Have you ever heard of “lights down” factories?
It is a modern term referring to future plants that will depend on artificial intelligence, that means, all plants machines will be programmed and designed to operate autonomously, without the need for workers to manage them, so there is no need to turn on the lights. This may seem an exaggeration or foresight, but these kinds of plants have been around for more than 15 years. The Japanese robotics industry, FANUC, one of the first “light-emitting plants” has been operating since 2001 with almost no human supervision. Says its director Gary Zewail: “Not only do we turn off the lights, we also stop air conditioning and heat.”
To get the idea on our heads, we are looking at one of the most ambitious and modern technology companies in the world, such as Dongguan City, a Chinese phone company that has built a complete lab without workers, everything from operating equipment to trucks to warehouse equipment, runs automatically by robots controlled remotely by the central control system, which enabled them to reduce the number of employees to less than ten, where the operation of the plant requires about 650 workers, while the number of employees today is only 60, hoping to reduce it in the future to 20!
With the proliferation of programming and digitization techniques and their use in various industrial sectors, from cars to electronics to pharmaceuticals and others, observers expect the overall efficiency of the industries to grow over the next five years at a rate of 7 times, which promises a huge jump in quality and quantity of production, they call it, the 4th Industrial Revolution INDUSTRY 4.0.
From advanced robots in Research & Development labs, to computer vision in warehouses, this technology can interfere in all stages of the production process. Let us know in detail how programming techniques and digitization work and their effect on each of the 8 manufacturing steps, so that we can draw a logical picture of the shape of future plants:
1- Research & Development of production:
The planning stage is necessary for production, and is carried out by industrialists, designers, chemists and engineers who constantly test hypotheses, as testing and replication is the core of R & D. Big companies spend billions of dollars a year. General Motors alone spent $ 8 billion on new development last year.
Companies use several technical and digital methods to improve research and development and reduce the ambiguity when starting the production process, and now we review the most important methods:
Robots and 3D printing to accelerate the development of production across sectors
According to a recent industry survey, the acceleration of product development is the number one priority for companies using 3D printing and 57% of the 3D printing is in the early stages of development of any new product, with prototypes showing how the future product would be. Robots also automate the physical process of experiments and reduce errors in a wide range of sectors. As electronic circuits are smaller than ever, nanoscale work requires precision beyond human capacity, making robots the preferred choice for chip makers such as Intel and Samsung, now among the largest R & D spenders in the world.
Artificial intelligence to accelerate the discovery of science materials
Thomas Edison once said: “I have not failed 10 thousand times, in fact I have not failed once, but I have succeeded in proving that those 10 thousand ways will not work”. Edison’s spirit persists in research and development laboratories, although the use of programming and digitization in materials discovery and development is still less than expected, according to the National Academy of Sciences. Pharmaceutical and chemical companies are the most heavily invested in the detection and development of materials through artificial intelligence (AI) techniques.
Virtual And enhanced reality to support the designing process
While almost all manufacturers rely on Computer Aided Design (CAD) software for initial design processes, virtual enhanced and reality can play a greater role in supporting the designing process. Autodesk company, the AutoCAD software developer, pioneer of using virtual reality technologies in design. Its gaming engine, Stingray, added support for the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift headphones, as Unity company, founder of the VR engine, announced its partnership with Autodesk to increase designability using virtual and enhanced reality.
2- Import and export planning:
Once the product design is completed, the next step is planning how to make it, which usually requires a network of suppliers of spare parts and basic material makers but finding suppliers and gaining trust is a difficult and time-consuming process. We have looked at how programming and digitization techniques can improve this complex import process:
Decentralized manufacturing may be one of the impending changes that help manufacturers deal with the demand for spare parts, as it employs a network of geographically distributed areas using global distribution platforms such as Xometry and Maketime, which provides Internet services with workshops, which rely on its work on the logistics network to secure applications worldwide.
BLOCKCHAIN technology for import tracking
Blockchain is a global Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) program designed to consolidate data from the operations of different companies and stakeholders involved in a global data structure. Many companies today are experimenting with Blockchain projects, often specifically aim at reducing the complexity of databases. When it comes to tracking the sources of spare parts and raw materials, Blockchain can manage the differing flows into the plant, tracking products across the supply chain from manufacturing to sales, and can record transactions on a permanent decentralized record, minimizing time delays, added costs and human errors.
3- Process technology: control of machine data
The industrialization process under the Fourth Industrial Revolution is supposed to look like a huge self-sufficiency, requiring only intermittent human intervention, but it still has a long way to go. According to flexible manufacturing standards (measured by OEE technology), The world-class manufacturing sites operate at 85% of their theoretical capacity. However, the average production rate in the factory only is about 60%, which means there is a wide area of improvement, which we’ll observe in the following ways:
Internet Operating Technology (IOT)
Simply IOT is similar to traditional information technology, but is specifically designed to work in low-end, medium and small-sized enterprises, the IOT package for manufacturers usually includes:
Internet-related manufacturing equipment, often equipped with industrial sensors that update their data over the Internet.
Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition Systems (SCADA), Human Machine Interfaces (HMI), which provide industrial monitoring for process analysts.
Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), computers that collect data on plant devices.
3D printers and digital control devices to connect computer manufacturing.
This package allows access to the latest programming techniques and digitalities to every lab or production sector, even if they don’t own its expensive equipment.
Is a new trend in the (IOT), which uses Artificial Intelligence to detect differences or anomalies only, without the need to transfer all data, saving a lot of time and cost. For example, plants won’t need to receive 10,000 messages from machines saying “I’m fine,” which will overload the network, and instead, Smart Edge will capture only the abnormal cases and send them to the central server to be reported and processed.
One of the risks of Internet operation technology IoT is that machines may be vulnerable to cyber-attacks, “piracy and vandalism”, where a recent study showed that 28% of manufacturers saw revenue losses due to cyber-attacks last year. Yet only 30% of executives expressed a welling to increase IT spending for cybersecurity.
4- Increasing the workers efficiency:
In a recent study, humans have been described as being only helper of technology, not the opposite, so workers should have more skills at using technology than they were a decade ago. Here are the most prominent ways in which programming techniques and digitization can help to raise the efficiency of working manpower:
Digitally controlled workers
Enhanced reality machines will be able to enhance the skills of industrial workers, as well as being a precise indicator to evaluate worker performance, as AI programs can analyze complex machine environments and use computer vision to draw parts of the machine, which is a visual guide for workers that enhances their skills and efficiency. For example, the Steelcase furniture factory uses a system with audio signals and work-tracking scanners, eliminating human error in furniture manufacturing. The system will not allow workers to follow up if any step is taken incorrectly.
Techniques for safe clothing in dangerous and contaminated work
Despite the entry of robots into all areas of work, human beings still need to do some delicate tasks, which may expose them to many dangers, mostly the exposure to pollution. The techniques of safe clothing and wearable devices will increase the human ability to perform these tasks with a high level of safety, which can majorly reduce the material losses resulting from human injuries.
5- Machines, product and collecting:
The programmed machines – such as robots and 3D printers – allow manufacturers to handle custom unit requests, and these machines can work instead of humans in some dirty, boring and dangerous jobs, in the following ways:
It is possible to rely on programmed machines in the production of custom units, that is not followed by complete production lines, so the current trends of industrialists support the allocation of production, where smart devices can work more efficiently and accurately than humans, and majorly reduce the percentage of errors.
Robots for monotonous, dangerous and dirty jobs
Because of high labor costs around the world, companies are looking for robots to work instead of humans, they don’t need restrictions or wages, and have unlimited capacity for constant work and cooperation. In a BCG questionnaire in 2015, 24 %of manufacturers in the United States said they were shifting production from China to the United States or planning to do so over the next two years, because automation and robotization costs remain much lower than the cost of human labor, which is increasing steadily.
Monotonous jobs such as packaging, sorting, dirty as cleaning and collecting waste, and dangerous as welding and cutting, are the most suitable functions of robots.
6- Quality Assurance (QA):
How will your computer vision find defects? How will Blockchain help identify problems more quickly?
In the case of huge production, checking whether each piece conforms to specifications is a very difficult and boring task for humans, so future factories will rely on automatic vision in inspecting their products and looking for defects. Of course, they work more efficiently and can find many invisible defects of the human eye.
Blockchain Technologies to backup recovery
Factories that use Global Blockchains are better to recover defective products, which are particularly needed in food or automotive industries where a unified global system can quickly identify contaminated batch or defective parts of the vehicle, thus saving lives and money.
With the rise of e-commerce, the demand for storage space has exploded, as in last year, the average height of the warehouse roof rose by 21% compared to 2001and construction spending on new warehouses peaked in October 2017, where with $ 2.3 billion has been spent on construction in that one month.
How can programming techniques and digitization transform ordinary warehouse into light-emitting?
Large companies are focusing on fully automating the warehouses, by using robotics at work, to save a lot of effort and money, and providing greater accuracy and speed.
The electronic vision of the examination
Using artificial intelligent techniques in storage, fewer people will be needed in sorting, scanning and identifying defects, as electronic vision can measure product dimensions, calculate the number of boxes, and check the quality of their contents in parts of a second.
8- Management of shipping and transport operations:
Once the product is filled, it’s a complex task to efficiently get it out of the door, with thousands of serial numbers and shipping orders, but with IOT and Blockchain techniques, shipping and transportation operations become easier and more accurate:
The internet operating technology can be used to create self-managed trucks where the shipping system, policy regulation and delivery of goods are fully automated, ensuring less effort, accuracy and speed.
BLOCKCHAIN to track shipping
Blockchain technology helps everyone track the shipping chain, especially in overseas shipping operations, where the manufacturer, importer and shipping company can see the location of the goods and know when to arrive accurately through the technology used by major international shipping companies such as Maersk.
Thus, the use of programming techniques and digitization in the industrial sector makes the process more efficient and specialized and takes the plants to unprecedented levels of production. However, many manufacturers are still very slow to adopt the technology and spend money for them, because of their fear of change, But, as Henry Ford puts it: “If you do what you always do, you’ll get what you always get”.