The one day, materialization of a new and innovative technology may seem to take place only in a distant future; the other day it could just be around the corner. Recently, World Economic Forum (WEF) released the Top 10 emerging technologies of 2015 and argued why these technological breakthroughs might become a reality soon. Below we highlight some of the top trends and their implications for the manufacturing industry.

#1: Zero-emission cars running on hydrogen

Although so-called “full cell” vehicles – or FCVs – are not yet visible on highways in large numbers, they might sooner become available for the mass market than previously speculated. Just like self-driving cars are in their developmental phase, cars running on hydrogen first need to be tested and improved. Once production takes place on a larger scale, the price of an FCV might go down drastically, making the innovative type of car more attractive to the consumer market. The advantage of vehicles running on hydrogen is that they do not emit damaging waste. On the downside, a challenge yet to be overcome is the lack of a hydrogen distribution infrastructure. If this challenge will be overcome and if the technology turns out to be a great success, traditional automotive manufacturers will need to look into new possibilities regarding full cell techniques in order to maintain their competitive edge.

#2:  From subtractive to 3D to 4D printing

3D printing technology advances incredibly rapidly. WEF notes that producing integrated electronic components by means of additive manufacturing will be an important next stage for 3D printing. Moreover, 4D printing techniques promise to bring a new generation of products to the market. These “smart objects” can alter their shape, size or color in response to environmental changes (i.e. temperature and humidity). According to Frost & Sullivan, 4D printing techniques will likely impact the automotive, aerospace and construction sectors in the next 4 years. Although the costs of this technology are currently too high for most companies, lower costs in the future might also push the envelope for SMEs. For now, especially large and medium-sized enterprises should stay up to date regarding developments in 4D printing. Deploying the techniques once they are available could help add some extra features to manufactured goods and vehicles that will distinguish the product from other creative solutions on the market.

#3: Distributed as opposed to centralized manufacturing

Whereas traditional manufacturing usually works in a centralized way (that is: products are manufactured in one factory and are from that location distributed to vending points or consumers), a current trend seen in goods production is distributed manufacturing. Distributed production comes with many advantages, like lower barriers to market entry, increased efficiency regarding use of resources, decreased capacity waste and reduced environmental impact of manufacturing. This type of manufacturing will stimulate local maker activity as enthusiasts possessing a 3D printer and those who have access to various local materials will be enabled to produce relatively low-cost goods that can more easily be adapted to consumer needs. As product tailoring is becoming increasingly popular, traditional centralized manufacturing may well become obsolete. This does not mean traditional manufacturers should fear losing their jobs. Partnering with local manufacturers could help a company thrive.