The Factory of the Future has come to be called a myriad of things, Smart Manufacturing, Industry 4.0 or the Digital Enterprise to name a few. No matter what you decide to call it, the manufacturing enterprises that focuses on consumer demand in as close to real time as possible will be the most successful in this burgeoning future. Tech giants around the world have been working tirelessly to develop and refine the technologies needed to make manufacturing more responsive and lean by focusing on modularization, artificial intelligence, and data collection to bring plants closer to the consumer and make manufacturing enterprises less product specific and more preference focused.
In recent years, there has been a strong trend toward the modularization of processes and materials, followed by the modularization of manufacture of products themselves. The advent of 3-D printing has completely changed the way manufacturers approach many production steps. Many plants today are product-driven, making product production not only a costly investment but a venture that is slow to change. Today's customers are becoming more accustomed to on demand services and personalization that make the feat of production more customer driven. To alleviate the pressures of adhering to customer demand, factories need to produce different types of similar products quickly and efficiently.
Technology such as the new generation of robots and smart conveyors can be used to create highly customizable modules that can manufacture similar parts and assemble unique, personalized products. The new two-armed dexterous robots, small-footprint robots, and collaborative robots can be used for more individualized delicate and complex tasks while smart conveyors can individually route products to other modules. Smart conveyors can identify the item on the belt and remove the notion that various steps in a production process must be carried out sequentially. A combination of different technologies can be grouped in one building and with artificial intelligence driven computers processes within the plant can change on demand.
With the internet of things, or otherwise linking all machines to the internet with the purpose of collecting process data, factory managers can forecast mechanical issues before they happen making preventative maintenance highly efficient and minimize human resources to conduct scheduled services.
The technology described above would serve to shrink the foot print of the plant allowing enterprises to manufacture much closer to the consumer and thus limit the cost of transportation to bring products to market. Bringing factories closer to cities will serve to not only eliminate high transportation costs but also ease the pressures of finding personnel to work in the plant and thus rise the profitability of each product produced by the plant.
The technology needed to create such a factory is still being refined at this moment but companies such as Mercedez-Benz are already advertising the creation of such plants. Check out the company’s concept for ‘Factory 56’ where all of the described technologies are brought together to make manifest the ‘Factory of the Future’ at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdDvDKC8FVM.
All manufacturing enterprises who make the conscious move toward such facilities will not only thrive within the market that will soon be demanded by the new generation but survive well into the next generation of manufacturing.