Factories of the Future: Automation, Robotics, and Manufacturing
Automation is the biggest change manufacturing has ever seen. Manufacturing is constantly being presented with new unique challenges as the world surges forward with technological and innovative advances:
connectedness breeds a “need for speed” in production and delivery,climate change calls for “green” processes and packaging, the social media boom means anything from bad press to faulty items to recalls go viral quickly— highlighting a need for damage control policies. Manufacturing must be able to quickly adapt, act, and react at lightning speeds.
Sustainable practices are not limited to mechanical and machining practicalities. The human element must not be forgotten when thinking of the factory processes of the future. Appropriate training and education, safety requirements, ergonomics, and employee well being play a major role in maintaining the future of our factories, our manufacturing, and our economic infrastructure.
So what are the big players we need to be aware of when it comes to discussing the future of manufacturing and all it encompasses? Efficiency, connectedness, talent, processes, and of course, technology.
Efficiency in the future of manufacturing is an all-encompassing, almost holistic, contributor to the way factories will run. With a combination of technology, human skill, and interconnected systems, efficiency is the most sought-after “piece” of the manufacturing puzzle. Mechatronics, robotics, logistics and monitoring systems provide, and will continue to enhance, daily operations and production, while the efficiency in big-picture thinking will flow forward into factory and shop floor design and construction. Electronic efficiency will be seen as data mining, collection, and management software becomes increasingly customizable and used on-demand alongside innovations in online software as a service (Saas). Physical equipment with built-in user interfaces will continue to become more widespread as legacy equipment becomes obsolete, and the simplicity and intuitiveness of touch screens will assist both seasoned workers and newcomers as they do their jobs.
“Smart” is the buzzword that has taken over the tech world, usually used in conjunction with the “Internet of Things”(IoT). Pop culture is filled with coverage on everyday items that are now considered “smart” because they are Wi-Fi enabled and are usually accompanied with some sort of data-tracking app. This sort of IoT connectedness is turning from a personal luxury to a production necessity. Autonomous machines and large and small scale robots are connected to a hub in this way so their performance, production, and functionality can be monitored, and management can be quickly alerted to any failures or mechanical issues. We are moving towards factories that have their assets, inventories, and production lines designed to be configured, monitored, and maintained in synchronicity to support decision making, planning, and operations. As the legacy machines that are currently in operation across the globe fail and are replaced, they are replaced with connectedness in mind.
The lack of skilled workers is currently a massive, global problem in manufacturing, and it will only continue to grow as technologies are adopted into existing processes and the skills gap widens. Singapore has moved to pro-immigration strategies that prioritize work visas in the hopes of attracting more skilled manufacturing professionals. A 2012 initiative in India focused on the skills issue in innovation in science and engineering. The US is feeling the very same crunch, especially as its current workforce ages. The companies that conquer this will be the leaders of manufacturing in the future, and it will be done through the attraction, development, and retention of top performers.
The major, major driving force behind every aspect of industrial and manufacturing change is technology, from electronic circuit boards to robotics. As mentioned above, additive layer manufacturing (commonly known as 3D printing) is evolving in leaps and bounds, and is solidifying its place in manufacturing as the go-to method for producing prototypes, one-offs and specialized metal parts and components. Even “mundane” practices like painting are being disrupted by technology—the Airbus Group is now able to digitally project camouflage designs on to their military helicopters, giving workers a definite map to follow as opposed to painting freehand, resulting in more accurate design placement and shorter lead times. Robotics, as mentioned above, are taking menial and occasionally dangerous tasks from human hands, both as immobile caged devices and mobile units that can perform uniform quality checks (with less room for error than a human’s quality check) or even fetch stock, such as the autonomous rolling shelving in Amazon warehouses. Robotic exoskeletons are not just science fiction any more, either—manufacturers are embracing the idea of wearable robotic structures to help their workers lift impossibly heavy items without risk of injury or fatigue. And as personal electronics get thinner and smaller, so do the technologies behind them. Nanotechnologies require particular manufacturing processes, as do photonics, advanced materials, microelectronics, pneumatic storage devices, and many more.
These predictions and more are the current, mainstream ideas when it comes to discussing what the future of automation in manufacturing holds—but like technology, it is an ever-evolving conversation.
As a world leader in the repair and support of electronic and industrial parts and components for industrial manufacturing, Ensil is well-placed to experience the surge in automation in manufacturing first hand. We have front-row seats to its evolution, and we are uniquely positioned in that we are able to speak with manufacturers firsthand about their struggles and successes as they upgrade and enhance their facilities. This is a dynamic and exciting industry to be in as technologies continue to shape our workforce and economy.
Our constantly growing wealth of experience means that our expertise never stagnates, and lets us always offer our clients the best in repair and rework for the industrial manufacturing and electronic circuit board sectors. Contact us today to discuss how our electronics repair expertise can benefit you and your business.