An overview of the five vital smart manufacturing technologies

10th March 2023
Paige West

Industry 4.0 is transforming how manufacturers operate and providing them with more opportunities to focus on strategic parts of the business. This is because smart manufacturing technology, like artificial intelligence (AI) and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), allows modern manufacturers to operate more efficiently.

Manufacturers can deploy smart manufacturing technology to automate operations and make data-driven decisions. A staggering 72% of manufacturers are currently implementing Industry 4.0.

Eric Whitley, Director of Smart Manufacturing at L2L, looks at five vital smart manufacturing technology solutions driving digital transformation in the manufacturing industry:

AI and machine learning (ML)

AI and ML can collectively process data, identify patterns, and provide valuable insights. AI can also be used outside analytics – AI-based computer and machine vision can use data to derive insights from video.

For example, Microsoft HoloLens can improve technician support and increase production through mixed reality environments.

Over the coming years, AI will be used even more in the microprocessors of IoT devices, especially as AI prices continue to drop.

Various studies have shown how AI and ML can add value to your processes. McKinsey explains how companies that use Machine Intelligence (MI) achieve three to four times the impact of their peers:

The average improvement companies achieve using AI and ML.



IoT connects smart manufacturing devices like sensors, machines, and robots over a wireless network. Using an IIoT system (an IoT system deployed on a factory floor) helps with predictive decision-making to make processes more efficient.

For example, say you’ve connected an accelerometer with a programmable logic controller (PLC).

When the machine’s vibrations breach a predefined threshold, the PLC system signals the machine to shut down. Thanks to IIoT, you can proactively prevent machine failure by performing repairs and maintenance on time. 

Additive manufacturing

Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, is revolutionising how manufacturers produce prototypes.

Modern additive manufacturing technologies like HP’s MultiJet Fusion can help produce prototypes – as well as functional parts – with high tensile strength (PA12 filaments) in record lead times.

While we’re not quite there yet, experts predict that 3D printing will be used in mass production in the future. The 3D Printing Ceramics 2022-2032: Technology and Market Outlook report supports this idea – the report forecasts that the ceramic 3D printing market could grow sevenfold by 2032.

Large companies are investing in 3D manufacturing already. For example, General Motors has invested in multiple Stratasys FDM 3D printers over the past two years. The company uses these printers for prototyping as well as production.

Cloud computing

Cloud computing enables you to store IoT data on offsite servers where AI and ML algorithms can process that data. Using Cloud computing ensures remote access and increases data security.

Cloud computing has been around for a while, and many companies are already using Cloud computing technology to reach their digitisation goals.

For example, General Electric started using Amazon Web Services (AWS) as early as 2014. General Electric uses over 2,000 cloud-based apps and 55 AWS services across various industries like healthcare and renewable energy.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR)

The most common use case for AR and VR is more immersive employee training. For example, mixed reality devices can provide employees with instructions in real-time – e.g., when they’re on the shop floor – significantly reducing the time and money you’d need to invest in training.

Think about it: you'll need to train employees when you’ve re-engineered a process to improve efficiency. However, AR and VR devices can prompt employees as they perform a process, just like a software solution guides you with step-by-step directions when you use it for the first time.

Companies are already seeing positive results from AR and VR technology. For instance, the Forrester Total Economic Impact (TEI) report reveals that HoloLens 2, an AR headset, delivers a 177% average return on investment and can reduce training time by 75%.

Given AR and VR’s potential return on investment, companies like Toyota have been using these technology solutions for a while. Toyota has used HoloLens for complex repairs, faster training, and to make its inspection process more efficient.

The company requires the coating film’s thickness on each car to undergo a strict inspection process. Inspecting just one car generally took two people a day to complete, but with HoloLens, one person can complete the inspection in two hours.

The digital future of manufacturing

Industry 4.0 is a manufacturer’s ticket to production efficiency. The future of manufacturing will involve deploying various digital solutions and devices – including manufacturing execution systems (MES), IoT devices, and computer maintenance management systems (CMMS).

Using multiple technology solutions, devices, and software solutions poses one key challenge: the lack of interoperability. To fully tap into the power of Industry 4.0, manufacturers need to proactively rely on standards like the ISA-95 so that their machines and digital solutions can connect and communicate without friction.

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