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Manufacturing has historically been full of proprietary solutions and systems that people cannot modify once they own them. However, an emerging movement called open manufacturing could change that.
You’ve probably heard of open-source software. Its license allows the copyright holder to grant usage rights to people so they can modify, enhance, study or distribute the software or its source code for any purpose. Plus, people often develop open-source software collaboratively, filling each other in on vulnerabilities or improvements.
Open manufacturing is similar in many ways because it’s partially based on and borrows principles from open-source software. It also focuses on democratizing production rather than restricting it to certain parties or companies. Here’s a closer look at why open manufacturing could cause substantial and long-term changes to how work happens and who participates.
1. It Could Give People More Control Over Connected Assets
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is gaining ground in manufacturing facilities worldwide. However, as these companies become more connected, their cybersecurity risks also increase. Some of the issues occur because the IIoT systems operate with proprietary protocols. Moreover, the providers of this technology don’t always give purchasers explicit details about how their products should behave. Such information makes it easier to determine if something’s going wrong and if an ongoing cyberattack could be the culprit.
The people associated with the United Manufacturing Hub initiative hope to positively influence how manufacturers use their IIoT assets. They believe the lack of interoperability with many devices limits the fourth industrial revolution from reaching its full potential. They want to put the information from connected devices directly into the hands of the engineers setting up those systems at manufacturing plants.
Details are scarce on the project’s webpage so far. However, it says the United Manufacturing Hub will help users build an IIoT infrastructure that’s scalable and secure. The resulting implementation would be standardized and free from vendor lock-in restrictions.
Also, because knowledge-sourcing is a big part of this project, manufacturers may find they can reduce personnel costs and accelerate troubleshooting. The website does not have further details, but it mentions that people can become members of the United Manufacturing Hub on a subscription basis and get licenses for unlimited technical support.
Related data showed the organization has over a dozen customers so far, along with more than a dozen associated projects. This work remains in the very early stages, so it’s challenging to predict how things might pan out. In any case, the broad vision of improving IIoT utilization to enhance Industry 4.0 sounds promising and worthwhile. The IIoT has a primary role in spurring industry transformation. Projects like this one could make the progress even more notable.
2. It Could Speed the Production of in-Demand Items
Research suggests there will be 24.1 billion connected devices worldwide by 2030. However, for that projection to come to pass, global supply chains must be able to produce the sensors and other advanced components these products need to function.
Open manufacturing supports efforts such as Makerspaces, where people come together in informal but purposeful environments to create and innovate. An academic paper also explored the willingness of current manufacturers to partner with Makerspaces and share their intellectual property there to spark new ideas and development. The results showed that manufacturers and participants were on board with the idea, although the specifics of such arrangements need further investigation.
Semiconductors are among the products most often cited as being in short supply. That’s largely because so many items need them to function. However, Google’s getting involved with the open manufacturing movement by leading a group of partners. They’ll collectively provide open-source solutions for semiconductor professionals, which will allow designing, verifying and testing chip designs. Once users are satisfied with the results, they can have the semiconductors made for free.
Ultimately, people at Google and the other companies involved in this effort believe it will help semiconductor startups, universities, and other outlets reduce the design and production costs usually associated with chip manufacturing.
3. It Could Tackle Staffing Needs
Statistics from 2021 reveal there could be 2.1 vacant manufacturing positions by 2030. That’s worrisome, especially because some of the shortages occur after people leave the workforce due to retirement. It can take a while to recruit new employees plus give them the training they need to succeed.
Open manufacturing is not a cure-all for the staffing shortage issue, but it could certainly alleviate some of the strain. People’s definitions of it are fluid. However, some say it ideally allows people from all backgrounds and skill levels to assist with production. In such cases, any perceived barriers to entry for manufacturing jobs are reduced, and people find they can contribute to production in ways beyond what they previously imagined.
The fact that open manufacturing relies on information sharing can help workers, too. Many open-source software titles have user forums and knowledge bases that anyone can access to get quick help with almost any query imaginable. Someone new to manufacturing could find similar resources from industry veterans, helping them feel confident in their role and know they always have somewhere to turn for help.
4. It Could Reduce the Cost of Essential Goods
Beyond the supply chain challenges that can make certain products difficult to source, obstacles come into play when people in developing countries need costly and specialized equipment. Open manufacturing could eliminate the need to buy such items from distant providers, allowing people to make the goods locally and for a more reasonable price.
Many open manufacturing efforts focus on producing items with equipment that’s increasingly easy to obtain, such as a 3D printer. One academic paper explored the feasibility of using a 3D printer to create a table used to treat people with orthopaedic fractures. That product normally costs $200,000 to buy new. However, printing could cost less than $3,000 in material costs.
The people involved in this investigation used an open-source 3D printer and software licensed for free distribution. They made a surgical table that did not require electricity to operate but allowed users to adjust it depending on the height of the surgeon or the procedure performed. The team tested the finished table and verified its capabilities were similar to commercially available models.
They concluded that people could build this table in the same location that they use or repair it. In addition to the 3D printer, individuals only need readily available hand tools to create it. The significantly reduced cost, excellent usability and ability to make on-demand make this achievement well worth further research, especially in areas where medical supplies and other essential goods are scarce.
Open Manufacturing Is a Promising Option
It could take a while for open manufacturing to become mainstream. However, even in these early stages, the possibilities and achievements give people plenty of reasons to hope and expect that better things are on the horizon.