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The Manufacturing Of Tomorrow: Less Is More

Indian companies are seeing a growing convergence between digital and manufacturing, and are adopting AI, cloud, machine learning, IoT to make production faster, cheaper, efficient and sustainable.

Photo Credit : Reuters

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One in two households in India will be a middle-class one by 2030. Consumer spending too is simultaneously expected to soar 4 times, with India slated to become the third-largest consumer market, next only to USA and China. But, with our limited resources of housing, food, energy, transport and infrastructure under pressure, businesses in India will have to contend with making with ‘less’ in the future.   

Automation clearly offers the opportunity to do better with less. Ushering in Industry 4.0, automation is all set to completely revolutionise manufacturing and impact the way we create and build. This is not just about advanced, Asimovian industrial robots with far more granular senses making decisions for us. It is also about technologies of tomorrow being incredibly disruptive and catalysing transformation across industries, including manufacturing. 

Already, Indian companies are seeing a growing convergence between digital and manufacturing, and are adopting AI, cloud, machine learning, IoT to make production faster, cheaper, efficient and sustainable. 

Dawn of push-button manufacturing  

The smart factories of the future, however, are going to be digitized and intelligent, where networked machines and products communicate through IoT tech. We will see the rise of cobots on factory floors, cloud-based collaborative tools, additive manufacturing and mass customisation gaining ground; and we will increasingly make things of growing complexity and fidelity. 

Everything from concept design to final production will be facilitated completely by automation, known as Push Button Manufacturing. It will cause a paradigm shift in the way we think and make. 

Quite simply, Push Button Manufacturing will automate the different steps of making, so that what emerges from the manufacturing line matches the design intent of a product, without a lot of work in between.  

Growth of generative design  

Manufacturers in India must design better if they want to build customised products or produce to meet demand, without generating waste or losing productivity. If you design better, you’ll be able to deep dive into the entire process of innovating, from visualizing to simulation and arrive at a product that is subsequently scaleable. A design-first mindset has become mandatory for companies today and should aim for a ‘digital twin’ before the product becomes a reality. 

To achieve this, generative design can be a powerful tool. What it does best is to reframe a problem to unlock innovation.   

For example, to design an athletic shoe in a traditional manner, you have started from zero – from the CAD design based on limited human ideas, which goes through endless manual iterations, evaluations and performance constraints. In generative design, the designer has to key in the parameters required to make the shoe -- the kind of material to be used, its thickness or the number of eyelets for the shoelace etc., into the computer. Manufacturing and cost constraints are also taken into account. 

Using artificial intelligence and the computing power of the cloud, the software tests every possible permutation of the shoe and then spawns a thousand different design options. A designer filters through the valid design outcomes to select one that fits best. 

Human and machine collaboration 

Besides its many advantages of being cost-effective and time-saving, the generative design combines human ingenuity with artificial intelligence and automation to broaden possibilities of making.  

Manufacturers are adopting design automation today to make anything from aircraft components to rifles. In India as well, sports, construction, and transport companies have started using generative design. 

Globally, General Motors reimagined and redesigned a seat bracket prototype, which formerly required eight pieces, down to a single part that is 20 per cent stronger and 40 per cent lighter. Lightweighting, an outcome of generative design, helped the vehicle to become fuel-efficient. This helps to conserve barrels of oil, cuts carbon pollution and protects consumer choice. In fact, a lightweight rule is that a 10 per cent reduction of vehicle weight leads to 6 to 7 per cent increase in fuel economy. A statistic for electric vehicle makers in the country to mull over. 

Autodesk and Volkswagen designers retrofitted 

Once a symbol of America’s counterculture, Volkswagen’s iconic, hippie 1962 minibus is being revamped into a hi-tech, electric avatar. Autodesk and Volkswagen designers retrofitted the vintage rims with lighter, funky, futuristic, lattice-shaped and sustainable wheel rims and wing-mirror arms, with the help of generative design. It took Volkswagen designers just six months to go from ideas in their head to a fully manufactured vehicle. 

Industries are still experimenting with the huge potential of automation in design. But, when human engineering teams up with artificial intelligence, it can unlock many opportunities. It can revolutionise the way we make entire frames of cars to buildings – and enable India to successfully meet its challenges leaving lesser carbon footprint. With India also pushing to become a global design and manufacturing hub, it has become critical that manufacturers get agile and future ready.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Tags assigned to this article:
manufacturing indian companies cloud machine learning ai

Shekhar Rohira

The author is Country Manager, D&M and M&E (India & SAARC), Autodesk

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