Future Factory: How Technology Is Transforming Manufacturing
July 13, 2020
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From advanced robotics in R&D labs to computer vision in warehouses, technology is making an impact on every step of the manufacturing process.
“Lights-out manufacturing” refers to factories that operate autonomously and require no human presence. Because they don’t need human supervision, they don’t require lighting, and can consist of several machines functioning in the dark.
While this may sound like science fiction, these kinds of factories have been a reality for more than 15 years.
The Japanese robotics maker FANUC has been operating a “lights-out” factory since 2001, where robots build other robots completely unsupervised for nearly a month at a time.
“Not only is it lights-out,” said FANUC VP Gary Zywiol, “we turn off the air conditioning and heat too.”
To imagine a world where robots do all the physical work, one simply needs to look at the most ambitious and technology-laden factories of today.
In June 2018, the Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com unveiled a fully automated storage and shipping facility in Shanghai.
The factory is outfitted with twenty industrial robots that can pick, pack, and transfer packages with no human presence or oversight.
Without robots, it would take as many as 500 workers to fully staff this 40K square foot warehouse — instead, the factory requires only five technicians to service the machines and keep them working.
As industrial technology grows increasingly pervasive, this wave of automation and digitization is being labelled “Industry 4.0,” as in the fourth industrial revolution.
So, what does the future of factories hold?
To answer this, we took a deep dive into 8 different steps of the manufacturing process, to see how they are starting to change:
Product R&D: A look at how platforms are democratizing R&D talent, the ways AI is helping materials science, and how the drafting board of tomorrow could be an AR or VR headset.
Resource Planning & Sourcing: On-demand decentralized manufacturing and blockchain projects are working on the complexities of integrating suppliers.