses and the public sector will enable more efficient delivery of many services and create opportunities to increase workforce productivity. For product development, it will mean more efficient design collaboration between disparate geographic locations.

Automation of knowledge work. Advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural user interfaces (e.g., voice recognition) are making it possible to automate many knowledge work tasks that have been deemed as impossible or impractical for machines to perform. Analytics tools can be used to augment the talents of highly skilled employees, and as more of these tasks can be done by machine, it is also possible that some types of jobs could become fully automated.

The Internet of Things. Embedded sensors and actuators in machines and other physical objects are growing in number. For manufacturing managers, this technology means being able to monitor the flow of products through a factory production line or troubleshoot problems remotely. This would enable them to manage assets and optimize productivity performance in real-time from anywhere.

3D printing. Several factors at play: the performance of 3D printers has improved, prices—of both printers and materials—have declined and the range of materials has expanded. These advances facilitate on-demand production, which has interesting implications for supply chains and for stocking spare parts—a major cost for manufacturers. 3D printing can also cut down on material waste and enable companies to create objects that were considered difficult or impossible to produce with traditional techniques.

Advanced materials. These include smart materials that are self-healing or self-cleaning; memory metals that can revert to their original shapes; piezoelectric ceramics and crystals that turn pressure into energy, and nanomaterials. Nanomaterials can lead to new types of medicine, super-slick coatings, and stronger composites, which are used extensively in the automotive and aerospace industries. 

The report discusses the potential benefits of these technologies, the challenges of preparing for their impact, and how business leaders need to prepare in order to capture these benefits or react to the consequences. For a complete list of the disruptive technologies discussed in the report, download the entire report here.

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