PAC Predictions 2021: Smart factory automation – more agility around production efficiency
The pandemic has not only revealed the vulnerability of supply chains, but also of factory operations. Massive shifts in demand, triggered by events like COVID-19, are a realistic scenario all of a sudden. This means that manufacturing companies have to be prepared to shift their production capacities even to totally different products that would normally be outside their scope – for example, from alcoholic beverages, fashion, or washing machines to hand sanitizer, face masks, and ventilators.
COVID-19 has triggered a shift in mindset in factory automation. In addition to production efficiency, agility is becoming much more relevant. In 2021, this will lead to more investments into agility-enabling technologies such as IoT (internet of things), AI (artificial intelligence), robotics, edge computing, AR (augmented reality), and 5G. An example are digital platforms that allow the efficient and agile sharing of programming code between different IoT-connected machines (e.g. machine tools). This gives factories more agility and efficiency, and a shared, cross-company industrial cloud can even be used to exchange applications across company boundaries. Leveraging AI to avoid complex reprogramming of robots is another topic.
This enables robots to learn much faster from workers’ gestures, or completely self-driven, by setting specific targets (e.g. grabbing or packaging) without complex programming of motion control. Connected worker solutions (e.g. based on AR and smart glasses) are another efficient way to give shop-floor workers more digitally enabled agility through digital work instructions, self-driven learning, and remote expert support. Digital quality control via image-based analytics allows for automated adaption of machines to ensure production quality.