The potential of quantum computing for manufacturing

Author : Neil Ballinger | Head of EMEA | EU Automation

01 June 2022

Imagine looking for a needle in a haystack by examining each individual piece of hay. What if you could analyse the entire haystack at once, reducing the time to locate the needle drastically? This is what quantum computing can do compared to conventional computing. Quantum computing could accelerate drug development, enhance encryption security, improve AI (artificial intelligence) & more. But how could it benefit the manufacturing sector?

A version of this article was originally featured in the June 2022 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. And sign up to receive your own copy each month.

Here, Neil Ballinger, Head of EMEA at industrial automation parts supplier, EU Automation explores the future of quantum computing for manufacturing...

Traditional computing represents information using a series of bits, where each bit is assigned either a one or zero. Quantum computing, on the other hand, represents information in quantum bits, or qubits. Each qubit can stand for an infinite number of states between one and zero.

In comparison to conventional computers, quantum computers can therefore process a far more substantial range of values concurrently. This means that quantum computers can solve even the most computationally intensive problems much faster than classical computers. Quantum computers will be capable of outrunning even the most sophisticated supercomputers, and potentially solving issues currently unsolvable.

“It’s important to remember that comparing a classical computer to a quantum computer is essentially like comparing a candle to a lightbulb, or a bicycle to a jet plane,” explained Vishal Shete, Head of Quantum Value Creation at management consulting firm, Sia Partners. “Quantum computing is a completely new paradigm shift that opens up a range of possibilities”.

The benefits for manufacturers
The application of quantum computing could open up infinite possibilities in a variety of fields, including manufacturing. The use of quantum computing could help create high energy-dense batteries, materials with greater strength-to-weight ratios, and more efficient synthetic and catalytic processes.

However, these are not the only benefits quantum computing could have on the manufacturing industry — the technology could provide benefits throughout the manufacturing design, control and supply chain cycle.

Quantum computing could improve the way manufacturers design products. Currently, computer simulation plays a crucial role in product design and pre-testing. However, using computer simulations, safety margins can accumulate, causing product weight differences and higher cost products. If quantum computing was to replace conventional computer simulations, calculations for individual components’ paths, noise, vibrations and system loads could be inputted, increasing precision and accuracy. This would likely optimise the manufacturing of individual parts, while still considering the overall system and reducing the impact of numerous safety margins. This would allow manufacturers to lower costs, without sacrificing the performance of the system.

And product design is not the only part of the manufacturing process that could benefit from quantum computing. Manufacturing control processes can  be complex, often testing the limits of advanced analytics. Combining quantum computing with machine learning could mean faster optimisation runs. This combination could allow manufacturers to go beyond the current limitations of classical computing, by analysing additional interactive factors and processes to increase production yields.

Using quantum computing for supply chain and logistics would also enable the transformation of the manufacturing supply landscape. Its application could optimise vendor orders, lower operational costs, reduce lost sales and improve accompanying logistics, using dynamic real-time decision making. Quantum computing could prove the perfect addition to the digital supply chain toolbox of Industry 4.0.

Despite the benefits of quantum computing, this technology could also impact current encryption systems, having the capacity to break all current encryption models, posing an existential threat to the internet, e-commerce, e-banking and mobile data as we currently know it. However, there is ongoing research into developing encryptions that quantum computers cannot break. Instead of looking at quantum computing as a threat to the digital world as we know it, it’s important that manufacturers focus on its potential to revolutionise processes, while keeping an eye on new developments in cybersecurity that would allow them to safely implement this technology.

There may still be a long way to go, but quantum computing is set to become a key instrument for manufacturers. This technology could provide a clear edge to those ready to adopt a quantum future.

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