Aug 23 2016

The Factory Floor of the Future

Augmented reality, 3D printing, Internet of Things and robotics will transform the manufacturing world.

What does the future of manufacturing look like? PwC’s “2016 Industrial Manufacturing Trends” report highlights four key technology areas that are driving much of the change in the industry. These technologies — augmented reality, 3D printing, Internet of Things and robotics — will help companies create the factories and products of tomorrow.

Find out more about the the technologies, their potential benefits and how they are being used below. 

Augmented Reality

AR brings digital information into a user’s field of view and overlays it onto a view of the real world that can be observed through a headset or a mobile device.

Potential benefits: AR can be used to remotely monitor machinery, provide hands-free training for workers on a factory floor (by delivering them text or visuals so that instructions are clearer), and can help users fix machines faster by seeing how different parts fit together or need to be repaired.

Technology needed: Smartphones; tablets; head-mounted displays or glasses; mobile operating systems; wireless networking

Lockheed Martin is working with NGRAIN on a trial in which employees wear Epson Moverio BT-200 glasses to overlay images for technicians assembling F-35 jets. See more about how Lockheed Martin is using AR in this video from the Augmented World Expo.


3D Printing

A more common name for additive manufacturing, 3D printing is a series of processes that can be used to synthesize and create 3D objects.

Potential benefits: Manufacturers can use 3D printing to create parts in small batches for prototypes and to conduct tests, cut down the time it takes to produce a finished product, and make it cheaper to produce products.

Technology needed: Computer-aided design software; photogrammetry software; 3D scanners; 3D printer hardware

Fishman Transducers, a small business founded in 1981 and based in Andover, Mass., worked with Javelin to create 3D-printed guitar amplification device prototypes. See more about the process in this video.


Internet of Things

IoT is a network of physical devices embedded with sensors, software and network connectivity.

Potential benefits: IoT, combined with analytics, allows manufacturers to measure and improve the efficiency of their machines and conduct preventive maintenance to fix machines before they break.

Technology needed: Wireless network connectivity; sensors; wired internet backbon; data analytic; network security

General Electric has built wind turbines that contain 20,000 sensors that produce 400 data points per second. Immediate analytics lets GE and its customers optimize turbine performance and proactively make decisions about maintenance and parts replacement. See more about GE's connected wind turbines in this video.



Industrial robots are programmable machines widely used in manufacturing, and are increasingly embedded with network connectivity.

Potential benefits: Connecting robots to the internet and cloud allows manufacturers to monitor and improve the performance and efficiency of the machines and improve the quality of finished products.

Technology needed: Software; sensors; communications protocol; wireless network connectivity; wired internet backbone; data analytics; cloud computing

FANUC, one of the largest makers of industrial robots, is partnering with Cisco Systems on an advanced analytics system to improve machine reliability and performance. See more about FANUC's work with Cisco in this video.

Darryl Sebro

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