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Smart Factory Automation Through Advanced Robotics: A 2019 Mega Trend

By Special Guest
Madindra Aryal, Special Correspondent
February 11, 2019

As sensors, networks, cloud-based applications, data and analytics continue to evolve, in this new year, we expect to see more retrofits of existing manufacturing plants to include digital capabilities, and the rise of greenfield plants, like the new $1.8 billion TenarisBayCity plant in Texas, which have digital “DNA” built in from the ground up.

Robotics has become core to the realization of increasing the quality of parts and products, dramatically higher yields as the time to manufacture is reduced with automation, greater predictability given the ability to understand in detail workflow and process, and enhanced profitability as more tasks are done by smart machines which lowers the cost of operations in the long-run.

“This is nothing less than a paradigm shift in industry: the real manufacturing world is converging with the digital manufacturing world to enable organizations to digitally plan and project the entire lifecycle of products and production facilities,” said Helmuth Ludwig, CEO, Siemens Industry Sector, North America.

At an event hosted by Siemens last December in Princeton, New Jersey, during which the company revealed its most innovative technologies, with an emphasis on the rise of automation and the use of software, sensors and systems to improve businesses and lives, top executives shared experiences and insights, as well as demonstrations of robotics and automation with several hundred guests from enterprises, academic institutions, partners and media.

A key theme was the role of AI and robotics, and automation that is not limited to the factory floor, but which is woven through the entire innovation and implementation process - from design and testing, to implementation, commercialization and ongoing enhancements.

2005 spending on robotic systems was $11 billion; by 2025 it is expected to reach $67 billion.
“Beyond this amazing growth story is the trend that instead of merely performing repetitive tasks, robots are heading for incremental autonomy,” the company said. “Combine this with Artificial Intelligence, a space Siemens has been active in for more than 30 years and holds some 50 patents in machine learning processes alone  – and we can clearly see a trend that is set to transform not only production and logistics, but business models and user behavior.”

Siemens has an extensive vision for “Industry 4.0” and a belief that robotics and AI have the potential to not simply replace human workers, but to enhance the role of human workers by taking care of the most repetitive tasks more efficiently, opening up time for employees to work alongside automated systems, in what some have coined “co-botting.”

Siemens own manufacturing of electronic products has been dramatically enhanced in their Siemens (IW 1000/34) Electronic Works facility in Amberg, Germany.

“Siemens is a manufacturer too, facing the same challenges as our customers.  Without increasing the scale of the production area, and with almost no change to staffing level, the Amberg factory has increased its production volume 13-fold,” says Raj Batra, President, Siemens Digital Factory Division, U.S.  “Much of our success starts with Siemens commitment to R&D – particularly in automation and software development.  At the end of the day, when you merge the virtual and the real worlds, you are able to free innovation from old boundaries,” Batra added.

The 108,000-square-foot high-tech Amberg facility uses smart machines and data analytics to more efficiently coordinate the production and global distribution of the company’s Simatic control devices.

They have established a custom, built-to-order process involving more than 1.6 billion components for over 50,000 annual product variations, for which Siemens sources about 10,000 materials from 250 suppliers to make the plant’s 950 different products.

According to a Gartner Industry Research study conducted on the plant in 2010, the Amberg factory only records about 15 defects per million and enjoys a 99% reliability rate and 100% traceability on its expansive lines.

What has made the Amberg successful, the company says, is the integration of three specific critical manufacturing technologies: product lifecycle management (PLM), manufacturing execution systems (MES) and industrial automation.

The Intersection of Robotics, Automation and the Industrial Internet of Things
With the advent of embedded systems, and sensors that can provide a massive amount of real time data, the smart factories of today may seem simple compared to those being designed for a future where manufacturing machinery can be monitored for everything from temperature and humidity conditions, to minute vibrations which may signal a requirement for service, to counting yields, identifying a need for more parts and more.

“Data is the new currency, and technologies such as AI and machine learning are now being incorporated on the plant floor, where connectivity is key to gaining insight into the operating environment,” says Batra.  “A plant floor with potentially thousands of connected devices now has significant value from a data standpoint.  The question is, while you are now able to collect this data, how do you analyze it and make it meaningful and valuable for your business objectives?”

Robotics and automation are two of the most exciting opportunities associated with “Industry 4.0” where increasingly sophisticated manufacturing machines come together with data created when those machines are instrumented and connected to each other and to applications in the cloud through secure networks. Bringing together the physical and digital worlds leads to innovation that ultimately results in more stylish and safer cars, cleaner energy plants, smarter homes, cities and regions - thus moving the products created by smart factories into a digitally transformed world.

While robotics and automation in factories are not new, the technology has improved, costs have come down, and with the connectivity associated with the IIoT, the generation and management of data to improve performance and control, including compliance with regulatory requirements in industries like healthcare, the business cases and “ROI” for super smart factories is becoming more attractive each year.

The smart factory of the future will be able to monitor and control everything - remotely, intentionally and automatically.

Workers in any smart factories will feel safer and more satisfied with their jobs, as robotic processes eliminate mundane tasks, simplifying manufacturing processes and guaranteeing greater precision and quality.

“In 2019, I expect that we will see investment in greenfield plants to continue here in the U.S.  Consumer demand is strong and it makes sense for companies to produce here.  There is renewed emphasis on developing strong ecosystems of research and development, manufacturing policy and academic training all needed to support our industrial segment.  Manufacturing innovation is a topic that drives competitiveness of the U.S. economy globally and fuels economic growth,” says Batra. “In manufacturing, we’ll continue to see more edge technologies, artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality, virtual reality and 3D printing. As a result, we’ll see product lifecycles continue to shorten and product innovation to get even faster.  We are well into the fourth industrial revolution. I don’t think that IoT is over-hyped. We are now in a world where you can digitalize and simulate in the virtual world before anything takes place in the real world.  This is a game-changer. The benefits of the digital twin are too many not to explore.”




Edited by Ken Briodagh
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