Pick up or browse any industrial publication and you can read multitudes of opinions that the United States is on the brink of the next Industrial Revolution. This may all be hyperbole, but since the end of the last economic downturn companies large and small have been searching for ways to compete in a global market.
With the change of power in the White House, and their decision to punish those companies that wish to seek lower manufacturing costs outside our borders, it will be even more imperative for manufacturing companies to squeeze their costs to the limits.
Daniela Costa of Goldman Sachs Research reported in her latest BRIEFINGS article, Factory of the Future: Beyond the Assembly Line, the ‘factory of the future’ will result in…a very significant change in business models for both manufacturers and equipment makers.
The ‘factory of the future’ will result in…a very significant change in business models for both manufacturers and equipment makers.Daniela Costa, Goldman Sachs Research
What does this mean for manufacturers and equipment makers?
She supposes that new technologies will drive companies to be more connected, flexible and more efficient.
Where does it start?
It starts before the first chip is cut, a wrench is turned, or a wire is strung.
Engineering and Industrial Design software have become so sophisticated that many companies are using these platforms to “build” and “test” their next product well before building any prototypes.
Some companies have replaced multiple prototyping parts and assemblies with photo-realistic renderings and simulations. They then produce a very small number of prototypes to test their products under “real world” conditions.
The heavy hitters in this industry – Adobe Systems Inc., AutoDesk Inc., Dassault Systemes, and Siemens to name a few – all have improved their products or added to their product line to include these features.
This process can also be used on the manufacturing floor. Tooling, part locations and movement, and assembly setups can all be simulated through software.
Even robot manufacturers are providing software solutions to allow either the integrator or end-user to simulate the robot within its workstation.
Flexible Factory Floor
At the end of the 21st century the term “Mass Customization” was a phrase used in many factories to easily allow the manufacturer to offer their customers products that could be configured in multiple ways without extended lead times.
This concept forced them to increase their production flexibility by being able to produce multiple products in the same factory floor space. Today, it is going well beyond what the concept ever intended.
Collaborative robots are working side-by-side with their human counterparts to increase the output of both while being highly flexible in their programming. They can be taught by traditional pendant means, but some can be taught just by moving the arm to where it needs to go and designating as an end-point. The user becomes the programmer.
Many companies collect factory floor data to calculate all types of metrics, but, in today’s Industry 4.0 revolution, data collection is going well beyond the calculations of on-time delivery, parts per minute and the like. It is also going beyond scanning bar-coded orders and scheduled preventative maintenance.
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) brings the power of data to create intelligent, autonomous networks throughout the value chain.
Just think, a level sensor in a parts bin provides the quantity remaining in the bin. This quantity data could drive an autonomous fulfillment cart to bring more to the station, and/or place a purchase order with the vendor.
A group of sensors – vibration, temperature, and the like – could be used in a machining center’s main controller to constantly monitor the health of the machine. If any or all are out of tolerance, the machine could notify a supervisor or contact a local service company to come and verify the issue.
Costs of Putting it All Together
Even though the cost of implementing these types of programs is not inconsequential, customers are demanding items they purchase to be better, delivered faster and cost less than even last year. However, how much does it cost to produce a prototype and how many of those initial prototypes resulted in an end product.
Software is not getting cheaper because the developers are stretching the bounds of programming. However, the small price paid for increments to productivity and time to market is immeasurable.
Sensor prices and the controllers/computers they are connected to are coming down in price as more people realize their importance. This is where equipment makers and manufacturers can realize the potential of this 4th revolution.
These improvements [pre-visualization, factory automation improvements, and data collection] could result in more than $500 billion in combined savings for manufacturers and customer.
Ms. Costa concluded, “These improvements [pre-visualization, factory automation improvements, and data collection] could result in more than $500 billion in combined savings for manufacturers and customer.”
If this value is close to being accurate, manufacturers must come to grips and re-evaluate their business models ─ and seek out ways to continue to compete in this current economic period.
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