Innovation and a desire to improve our technology has long been a hallmark of the human race. Whether it was Neolithic man first realizing that dragging a heavy object was made easier by placing it on wheels, or Tim Berners-Lee first introducing the World Wide Web to the public, technology has continued to move forward over the millennia.
Sometimes progress has been very slow and steady; other times it’s come in rapid fits, starts, and explosions - such as during the Industrial Revolution. But it’s always moved ahead in one way or another.
Few other industries have been as profoundly affected by ongoing technological progress as the manufacturing industry. And while some may look back at technological changes of the past few decades as having been harmful to manufacturing - especially in terms of greater automation and corresponding job losses - there have also been some incredibly exciting breakthroughs that have created exciting new manufacturing possibilities.
The following three examples just scratch the surface of how continual technological advancement has affected manufacturing and where new and exciting opportunities are opening up for entrepreneurs in the manufacturing field.
Few advancements hold the kind of promise that additive manufacturing - better known as 3D printing - offers to so many different fields of application.
While the first working 3D printer was actually developed in the 1980’s, the process has only become realistic from a commercial perspective in the last several years and new breakthroughs and applications are being published almost daily at this point.
For example, HRL Laboratories recently announced a brand new resin formula that allows 3D printed materials to be converted into extremely durable and heat-resistant ceramic material. Unlike previous types of 3D printed material which were subject to relatively low tensile and temperature limits, this material can theoretically be used in all manner of high-stress applications, from aerospace to metallurgy and nearly everything in between.
A host of other current and future practical uses for this technology open up untold opportunities for entrepreneurs in the manufacturing field, including 3D printed human organs custom made for transplant situations, as well as intricate electronic and mechanical components that will not require complex and time-intensive machining and mold dyeing.
For smaller companies, 3D printing allows them to compete with larger companies due to rapid prototyping, and lower startup costs. Rapid prototyping is a group of techniques that will allow you to quickly build and test a concept significantly faster than other methods that are only really suitable for larger scale projects. The other facet of 3D printing is that they can be used to create products designed for a specific person, and relatively quickly.
Self-driving (autonomous) cars
While Google’s announcement of their self-driving automobile program made headlines and created widespread public awareness of this technology in 2011, it was hardly the start of this technological goal.
In fact, nearly all the major car manufacturers around the world have had some sort of autonomous vehicle R&D program in place for decades. There has been a number of practical and technological barriers to releasing self-driving cars on a wide scale, but at this point in time, nearly all of those challenges have been met. Numerous studies and forecasts indicate we can expect to see self-driving cars become commonplace on our roads in the very near future.
This relatively small niche in the historically huge automotive manufacturing industry provides an exciting opportunity for entrepreneurs interested in introducing new and improved products to autonomous vehicles, or designing brand new modes of transportation based on the technology that makes them possible.
A recent Las Vegas gadget show highlighted numerous tech advancements in this space. These include improved radar and sensor equipment that is both more accurate and less expensive, improved wiring harnesses that allow the kind of high-speed data transfer needed for a self-driving car’s numerous sensors to communicate effectively, and updates to cybersecurity that can help protect these computerized vehicles from the dangers of hacking.
Could your product upgrade or enhanced tech be the next breakthrough?
The 7-nanometer chip
Advances in computing technology have long been accompanied by reduction in the size of the electronic components that make them possible. That’s why the first computers from the 1940s and 50s filled entire rooms and were still horribly slow in comparison to the incredibly powerful device you likely have in your pocket right now.
That sort of advancement is continuing with IBM’s announcement in 2015 of their development of a new semiconductor chip that contains transistors as small as 7 nanometers (or seven millionths of a meter). To put that in perspective, a strand of human hair is around 90,000 nanometers thick.
This new chip design would allow for equally powerful electronic components to fit in approximately half the size as what is commercially available today, or for twice the computing power to fit in the same form factor. While the technology will likely not be commercially available until next year, electronics manufacturers are already working on practical applications of this newest breakthrough in semiconductor design.
Our interconnected, always-on world is constantly opening up new opportunities for helpful gadgets and tools that can access the web and mobile devices with ease. Manufacturing entrepreneurs with an interest in consumer electronics now have an entirely new frontier to explore.
Joining the manufacturing revolution
In past decades, starting up a new manufacturing enterprise was a huge undertaking with a high barrier to entry. These days, however, partly due to tech advances like the ones we’ve been discussing, many of those barriers have fallen away and manufacturing can be scaled easier to match demand.
That makes this an excellent time to consider launching your dream, either by buying a manufacturing business or starting a new one from scratch. Whether you choose to invest in one of the above niches, another cutting-edge option, or take a new look at a more traditional manufacturing mainstay, the ongoing advancement of technology will undoubtedly play a large role in your success.