It’s becoming more and more common to hear the term “smart factories”. These are places where machines and information systems work together and communicate with each other, which provides flexibility when it comes to anticipating the variability of the product. They are also staffed by versatile and experienced workers who interact with the equipment. In these factories, the data related to production results is captured, monitored and analysed on a live basis, and decision-making is also live.
By using smart control and management systems, they are able to “find out” where the product is in the production process, which materials have been used during assembly, which materials or processes are pending, whether deadlines have been met or there is a delay… And all of this takes place in real time without us having to be physically present in the factory. To put it another way, the products that are being manufactured increasingly contain a large amount of information.
A couple of months ago, we attended a talk which discussed how far the factories of tomorrow will have come. In addition to touching on the above, the talk went a little more in-depth and explained how the relationship between production equipment, systems and the internet will become increasingly vital.
Interestingly, the talk ended with a video which showed how some factories in Japan are introducing robots “with a humanoid appearance” into their assembly lines, interspersing them with employees. This video also showed us how the factory’s employees and robots practised Tai Chi together before starting their working day.
This talk reminded us of what IKOR was like 20 years ago… In the late 1980s and early 1990s, virtually all the processes were manual. Over the years, we have witnessed and gradually taken on board how these manual processes have been replaced by automated ones. First there were simple machines and very basic software. Then came production equipment which was connected to the network, enabling us to control this equipment from an external connection.
Now that the equipment been linked up to the network and thanks to the production lines being equipped with sensors, we are today able to monitor and control different areas of the factory. Nowadays, it’s safe to say that software and the connectivity of production equipment are as important as functionality.
With exception of robots doing Tai Chi, we can say that IKOR today is very close to the vision of a “smart factory” that was put forward during the talk.