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Five technology trends to look out for at MACH 2018

The forthcoming MACH 2018 show, from April 9 – 13 at the NEC, couldn’t be better timed. UK manufacturing has produced its longest run of expansion for 20 years, supported by stronger global growth and the post-Brexit referendum fall in the exchange rate. Delegates therefore head to MACH in an upbeat mood, with the event expected to welcome a record-breaking 25,000 visitors across the five-day period.

MACH also takes place at time of technological transformation. A confluence of mega-trends is leading to the emergence of leaner and smarter manufacturing environments, with a focus on advanced capabilities such as collaborative supply-chains and mass-customisation. Here, we highlight five exciting technology trends which are likely to dominate discussions when the show opens its doors.


1. Digital factories – less talk more action

Internet of Things, cyber-physical systems, the fourth industrial revolution – the list of buzz-phrases outlining the digitalisation of manufacturing is as long as your arm. Most of these terms have been around for a long time now and are well understood. But there has been less visibility around how these technologies and processes are actually applied inside plants, and the bottom-line benefits they can deliver. Expect MACH exhibitors to spend less time explaining the theory behind digitalisation, and more time outlining both the operational and financial benefits that it can bring.


2. Preventative maintenance – a glimpse into the future

Perhaps the single biggest application of Internet of Things-enabled architecture in an industrial setting is preventative maintenance. By infusing sensor-based intelligence into physical objects, valuable data can be gathered around pressure, temperature, vibration, acoustics and so on, giving manufacturers far better visibility of the performance of their assets. Now, in the new world of machine learning and real-time analytics, enterprise asset management platforms can give businesses a complete view of their equipment - from a single seamless platform – right across the factory floor. MACH is likely to see much talk of how this new capability brings the potential for smarter factories based on preventative maintenance and predictive methodologies.


3. Collaborative robots – getting up close and personal

Traditionally, life as an industrial robot has been a lonely affair: enclosed behind protective guards, far away from human contact. Now though all that’s changed. Collaborative robots (cobots) - robotic arms which can physically interact with human operatives in a shared workspace - are all the rage. These soft-skin cobots come with a collision stop, push back and anti-trap functionality, meaning they can work hand-in-hand with humans in a safe and predictable manner. The benefits are manifest: closer contact between humans and robots can provide a more flexible automated solution, boosting production efficiency and making the most of valuable space on the shop-floor. The latest generation of cobots, which can lift payloads weighing as much as 35 kg, are truly innovative technology solutions that are sure to get visitors talking.


4. Additive manufacturing – finally coming of age

Additive manufacturing has moved from the margins to the mainstream and is finally delivering on its promise. The ability to ‘print’ components has become a familiar process for rapid prototyping. And now with the development of more advanced engineering materials, it has developed into a credible means of producing fully functional parts. The latest generation of Selective Laser Sintering production 3D printers, for instance, can produce ready‑to-use components and complete assemblies for a variety of aerospace, automotive and medical use cases. With a range of production-grade materials from which to choose, these machines bring versatility to applications from functional prototyping to direct 3D production. Expect MACH to have a heavy focus on the advantages of additive manufacturing, from greater design freedom through to shorter lead times and a reduction of waste.


5. Supersonic cars – designing for extreme environments

MACH has evolved from a traditional ‘exhibition’ to a fully rounded knowledge-focussed event, with a range of networking and engagement sessions for delegates to enjoy. Topping the bill at its conference this year will be representatives from Bloodhound SSC, the high-technology project to build a car that will break the 1,000mph barrier and set a new world land speed record. Bloodhound is, essentially, an engineering project, and the car is a testbed of highly innovative design and manufacturing. Take the vehicle’s nose – primarily made from carbon fibre, but with a tip produced separately from titanium using 3D printing techniques. A laser melting machine using an additive manufacturing process was used to fuse together very thin layers of powdered titanium to form a strong but light hollow shape. Bloodhound is a telling example of how engineers can design for extreme environments, and a presentation from its pilot, Andy Green OBE, is sure to pack in the crowds.


For more details on MACH 2018, visit the event’s website here.  


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Lee Hibbert, Industry Analyst and Content Director, Technical Associates Group (Editor of Professional Engineering, February 2010 - January 2016)

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