The signs are here. Additive manufacturing is already demanding that users think differently. The Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence make the same demand.
In the next ten years, the question of whether additive-manufacturing machines can be used for production will be definitively answered. They will. Already, major vendors are introducing this next phase of additive manufacturing. Ten years from now, additive machines will handle large parts or five to ten meters routinely, and produce them quickly. But the quest to use these machines for mass production, replacing older subtractive technology, will be abandoned. Instead, additive machines will produce one-of-a-kind items efficiently, quickly, and at low cost.
Ten years from now we will have many engineers who will have grown up with today’s 3D printers, learning how to think differently, to think “additively.” The creativity of these engineers, in turn, will help advance the capabilities of additive machines even further. For example, not only will additive manufacturing machines print their own replacement and upgraded parts, they will do so for traditional manufacturing machines and processes.
And on top of that, additive technology will initiate an era of new materials, ones stronger, and engineered for specific purposes. Already some engineers are beginning to explore this possibility. Virtual reality will aid engineers in developing these materials as well as new products.
Concurrently, a form of what we call artificial intelligence will be in every machine, whether it’s for subtractive or additive processes.
Artificial Intelligence will usher in a huge development phase. The seeds of it are already happening as IoT connectivity is added to any and every device. The addition of “smarts,” courtesy of AI, makes every product new again. Instead of being viewed as intelligence with the potential to rival human capabilities, AI will be viewed more as “smartness,” and used to supplement a person’s need for information retrieval or storage.
The Internet of Things (IoT) will play a key role in this future. But, notes Kevin Kelly, author of The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future, the internet will be more of a web presence that you relate to rather than a “place,” (such as cyberspace) visited through a connecting device.
This combined AI/IoT will enable devices to diagnose themselves, upgrade themselves, and take over many functions and tasks employees handle now. A key skill for employees in the next ten years will be how well they work with all of this automation.
Between now and then, the need will be for software algorithms to develop this future. For example, algorithms and computation now do much of the work physical camera glass lenses used to do in today’s smart phones. As engineers learn to describe more actions through algorithms, such software will replace more physical devices.
Thinking, and in particular, thinking differently, will be the differentiator behind successful companies. Noted Kelly, “In a super-connected world, thinking different is the source of innovation and wealth.”
And see what our other editors said:
Paul Heney on Looking to the future of AI … in 2026.
Lee Teschler on how we’ll see robots building spacecraft in orbit.
Lisa Eitel on the coming age of driverless cars.
Mary Gannon on the future of STEM education.
Miles Budimir on Sorry, but technology won’t save us.