Lizzie Lawson
Senior Strategist
Ahead of this week’s Smart Factory Expo in Liverpool we take a look at the six major technological advancements shaping the manufacturing sector. Here we’ve summarised what they are and taken a look at what impact they will have on the manufacturing industry in the coming years.


1. 3-D printing

3D printing, which is also known as ‘Additive Layer Manufacturing’ (ALM), creates three-dimensional solid objects from digital blueprint files. Objects are created by laying down successive layers of material, each of which is a thinly sliced horizontal cross-section of the final object.


According to the International Data Corporation global revenues, the 3D printing market (including printers, materials, software and related services) is expected to more than double from $15.9 billion in 2016, to $35.4 billion in 2020.


3D printing will change the way many industries operate. In particular, in retail it will open the possibility of in-store product printing to satisfy customer ‘on-demand’ expectations, as well as enabling product customisation – from appearance and packaging to flavour and nutritional content.


2. Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) which includes augmented reality, virtual reality, natural language question and answering, as well as machine learning, will underpin the industries of tomorrow.


Research by Accenture suggests AI could double annual economic growth rates in 2035, primarily by increasing labour productivity by 40%.


As of 2015, the transport and automotive sector held the greatest share of an AI market and Markets predict this will grow to $5.05 billion by 2020.


AI is already being used behind the scenes for supply-chain cost optimisation by many retailers, and soon AI will be rolled out on to the customer-facing front line.


It has been predicted that in-store AI-enabled digital assistants will seamlessly and automatically find, order and deliver the ideal option to customers, and thus help satisfy the growing consumer expectation of instant gratification.


3. Autonomous vehicles

Autonomous vehicles (AV) are operated by a range of technologies including millimetre-wave radars, cameras, ultrasonic sensors, lidar scanners, GPS technology, vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity, and proprietary algorithms. These work together to perform the entire dynamic driving task in all situations and conditions throughout an entire journey.


Mercedes-Benz is already pioneering autonomous trucks in B2B logistics in the hope of reducing operating costs, road accidents and CO2 emissions. Daimler has also recently tested its autonomous Freightliner Inspiration Truck on roads in the US state of Nevada.


It has been estimated that autonomous vehicles moving in convoy, can save up to 12% in fuel costs, and prevent 90% of crashes that are caused by distracted or drowsy drivers.


Researchers suggest that one of the benefits of convoying trucks will be freeing up drivers time, making them more productive behind the wheel, enabling them to do tasks such as logistics planning and maintenance issues that would otherwise create a dangerous distraction while driving.


4. Big Data

We live in an era of big data. Indeed it is estimated that we produce 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day according to a report by the weforum. The pace at which data is gathered and stored has grown so fast that the best estimates say 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the past two years.


But much of this data lies dormant: only 0.5% of it has ever been analysed, which means that big data analytics retain huge potential to deliver a wide range of benefits including:

  • New products and services
  • Better utilisation of existing assets and inventory monitoring
  • Improved diagnostics and predictions
  • Greater customisation of products and services
  • Improved workforce productivity
  • Increase in operational efficiency


5. Internet of Things

2019 is set to be the year The Internet of Things (IoT) explodes. IoT already consists of 7 billion devices – from fridges to thermostats to street lights – but it is expected to grow to almost 50 billion objects by 2020.


IoT is likely to be the next major value opportunity across industries, as it is set to improve productivity, reduce carbon emissions and create new jobs.


The Industrial IoT, for instance, is forecasted to add $14 trillion to the global economy by 2030.


An area where IoT can add value is in the hospitality industry. The integration of IoT technologies into hotels is expected to reduce maintenance and utility costs, improve workforce productivity, and drive a predicted annual saving of $4 billion by 2025.


Elsewhere in other sectors, IoT services across automotive, home energy management and logistics fleet management alone could lead to 26 million tonnes of avoided CO2 emissions over the coming decade.


Despite fears of job losses as result of the introduction of technology, it has been estimated that more than 400,000 new jobs will be required across the telecom industry alone to support new revenue streams arising from IoT services.


6. Robots and Drones


In recent decades, robots have become commonplace in factories around the world. These industrial applications will continue to contribute to the significant growth of the global market for robots: from 2015 to 2022, MarketsandMarkets predicts a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of almost 12% for the industrial robotics market, taking it to almost $80 billion.



The global market for commercial drones could more than double to $1.4 billion by 2022 as adoption rates surge.


Battery-powered and operated almost autonomously, drones can avoid road traffic and thus help logistics companies make deliveries faster, cheaper and more environmentally friendly.


It has been two years since Amazon UK delivered its first parcel via a drone, and today, drones account for less than 0.5% of all logistics deliveries. Once regulation changes and technology improves, this figure is set to dramatically increase.


It’s been estimated by weforum that if drones can achieve 8.5% penetration in parcel deliveries by 2025, they could save 15 million tonnes in CO2 emissions and prevent up to 4,000 deaths from road accidents.