Technology Speeds Change of Thermal Processing
Why is it that some technologies seem slow to get traction and others move at light speed? We contend that every technology has a life cycle that includes both slow and fast motion. How might today’s speeding technologies impact our businesses?
Let’s use photography as an example of this type of change. Did you know digital cameras were invented in 1975? The technology took time to develop (no pun intended), and Kodak still employed 170,000 people and sold 85% of all photo paper worldwide in 1998. Once digital technology developed to the point that it became superior to film, it went mainstream in just a few years. As a result, Kodak’s business model disappeared, and they went bankrupt.
This type of movement is called exponential technologies. What technologies may be poised to go exponential and affect the way we do business? I have never been known for having a crystal ball, but we can speculate and make some educated guesses. Several of these things have been in the news recently, and you have seen increasing coverage by Industrial Heating. A few technologies that are beginning to move exponentially are artificial intelligence/robots, autonomous and electric cars, and 3D printing (additive manufacturing).
In our editorial last January, we described these things as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This year, we are discussing the Exponential Age of this revolution.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
It is predicted that software will disrupt most traditional industries in the next 5-10 years, and our industry is certainly traditional. Computers are already taking over some of what lawyers have historically done, which is already affecting job prospects for young lawyers. It is anticipated that computers will become more intelligent than humans by 2030.
The Internet of Things (IoT) has developed with AI, and both are moving exponentially. Simply, the IoT is the network of connected devices. In time, nearly everything will be connected in such a way that we can access and control devices with our cell phones. This will make us less dependent on experts like doctors, with devices such as the Fitbit® helping us to be healthier. Just today, I read about a phone app (HemaApp) that monitors blood hemoglobin using the phone’s flash.
In high-temperature thermal processing, AI and the IoT are impacting the way we do temperature surveys and perform maintenance. Articles on both of these subjects recently ran in Industrial Heating. For more IoT discussion, check out this month’s editorial on page 10.
In our editorial last January, we provided some discussion of this topic, which is still very applicable. Use the link provided to gain some needed perspective on robots.
Having said that, I believe robots are also beginning the exponential phase of their growth. It has taken a long time to get them to this point, but software and AI has developed the technology to the point of making collaborative robots nearly main-stream. Cobots, as they are called, are a part of our industrial future. How will this fact change our companies in the coming years?
Autonomous and Electric Cars
Self-driving cars will be available to the public for the first time in 2018. Why is this important to the high-temperature industry? Many heat treaters have a lot of business in automotive, and the next decade could bring exponential change to the industry.
One scenario is that as autonomous cars gain in popularity, individuals will not buy a car because you can have one pick you up anywhere and anytime. This will require fewer cars in private hands. This disruption in the automotive industry will likely result in less parts needing heat treatment. No doubt many of these autonomous cars will be electric, which would result in fewer conventional cars with parts needing heat treatment. It’s quite possible that many car companies could go bankrupt as did Kodak.
I’ll add here that one of the reasons for more electric cars being produced is that electricity will become cheap and clean. Why? Solar power (for one) is on the exponential curve. Last year, more solar energy was installed worldwide than fossil-fueled.
Like the digital-camera example, 3D printing/AM was invented in 1983. While it is still not mainstream, it is beginning its exponential move. The price of the cheapest 3D printer has gone from $18,000 to $400 in a decade, while the printing itself has become orders of magnitude faster. It is predicted that 10% of everything being produced will be 3D printed by 2027. How might this disrupt thermal processing? Be sure to stay on top of the latest AM developments through our enewsletters, including 3D Printing Report.
Technologies to Watch
From any point in time it is difficult to determine when exponential movement is on the horizon for a given technology, but here are a few things in the news that may affect our industry.
Many believe CO2 will destroy humanity with its impact on climate. While I am not in that camp, our industry is a significant producer of this plant-food gas. Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory recently discovered a chemical reaction to turn CO2 into ethanol.
Materials will continue to be integral in many technological advances. Road and Track recently ran an interesting story discussing technologies that may be used in future vehicles. Vantablack is a coating made of billions of hollow carbon tubes the width of an atom. It is said to be the darkest material in existence.
Carbon nanotubes may also be reaching the exponential phase of its technology. Small, ultra-lightweight, excellent for heat and electricity conduction and 20 times stronger than carbon fiber, it’s not hard to imagine automotive uses. How might materials like this or carbon fiber affect thermal processing?
Advanced high-strength steels and aluminum foam are two other examples given in the R&T article. Both are used for lightweighting and safety, and we have previously discussed both.
Technological developments are all around us. When each will hit their exponential stride is anyone’s guess, but there is no doubt that some of these technologies will disrupt our industry – in both good and bad ways. We will continue to report on these technologies though our magazine, enewsletters, social media and website. In some cases, we will report impact, but sometimes you will need to decide how the technology impacts your business. We are your media partner to help keep you in the know.