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Industry Trends

What Constitutes Advanced Manufacturing?

Advanced manufacturing is a key part of the Canadian government’s Innovation and Skills Plan to support economic growth. But what exactly does this term mean?

Though there is no precise universal definition of what constitutes “advanced manufacturing”, the phrase is widely used to refer to any manufacturing process which adopts new, innovative technologies to create new products or enhance processes.

One concise definition is that advanced manufacturing is “manufacturing that entails rapid transfer of science and technology into manufacturing processes and products”.

Advanced manufacturing can be thought of as the opposite of “traditional manufacturing”. In this sense, advanced manufacturing typically refers to manufacturing techniques which make use of recent scientific and technical advances to produce high-tech end products. The distinction between traditional and advanced manufacturing is, of course, not black-and-white: rather, it signifies a shift toward technologically sophisticated, green, and flexible methods of manufacturing. In this article, we take a look at some of the techniques and processes that have come to be recognized as advanced manufacturing.

Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing (AM) is, in many ways, the archetypal advanced manufacturing technique. Most traditional manufacturing techniques (such as milling, turning and drilling) are “subtractive”: they create useful items and products by removing material from a bulk solid.

With 3D printing technologies at its core, additive manufacturing represents a radical departure from these traditional techniques. Rather than removing material to carve out products, AM techniques rely on controlled material deposition to build up products piece-by-piece.

While AM has its roots in rapid prototyping (such as the creation of plastic mock-ups or models using benchtop 3D printers), it is now developing into a fully-fledged advanced manufacturing technique. As 3D printing technology has evolved, additive manufacturing has become increasingly versatile – a key principle of advanced manufacturing. Additive manufacturing offers the ability to rapidly produce pieces with complex geometries that could otherwise only be fabricated in multiple steps or with highly specialized production methods. Additive manufacturing also offers weight reductions (for example by building components with hollow chambers inside) and offers economic advantages for batch sizes as small as one.

Automation and Robotics

Another way in which industries are adopting the principles of advanced manufacturing is through the incorporation of robotics and automation. Adoption of robotics in industry is accelerating: an increasing number of production facilities exist where robots vastly outnumber human workers, and many manufacturers operate “lights out” factories where manufacturing activities and material flows are handled entirely automatically.

Industrial robots are not exactly new – however the ways in which they are used is changing. While traditional industrial robots are fixed in place and perform repetitive tasks inflexibly, a new generation of “collaborative” industrial robots are more closely aligned to advanced manufacturing. Through interconnectivity and advances in robotic understanding, collaborative robots offer greatly enhanced flexibility and cooperative working with both humans and other robots.

Sustainable and Green Process Technologies

As the climate crisis worsens, manufacturers are under increasing pressure to adapt processes in order to minimize waste and make them more sustainable. Achieving this is a question of advanced manufacturing: new scientific advances must be adopted into manufacturing processes in order to make them more sustainable.

New processes such as flow chemistry – in which chemical syntheses are carried out continuously with very high efficiency and small batch sizes – could be crucial in the development of sustainable advanced manufacturing. The use of biodegradable and recyclable compounds too is likely to play an important role. If you would like to keep up to date with the latest innovations in this space, simply contact a member of the team to join our mailing list.

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