2019 has been a landmark year for Atlas Copco as it celebrated its hundredth year of operations in the UK. The past century has seen the continual development of revolutionary compressed air, vacuum and associated technologies, resulting in product innovations that have had a major impact on energy efficiency and manufacturing productivity in the industrial world.
Now, as a global player and industry leader, Atlas Copco is poised to take full advantage of the opportunities that exponential developments in 3D manufacturing techniques, digital technology, smart connectivity, and renewable energy concepts offer in its quest to expand market reach and secure future growth.
So, what are the company’s mega-trend predictions? It sees industry of the future operating in a cyber-physical environment as the result of completely rethinking the way assets and industrial processes work. A fifth, digital revolution, where companies can produce more smartly, more efficiently, more quickly, more safely, and more cleanly in an emission-free and resource-conscious eco-system.
These trends will affect the future of Atlas Copco’s core business activities and drive the development of new concepts, new product solutions and new markets.
As just one example, right now there is specific focus on advancing the progress of electrification for both static and mobile equipment to replace fossil fuel dependence and to reduce environmental impact.
Traditionally, equipment such as mobile compressors, generators, lighting towers and pumps have been driven by a diesel engine. With the rapid advances in battery technology providing greater capacity and faster charging times, it will be possible in the near future to make the switch to electrical power and see emission-free and near-silent units operating in urban environments. Furthermore, it is predicted that all components of Atlas Copco’s products will be recyclable or reusable.
These changes are increasingly evident within the automotive industry, where world-wide, Atlas Copco maintains strong associations with applications for its compressor and vacuum solutions. What’s more, well over half of its joining technology business area’s revenue stems from tools, equipment and process software involved in the assembly operations for some 75% of all cars in the world.
With the production of new generations of hybrid and electric vehicles in mind, Atlas Copco is looking forward to a leading role and further growth opportunities. These are most likely to stem from business in South East Asia − which already accounts for 35% of revenues – yet still offers substantial growth opportunities for all of Atlas Copco’s business areas.
While being recognised as a world leader in compressor technology, there is more to Atlas Copco’s role than supplying hardware. Its smart technology innovations are helping to prepare the way for the full digitisation of the manufacturing process, with data capture and communication key drivers in achieving process autonomy.
There have been significant developments in the timeline of compressor control and communication technology but the concept of adding intelligence to air compressors by connecting and enabling them to communicate over the internet is not new. Atlas Copco has over 120,000 connected compressors operating at more than 40,000 customer sites in the world – these are delivering more than 150 data measurements per second.
On a broader scale, the ultimate aim for digital connectivity is the development of a universal language of production inter-device communication, an achievement predicted to be commonplace within the next half century.
For a start, the rapid development of additive manufacturing processes would see some fundamental changes in the traditional means of production. In all probability, a consumer-driven approach that would allow for low-volume product customisation as a norm and the emergence of micro-factories sited locally to their markets.
Thanks to 3D printing, it may well be possible to maintain and repair industrial goods locally. For instance, if, in the future, a driver needs a spare part for his car, it could be produced directly in the garage closest to him, rather than being ordered from the main manufacturer or distributor. It is not inconceivable that the same concept could be used for compressor spare parts as well, shortening the time to repair.
In the future, the nature of Atlas Copco’s customers may evolve from the traditional applications it serves now to wholly new industry sectors. Fortunately, the company’s versatility will allow it to adapt to the needs of any new industrial scenario.
So, fast forward to 2119. How will this past century or, in fact, this era be defined? The digital revolution, the smart revolution? With the achievement of quantum supremacy claimed by Google back in 2019 – Sycamore, a 53-qubit processor that can perform a task in 200 seconds that would take a supercomputer 10,000 years –maybe it should be called the Quantum Revolution!