Traditional production lines with robots that repetitively worked on pre-programmed information will be a thing of the past. Industrial robots of the future will run autonomously and coordinate seamlessly with the entire supply chain using technologies such as machine learning and AI (artificial intelligence).
Digital manufacturing will bring operational efficiencies to all aspects of the manufacturing industry – be it traditional (automotive, coal, electrical, etc) or high-end (miniaturisation, printed electronics, etc). According to a Boston Consulting Group (BCG) research, the share of tasks performed by robots across all manufacturing industries will increase to about 25% by 2025, from the current global average of around 10%. The wider adoption of robotics will boost productivity by up to 30%, generate a performance improvement of 5% year-on-year, and in general bring down the average manufacturing labour costs as well.
Among the notable examples of mass-scale automated manufacturing is Tesla’s Gigafactory in Nevada (USA). The unit has mobile robots called automated guided vehicles (AGVs) moving around, which are commonly being used in the manufacturing setting for moving items from one point to another. They are equipped with sensors and a laser system to help guide them. The Gigafactory is also equipped with robotic arms that assist humans in manufacturing the battery packs at the plant.
Smart factories are not a reality only in the West. In India, manufacturers are beginning to invest in automation and digital technologies to make their production, distribution, supply chain, and servicing functions more robust.
Manufacturers have started implementing digital technologies such as data analytics to optimize factory operations and develop a better quality of products using technologies such as 3D printing and laser sintering to remotely manufacture complex parts or embedded smarter sensors in machines to enable connectivity (Internet of Things).
Connected factories also help in addressing some of the fundamental challenges associated with a typical factory setup: revenue loss or efficiency because of frequent equipment failures, downtime, poor demand forecasting and capacity planning procedures, and inefficient processes. Using advanced analytics tools that merge with the collective digital infrastructure of connected factories, manufacturers can glean complex data sets which can be used to identify the gaps in the production processes and drive efficiency in operations.
And additionally, critical customer experience data from the connected products can be put to use for diagnostics and designing future products.
While fully-connected connected factories will take few more years to see widespread adoption, progressive manufacturers are working towards becoming digital enterprises for driving growth, profitability, innovation, and customer engagement. Manual processes will experience a decline, while technologies such as radio frequency identification (RFID), barcode scanning, real-time location systems (RTLS), etc. are expected to be deployed at a large scale, especially in areas such as asset tracking.
Solutions around the smart glass-based hands-free warehouse-picking technology are also gaining momentum. These are designed to streamline the speed and accuracy of the picking process and have shown to reduce the time workers need to interact with handheld scanners. While interacting with AR (augmented reality) glass and the built-in intelligence one knows where to go. This minimises the errors and expense.