Could Smart Factories revolutionise manufacturing?
Are your company experiencing an acute labour crunch? Are you, as a consumer, always eager to try out newer gadgets? Well, smart factories are accelerating industrial automation like never before, achieving dramatically better productivity, flexibility and sophistication (in a good way, of course).
For manufacturers in today’s challenging business landscape, this can help mitigate rising production costs and improve quality, which has a cascading effect for all, including you and me. Just picture a shorter lead time for goods to hit the market, greater affordability, and added customer satisfaction.
The four stages of industrial revolution
The very first industrial revolution began with mechanisation via water and steam power, followed by the second one marking a new era of mass production. The latter was driven by the electrification of factories, as well as the introduction of assembly lines.
Then there was the third industrial revolution when machinery transited from purely mechanical to electronics, aided by widespread and rapid computerisation. Still, the best has yet to come with the fourth industrial revolution – also called Industry 4.0 – in its nascent stage. According to McKinsey, it promises to reshape the way things are made, through a confluence of new trends and technologies.
Robots deployed for car assembly
What you need to know about Industry 4.0
Industry 4.0 represents the coming of age of the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data and analytics in the manufacturing field. It fuels the rise of smart factories, where machines are fully digitised and interconnected, equipped with a barrage of sensors and sophisticated software. Giving machines, like robots, newfound intelligence, and self-awareness to not only operate autonomously, but also for the first time, dynamically interact with one another.
More importantly, with these enhancements, the machines can perform increasingly complex tasks and collaborate seamlessly, accurately predict failures and trigger maintenance processes, and even self-organise themselves in response to unexpected disruptions in the production line. A continuous stream of data also provides invaluable insights regarding the “health” of the smart factory, which can be collated and analysed to further streamline operating efficiency.
To really understand the concept of Industry 4.0, we will have to take a closer look at the world of advanced robotics.
Smaller, smarter and adaptive robots
Most early robots like those used for car assembly were huge, often brightly coloured and isolated in a dedicated production floor. This is because they are programmed to perform repetitive and simple tasks, where speed and precision are key considerations. Besides being highly specialised, they have minimal or no input about their surroundings, which can be a challenge in terms of workplace safety.
Fastforward today, industrial robots are notable smaller, smarter, and agiler like Omron’s Cobra, X-Scara, Hornet and Quattro series. Advancements in hardware and software solutions have also given them significantly enhanced abilities, filling jobs that require dexterity and a human touch. That said, there is an increased demand for robots designed to fill labour gaps, rather than replacing workers as seen from these trends.
Machine Learning – Instead of hardwired to a fixed program, robots can be trained using simulated neural networks to interpret images, videos, and audio, making it much easier to redeploy them for completely different tasks, and safer to operate alongside human workers.
Knowledge Sharing – By taking advantage of the Internet and Big Data, robots can teach each other new skill set, further accelerating their machine-learning journey. Furthermore, they can collaborate more seamlessly by sharing crucial information, now available in real-time too.
Visual perception – Giving robots eyes opens up many new possibilities. It elevates their detection capability to operate and navigate safely in a dynamic factory environment, gives them object and colour recognition function, facilities human-robot collaboration, and more.
Human-robot collaboration – Conceived to augment human workers, collaborative robots (co-bots) are highly adaptable, trainable and cost a fraction of their conventional counterparts. Above all, they incorporate a slew of safety features, from rounded surfaces to force-limited joints.
The latest and greatest in robotics
For the latest developments in industrial robotics, check out Manufacturing Expo 2016. At this trade show, Omron will be demonstrating its innovative robotics and panel solutions at Hall 102, booth 2H01. You can catch our Cobra and Lynx robots collaborating live in action, understand how we can be your trusted total solution partner in robotics and automation, and explore various exhibits from quality management to visualisation and safety solutions –developed to meet all your current and future business needs.
Smart factories and robotics are the future
There is no doubt that smart factories, leveraging advanced robotics, Big Data and other emerging technologies, are going to revolutionise the manufacturing industry. The question is, are you ready for the coming seismic disruption? Omron is well positioned to help manufacturers achieve greater operational agility and productivity. Please visit us at Manufacturing Expo 2016 to discover how your business can truly benefit from Omron’s latest industrial automation products and solutions.