Technology Trends Beyond Nano and Biotech: Step into the Future Factory!
A look at new technologies and its applications – There have been dramatic changes in the world of manufacturing over the last two decades, gone are the days and years of noisy, dirty factories that relied on out-of-date tools and working practices being consigned to the history books. Even in cases of large scale engineering manufacturing, the work-place is noticeably cleaner and better organized. These changes have largely been driven by improvements in efficiency, higher quality goods and cost reducing methods.
How will emerging technologies and advances in traditional technology alter the future format and organization of the factory? With the widespread use of information and communications technology (ICT), which is creating a diverse blend of technologies and applications, attitudes to manufacturing are already shifting, including the way that the future workforce is developed and trained.
New and emerging technologies
The ubiquitous rise in the sophistication of ICT cannot go unnoticed. Processes can be monitored and controlled. Stock at both the input and output of a manufacturing process can now be tracked and the data can be used to maximize efficiency. The machines that are used in factories can have their condition continuously monitored and this can, and will, have big implications for reducing the cost of maintenance and down-time. This should also reduce the possibility of human error.
The design process itself has changed and there has been a large reduction in the number of staff. There has also been a variation in corresponding infrastructure. This could lead to increased home-working and specialized design teams, or companies, that serve several manufacturing units. References to ‘design’ will enter the vocabulary of engineers more frequently. It will become a part of more branches of engineering, which will no doubt have fairly profound effects on education at all levels.
Of the newly emerging technologies, biotechnology has been enhanced by new developments in systems and synthetic biology, followed by nanotechnology and its applications to materials, medicine, energy and other sectors. It is possible now to predict the need for a new type of factory that could possibly create and manipulate human cells.
In many aspects, biotechnology has already started to have a place on the factory landscape, but it has wide variability in size and scope. While there are already large scale operations that turn biocrops into non-food products and energy, there are also small scale factories, which have adopted advanced technologies that create pure enzymes, proteins and biomolecules for medicine and other purposes.
These activities will grow, despite public concerns about genetic modification. A common factor across these activities is the increasing importance of interdisciplinary activity and the increasing need for chemical and process engineers. One very likely new development is the development of ‘stem cell factories’ and later, possible ‘replacement organ factories’.