There’s been so much written lately about the future of manufacturing and how new technology, everything from robots to 3D printing, will change the industry. But what will the factory look like when all this emerging tech finally comes together? This fascinating article uses real world examples to paint a picture of what a factory in the Internet-of-Things era might look like:
The contours of the digital factory are still evolving as technology advances, but in today’s nascent reckoning, it looks something like Fujitsu’s plant in Augsburg, Germany. At this site, an all-encompassing information technology backbone controls a supply “supermarket” where components for Fujitsu’s computers and other hardware products are stored. As customer orders are received, parts are picked for assembly by robots, loaded onto self-driving electric vehicles — which make up what’s known as the logistics train — and carried out to production stations using just-in-time and just-in-sequence processes. The specifications of each assembled product may differ and dynamic screens show workers precisely which components belong to each order and display detailed work instructions. Changes to product features can be made on the fly throughout the assembly process by on-site design and engineering teams, whose members are also available to respond to late shifts in customer requirements. Downtime is minimized because predictive maintenance procedures, based on historical and real-time data for each piece of equipment, automatically address incipient problems before a breakdown. The entire production process is paperless, the factory leaves virtually no carbon footprint, and the daily output of 12,000 PCs, laptops, and workstations and more than 1,000 servers ranks Fujitsu’s Augsburg plant among the most productive and cost-effective in the world.