Smog and smoke-filled skies have long been the portrayed image of industry but that’s all changing. Beneath that popular stereotype is a plethora of innovation as new technologies are replacing those of yester-year, paving the way for the future factory.
Technology And The Future Factory
Technology is advancing across all major sectors and that means changes aplenty. Already, modern factories have introduced new technologies in aid of the advancement of the manufacturing sector future where workers collaborate with robots.
The future factory may be closer than you think as companies are switching from manual production lines to automated assemblies. At the same time, advanced software is providing valuable data which can be used to develop better insights into manufacturing operations.
All of this forms part of a final push towards entering the fourth industrial revolution. However, we must not forget the pivotal role of human operators collaborating with machines to ensure a successful production.
The Age Of Smart Factories
As we enter the age of automation, a popular term comes to the fore and that is ‘smart factories’. It may have a different meaning to people in different sectors but at the core, it’s the digitisation and automation of manual processes. The manufacturing sector has changed drastically especially if you consider how many manual processes are now automated.
Most modern facilities are already smart factories, at least in some shape or form. The adoption of automated picking and packaging machines, for example, are already operational ensuring that production deadlines are met. These advanced systems will also help improve the consistency and quality of the end product.
The secret to success for the future factory? Well, it starts with manufacturers creating the right balance between automation, robotics and IIoT. Once they achieve this, manufacturers will be more efficient and resilient which are quintessential for survival in an increasingly competitive market.
Replacing PLCs With Robotics
Continuing in the food and beverage sector, there’s been a dramatic shift from using the traditional Programmable Logic Controller (PLC). The demand for multi-robot picking lines has skyrocketed which is fast replacing PLC-based architectures.
These new ultra-high-performance motion and robotic controllers also have PLC sequence capability which makes them the perfect all-rounder. Here are some of the many characteristics and benefits:
- The new systems are smaller, more flexible and easier to integrate with existing applications
- They offer increased performance and a faster ROI than traditional solutions
- They offer full IIoT connectivity while providing invaluable digital tools for remote tracking, monitoring, optimisation and remote services
- Greater saving in low-cost labour as automation and robotics can take over repetitive tasks
- It increases the minimum wage
- Allows a much bigger focus on health and safety
IIoT Will Improve Productivity Of The Future Factory
Whilst ultra-high-performance motion and robotic controllers are certainly making an impact, IIoT has played an increasing role over the last few years. Among others, it’s proven to be effective at improving the uptime and productivity of automated production lines.
Other accompanied technologies that have added tremendous value include secondary sensing, predictive maintenance, monitoring, analytics and artificial intelligence. But, there is one specific technology that has everyone talking and that is augmented reality (AR).
Augmented Reality In The Factory
Considering maintenance staff spend up to 50% of their time searching for information, augmented reality can make their lives a whole lot easier (and more productive). AR will ensure that they have the right information at the right time and place without any complications. AR has countless benefits for the future factory floor including the following:
- HUD (heads-up display) of real-time production data and KPIs
- Provide information on faults, giving operators visual guidance on where it is and how to fix it
- Improved operational efficiency
- Superimpose data and virtual objects onto a cabinet, machine or even the entire factory floor
- Reduced downtime and improved overall equipment effectiveness (OEE)
- Guide operators through setup and safety checks
There is no doubt that augmented reality will revolutionise the manufacturing sector and it’s not that far away. To stay ahead of the game, businesses must seriously consider adopting AR to reap the benefits.
Co-bots And IoT In The Future Factory
Co-bots are known as collaborative robots and have been in factories across the world for some time. They’ve already made a significant impact on the industry by taking on tasks that are too dangerous or complex for human operators. They are super adaptable and can quickly switch between different jobs while providing higher levels of accuracy, especially with repetitive tasks.
IoT sensors are one of the most advanced tools for the factory of the future. Production managers will have access to massive amounts of information thanks to the next-gen data capturing ability of IoT devices. They can then use special data-analytics software to extract key data points to find ways to improve daily factory operations.
Will Humans Still Be Part Of The Manufacturing Process?
The short answer is a resounding YES but it will require some investment in training or upskilling. Changing to a technologically advanced future factory does not only include new machines, robots and equipment but also a digitally-savvy workforce. The collaboration between man and machine will be essential to the success of Industry 4.0.
Companies need to train current staff with a knack for analytics and data science whilst employing new staff who meet the technological requirements. Even if several cutting-edge technologies are not quite at full-tilt yet, including 3D printing and AR, they have made massive strides in a very short space of time. It won’t be long before these are implemented in factories across the globe. If there was ever a time to invest in technology for the future factory, it is now.
As cheaper, smarter and more adaptable automation systems are more readily available, manufacturers must embrace new, ultra-high-performance motion and robotic controllers. They can no longer sit back and ignore IIoT technologies, including AR, as this will guarantee them falling far behind in their journey to create the perfect future factory.
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