Robots are particularly relevant for factories with complex manufacturing processes
Published on : Sunday 05-03-2023
Nicola Accialini, Freelancer, Consultant, Trainer and Author, Accialini Consulting.
Which are the three new technologies which would be interesting for factories to acquire and adopt? Why would it be attractive?
There are many new technologies that could be interesting for factories to adopt, but in my personal opinion three that stand out are:
1. Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) – not only IIoT can connect factory machines and devices to collect data in real-time, but can be use as solutions to track personnel and batches. Some of them are called Real-Time Locating Systems and represent a very affordable and effective solution. IIoT can help optimise factory logistic, improve OEE, reduce downtime, and enhance predictive maintenance.
2 Big Data Analytics (BDA) – sometimes called Machine Learning (ML) or Artificial Intelligence (AI), BDA overall can help factories optimise production processes, reduce costs, and improve quality control. BDA can analyse large amounts of data to identify patterns, detect anomalies, and make predictions. This can help factories make better decisions and improve their bottom line.
3. Additive Manufacturing (AM) – it can be used in several ways. It’s important to acknowledge that we can identify up to 7 different additive technologies and many different materials, therefore engineers should identify the best technology for their applications. AM can be used not only to produce final products, but also to reduce the industrialisation phase by developing AM fixtures and tooling.
Are there any factories where this IIoT movement will take longer to reach? What can be the reasons for this? What needs to be done to accelerate their journey?
Yes, there may be factories where the adoption of IIoT will take longer to reach. The reasons for this can vary, including factors such as the cost of implementation, lack of technical expertise or infrastructure, concerns over data security, and resistance to change.
To accelerate the journey of these factories towards IIoT, several actions can be taken, such as providing education and training to workers and management, investing in the necessary technology and infrastructure, developing and implementing clear data security protocols, and providing incentives for early adopters. Additionally, it may be helpful to involve industry experts and consultants to provide guidance and support throughout the implementation process.
There are two work areas – bringing raw materials into the factory, and movement of work-in-progress inside the factory – where there is much scope for automation. Which technologies are relevant in this area for different types of factories?
There are several technologies that are relevant for automating the movement of raw materials and work-in-progress within different types of factories. Here are a few examples:
• Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) – These are self-guided vehicles that can transport materials and products within a factory. AGVs can be particularly useful in factories with a high volume of repetitive material movement, such as automotive or food production. There are different types of AGVs, depending for example on their navigation technology. It’s important to acknowledge the best solution depending on company’s needs
• Conveyor systems – Conveyor systems can be used to move raw materials and products along a production line. This technology is particularly useful for factories that have a continuous production process, such as those in the packaging or logistics industry.
• Robotics – Robots can be used for a wide variety of tasks, from loading and unloading raw materials, pick and place operations to assembling products. This technology is particularly relevant for factories with complex manufacturing processes, such as those in the aerospace or electronics industry.
• UWB, RFID and BLE – we previously mentioned RTLS, which make use of UBB, RFID or BLE tags. These technologies are used to track the movement of materials and products within a factory. They can be particularly useful for factories that need to maintain strict inventory control, but I strongly believe that due to the affordability of such solutions, any factory should adopt it.
Overall, the choice of technology will depend on the specific needs and requirements of each factory, as well as the available budget and resources. It is important for factory managers to carefully evaluate the available options and choose the technology that will provide the most significant benefits in terms of cost savings, efficiency, and quality.
Inspection and quality are a very important topic. It is no longer just good enough to execute these functions rigorously, now it is a necessity to show off that it is being done. In other words, customers might wish to view that inspection and quality check are being executed.
That’s correct, inspection and quality are critical topics for many industries, and it is becoming increasingly important to demonstrate that these functions are being executed. Customers may have high expectations for the quality of products and services they receive, and they may also want to ensure that the companies they work with have robust quality management systems in place.
To address this need, many companies are implementing quality management systems that provide transparency and visibility into their inspection and quality processes. This can include using software tools to document and track inspection results, as well as providing customers with access to reports and other documentation that demonstrate the quality of the products or services being provided.
In addition to these tools, it is also important for companies to focus on continuous improvement of their inspection and quality processes. This can involve conducting regular audits and assessments to identify areas for improvement, and investing in training and education to ensure that all employees are aware of the importance of quality and are equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to execute their roles effectively.
Robots are going to be a presence in the factory. But importantly, which functions are going to get robotised? For instance, would cleaning the shopfloor be an application to use a mobile robot?
Robots are already being used in many different functions within factories, and their use is likely to continue to expand in the coming years. The functions that are most likely to be robotised are those that are repetitive, dangerous, or require a high level of precision. This can include tasks such as:
• Assembly: Robots can be used to assemble products quickly and accurately, especially in industries such as automotive and electronics.
• Material handling: Robots can be used to move heavy materials or large quantities of materials around the factory, reducing the risk of injury for workers.
• Painting: Robots can be used to apply paint to products or surfaces, ensuring a consistent finish and reducing exposure to harmful fumes.
• Quality control: Robots can be used to inspect products for defects or inconsistencies, using cameras and other sensors to identify issues quickly and accurately.
• Cleaning: Mobile robots can be used to clean shop floors or other areas of the factory, reducing the amount of time and effort required by human workers.
Overall, the decision to robotise a particular function will depend on a range of factors, including the cost of implementation, the potential benefits in terms of efficiency and quality, and the availability of suitable technology. However, as robotics technology continues to improve and become more affordable, we are likely to see more and more functions within factories being performed by robots.
Robotic Process Automation – RPA is an exciting productivity tool. How many factories use this? Why don't others use it?
RPA is indeed an exciting tool for improving productivity in various industries, including manufacturing. It is estimated that a significant number of factories have already adopted RPA, particularly in sectors such as automotive, electronics, and pharmaceuticals. However, the exact number of factories using RPA is difficult to estimate as it is not centrally tracked.
It’s important to underline that, before introducing RPA, companies should implement Lean in order to reduce waste. In fact:
• Automating waste produces more waste
• There is nothing more useless than doing efficiently what it should not be done at all (P. Drucker)
There could be several reasons why some factories have not yet adopted RPA. Some common reasons include:
• Cost: The initial investment required to implement RPA can be high, particularly for small to mid-size companies.
• Technical expertise: Implementing RPA requires technical expertise and specialised skills that may not be readily available in-house.
• Lack of awareness: Some factories may not be aware of the benefits of RPA or may not understand how it can be applied to their specific operations.
• Fear of job displacement: There may be concerns among workers that RPA could lead to job displacement, which could create resistance to its implementation.
Nicola Accialini is a freelancer, expert in industrial technologies and systems, consultant, trainer and author. During his work experience, he has been involved in managing various aspects of manufacturing processes, from the engineering of aeroengine modules to the implementation of new production facilities based on agile principles. As a freelancer, he supports international companies from various production sectors in the management and improvement processes in the manufacturing sector, as well as in the implementation of a strategic roadmap and in the management of pilot projects for the development of agile factories. More info at: www.accialiniconsulting.com
(The views expressed in interviews are personal, not necessarily of the organisations represented)
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