Towards utopian factories

If you are in manufacturing, you know change is heading your way: or at least the possibility of change. Perhaps visions of factories populated by autonomous vehicles delivering parts and sub-assemblies across the shop floor, or robots working alongside human operators are too fanciful. What about immersive technologies?

Whatever the utopian vision of manufacturing, for many, Industry 4.0 and IIoT bring upheaval, uncertainty and change. Sadly, for many organisations, uncertainty and change do not sit well strategic decision making.

In a recent article, Barry Weller, Product Manager at Mitsubishi Electric provides his view on what industry should expect. How automation companies and system integrators can help organisations to make change happen.

Connectivity is an essential requirement for the current changes we are experiencing in the industrial landscape. Machines, operators, departments and customers linking to improve responsive production decision making.

The more challenging, aspects of future factories are the ones where technologies intersect. For example: augmented reality; virtual reality; artificial intelligence; cloud processing and edge computing. In practice, these different technologies are complementary, and work well together.

Furthermore, immersive technologies, such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR), can boost their effectiveness. Their use is intuitive, and by applying AI concepts to process data and the generation of information received, both practical and pertinent. At the same time, the improvements in immersive technology and AI need unprecedented processing power. That in-turn benefits from the use of edge computing to perform data mining and analysis at high speed and bandwidth with low latency.

A good example of this interdisciplinary approach is Mitsubishi Electric’s cloud-based robot solution interfacing to IBM Watson AI platform for predictive maintenance. It uses predictive maintenance models and simulations on the robot’s actual usage and wear characteristics. It provides information on the robot’s condition and future maintenance requirements. Maintenance tasks to perform are then provided to the engineer by various means, from traditional HMIs or SCADA systems. Delivery can also be to AR using smart glasses or by interfacing to mobile devices such as tablets and phones.

 

Immersive technologies create new physical systems.

These recently introduced automation solutions and immersive technologies clearly show how many factories will soon operate. Moreover, they prove how a holistic approach to digital technologies is practicable. Linking manufacturing with customer demand supports development of new methods for production management. It increases transparency for ERP and supports the next level of human/robot interaction on the shop floor. These innovations don’t just help us attain a future ideal of a factory. They improve the everyday operation of plant and make industrial processes more cost-effective. They reduce production costs, increase output, and provide flexible, customisable production systems.

Finally, underlying these trends are new ways of collecting, handling, and manipulating data. Future manufacturing must start by considering how it will achieve this in their industrial strategy. As one of the UK’s leading Automation suppliers, BPX works closely with Mitsubishi to ensure smooth delivery of its immersive and other automation technologies.