New technologies like 3D printing and the Internet of Things power new solutions to common Industrial and manufacturing issues. Already, both of these innovations are impacting smart factories around the world, and it won’t be long before they arrive at home, and bring the same conveniences they offer in the factory to your desktop.
3D printing and smart factories
IoT is already closely associated with smart factories, as it allows machinery to communicate and exchange information efficiently, without the need for an operator or additional support. 3D printers, which are growing in popularity, produce customized parts or potential prototype designs right on the factory floor. When combined, these two technologies can provide powerful ways to improve existing industrial processes, such as at Audi’s smart factory in Germany.
Audi’s Smart Factory attempts to optimize car production efficiency, with the help of highly specialized equipment that uses the IoT to communicate seamlessly. The factory uses 3D printers to create custom parts as needed, while using 3D projections to match the customized parts to the car chassis. This process also uses drones and other cross-functional electronics, communicating with one another to increase production speed while maintaining a high-quality product.
Condensing the factory to the desktop
What’s perhaps most exciting about 3D printing is its potential ability to close the gap between the factory and the home. Essentially, any time we work on a project, whether for work or as part of a hobby, we depend on the materials we can acquire from around the world. If you lose or break something, you may spend hours searching for the right replacement part, or paying a large sum to have it custom built. The 3D printer, however, may soon make all of this trouble a distant memory.
With IoT, 3D printing at home can be an even more intuitive process as devices communicate with each other. Companies like Autodesk and Spark are already developing 3D printers that support printing electronic circuits. Now, imagine a computer, hard drive, or other device is experiencing some sort of system malfunction. Rather than wait for you to diagnose the issue, the computer can simply identify a problem at the low-level hardware level and print--by itself--a solution to this problem. Rather than worry about diagnosing the problem, with the help of the IoT, end-users can instead simply employ the computer’s automatically generated solution. This added convenience may not be far off as these technologies continue to advance.
The coming evolution of prototyping
IoT and 3D printing are an obvious match, no matter what environment they’re used in. While smart factories like Audi’s are existing proof of concept for IoT and 3D printing interconnectivity, it won’t take long for the technology in factories to make its way to consumer applications, where it can potentially change how we procure essential parts and interact with our electronics forever.