There are many cutting-edge technologies that we are beginning to hear about that will affect the industrials sector beyond this year. In 2015, we are seeing several major trends that are dramatically impacting the sector including the internet of things, 3D Printing, Robotics and LEDs. While none of these things should be new to any of us, they are unquestionably causing more disruption and impact in 2015 than ever before.
The first cutting edge technology changing the industrials sector in 2015 is the Internet of Things, or IoT, by creating connected or smart environments for many different types of buildings and infrastructure. While the idea of having devices linked together is nothing new, the IoT has created the ability to do this with less capital, and with a simpler interface. While there is still a long way to go, connected buildings arguably became viral because of several factors including devices being addressed by individuals, cloud based capabilities and the interconnectivity of devices. Individually addressing devices is important in personal space within a larger shared area, such as a large open office. For instance, now everyone can individually address their lighting needs without having to adjust the full common area; each light can be individually addressed. Being able to connect these devices to the cloud allows for endless content capabilities. Finally, interconnectivity has been critical to improve the user experience; a single device or app can control HVAC, lighting, security, safety and many other things. IoT now provides indoor connectivity, outdoor connectivity, retail connectivity and city connectivity.
Next, 3D printing is becoming more and more widely adopted in many industries and the possibilities are limitless in terms of what other industries this technology will disrupt. In fact, it is hard to find an industry not impacted by this technology. The use of 3D printing is common in expected industries like electronics and automotive, and there are many unusual applications beginning to use 3D printing. For instance, a 3D gun has already been printed. Often, military equipment can be customized and replacement parts must be made quickly. Utilizing 3D printing will catch on in this industry shortly. Furthermore, 3D printing can be done in zero-gravity; there are now plans to begin using the technology on the International Space Station for printing tools, parts and other items. In common industries, 3D printing is widely used for product development and it is beginning to be used to replace manufacturing where it makes sense. There are many advantages to 3D printing over traditional manufacturing, the most important being its environmental impact; traditional manufacturing is often wasteful and dirty, while 3D printing can lessen the waste and carbon emissions. As the technology continues to speed up the process in a less expensive manner, we will see 3D printing as one of the most common manufacturing processes.
Next, when you consider the impact of IoT and 3D printing on the industrials sector, it is hard not to also look at robotics at the same time. In manufacturing, robotics can be the brains that utilize the core competencies of the previous two technologies with additional manufacturing benefits. Robotics are now utilizing more sensors, such as vision and force-sensing, to work with more delicate components, increase accuracy and ultimately drive down manufacturing costs. Robots, utilizing IoT technology, are now being programmed and monitored remotely. Being able to monitor remotely not only allows a facility to avoid any manufacturing shutdowns, but also enables the ability to monitor and improve efficiencies. Finally, the overall cost of robotics has dramatically decreased, providing further opportunity for industries to take advantage of this disruptive technology.
Finally, LEDs are completely transforming lighting as we know it. LED lighting now has shifted from ‘good enough’ for the early adopters, to performance and price points allowing for mass adoption. They are not only changing the performance and efficiency of lighting, but changing complete infrastructures. In the past when a high intensity discharge streetlight burned out, a truck would come along and replace the bulb that failed. It would not be unheard of to replace that HID lamp two or three times a year, sometimes more often. Now, the cost of an LED replacement, coupled with the enormous energy savings and the quality of light, the return on investment is down to one year, even less in certain cases. Now LEDs are the choice for retrofitting, and the retrofit is now removing the antiquated screw-based fixture from the streetlight pole and replacing it with an integrated LED fixture. This trend is not only catching on in exterior lighting, but industrial lighting and commercial lighting, while residential lighting is not far behind.
Beyond general lighting, LEDs are making an impact on other niche markets. LED penetration in automotive lighting is growing dramatically. Additionally LEDs are providing much needed light, both visible and invisible, ultraviolet light in industrial automation because of their robustness and longevity compared to traditional light sources. LEDs are also gaining tremendous market share in horticulture and agriculture applications. With LEDs, you can now grow most plants, including food bearing, indoors throughout the entire year. You can now tune the spectrum of your light to positively affect livestock moods, therefore increasing the throughput of the farms production. The applications for LEDs are growing daily and penetrating markets never before thought of.
Generally speaking, the cutting-edge technologies impacting the industrial sector can be looked at from a different perspective to see the true reasons why they are disruptive. Each of these technologies have blurred the lines of what the sector is and who is part of the value chain. LED light sources now have more in common with televisions than they do with incandescent or halogen lights. Tech giants have tried to bypass the traditional supply chain to treat it as an electronics appliance. This will continue to evolve as non-traditional manufacturers and applications continue to emerge because of LEDs. The same hold true for connected devices, 3D printing and robotics. Apple and Google will quickly gain tremendous footholds in the IoT realm by converting the value proposition in the software instead of the hardware. They are beginning to blur the lines between the industrials sector and the technology sector. We will continue to see each of these technologies grow exponentially through the rest of the year and into the future.