SAG_Twitter_MEME_Visionary_Jul16.jpgProduction sites have changed radically thanks to digital transformation.

Product packaging intelligence, agile robots, urban factories, augmented reality training, 3D printing, predictive maintenance and products that instruct machines how to make them - are all basic elements of the factory of the future and can already be seen in many production lines worldwide.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industrie 4.0 as visualized by the German government, describes the automation and optimization of production processes through cyber-physical systems - machines controlled by algorithms – along with the Internet of Things and cloud computing. The goal is to enable the mass production of individual goods. In other words a personalized, customized product that costs the same as a standard, uniform product.

The cyber-physical workforce is already employed in digital factories through the use of Agile Robots. They already play crucial role in many industries. In the past, industrial robots invariably evoked the image of massive, noisy pieces of equipment. In contrast, the next-gen robots are more human-like, which means they work in a quieter, more flexible environment.

Japan is pioneering the use of service robots in the home, especially to take care of its aging population. In addition, many of these “gentler” robots are making their way into the new, redefined factory. For example, Hitachi is using robots from NextAge in its disk drive production plant located outside Tokyo. These robots install covers, tighten screws and assist workers in every step of the production process.

Although 3D printers have been around since 1976, their economic and technological advantages have been recognized only in the last few years and today 3D printing promises to reshape the manufacturing world.  The cost and quality of such printing is improving to a point where the term “additive manufacturing,” a process by which digital 3D design data is used to build up a component in layers by depositing material, is entering the business vernacular.

Companies such EOS of Germany, 3D Systems in the United States, and the US-Israeli company Stratasys are among the leading providers of 3D printers. A major consequence of 3D printing will be to enable the manufacturing of smaller parts and components to become increasingly decentralized, away from large factories. For example, a home repair representative could make a replacement part in his or her service truck rather than carry large inventories.

Before digital transformation ever hit most industries, the aviation industry used simulators for training. Today, modern manufacturers are increasingly making use of interactive and situation-aware training. For example, wearable computers enable context-sensitive, on-the-job training. Škoda, the Czech automaker, pioneered this practice in 2004 for its assembly line workers. Škoda provides its trainees with information digitally to help them perform individual production tasks. Their work is then tracked via mobile sensors mounted on the worker’s body and on the car. This system provides the trainees with instant feedback.

Inspired by thinking such as Industrie 4.0 concepts, as well as by technology such as adaptive printing and augmented reality training, the Digital Enterprise is shaping the factory of the future — a greener version that is driven more by software and sensors than its predecessors were.

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