Highlights of lights-out manufacturing

No longer merely the dream of futurists, industry experts note that technologies like robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, and augmented reality (AR) are already transforming manufacturing into lights-out or intelligent manufacturing.

Also called industry 4.0, manufacturing will become more and more efficient, less wasteful, customized, modular, and automated. With the help of machine learning and cyber-physical systems, production floors will require almost no human presence, hence a “lights-out” or intelligent factory.

Here are some innovations pushing manufacturing in this direction.

AR/VR for prototyping and design

AR and virtual reality (VR) will eventually force out the long-established use of computer-aided design (CAD) in the research and development stages. Used in combination with 3D printing, designers will be able to overlay computer-generated virtual data onto 3D-printed objects and make real-time edits or sculpt.

Robotics in R&D

At the R&D of industries like electronics and pharmaceuticals, physical activities such as trial-and-error processes are being done more and more by robots. Unlike humans, these robots can tirelessly test thousands of variants concurrently in a synthetic biology lab. Robot gene testers and chip manufacturers are hard at work with inhuman consistency and speed. Tools at this phase of manufacturing will become increasingly automated and accurate at the micro- and even nano-scales.

AI for materials sourcing

AI is improving the scientific method for the development of new products and materials. For instance, it’s enabling the efficient search through massive databases for better or advanced materials in the R&D stages for products in electronics, drugs, cars, and other material goods.

Blockchain for tracking resources allocation

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems often track the flow of raw materials and parts throughout various stages of production. Typically, there can be as many as one hundred ERP systems with siloed data that manage the inflow of resources for large industrial manufacturers. Blockchain will manage all these disparate inflows to a factory and unify all data from various processes and silos into one universal data structure. This will radically reduce time delays, costs, and human errors.

Edge computing in operations technology

The factory will become a self-sustaining cyber-physical organism, where machines will be controlled by computers attached to them without the need for remote out-of-the-factory intervention. This is thanks largely in part to operations technology called edge computing. Sensors powered by AI will be collecting and processing data at the “edge,” independent of a centralized computer and connection to the cloud, saving large expenses on bandwidth and computing.

Exosuits and computer vision in labor

Exosuits already help workers by correcting posture and supporting the body. Exoskeletons will eventually be more common to boost strength and performance while minimizing stress, injuries, and fatigue.

As robots start to replace workers, those who remain will have to be more skilled. Through heads-up displays, augmented reality (AR) will allow workers to practically download skills by showing complicated machine environments, mapping out machine parts, and relaying tasks and information in real time.

Cobots for monotonous jobs

Collaborative robots (cobots) are already working alongside people in factories, like in aircraft manufacturing. These robots learn or are programmable by assisted movement or by being moved manually. They can do monotonous jobs at greater rates and without error or the need for breaks. They are currently the bellwether for a return of manufacturing in the US from offshore factories. But economists worry that technology such as this will also lead to a radical restructuring of labor.

Modularity in the production line

Modularity will allow factories to be more customizable in both equipment and production. Experts envision a radical change from the traditional assembly line of industry to a modular line expected to be more common by 2030. It will be made up interchangeable modules or machines, allowing greater variety of production. Modular production will lead to greater product customization. Personalized medicine will be produced modularly for targeted batches. Changes based on consumer demand may be implemented even as products are on the production line. Custom industrial equipment assembled with modules can also be ordered online.

Industrial 3D printing

A few years from now, 3D printing will be common in mass customization in consumer electronics and apparel. Advanced materials such as carbon fiber and other metals will expand product possibilities.

Machine vision and blockchain for quality assurance

Quality assurance will also be powered by machine learning data platforms. Two technologies are already making an impact: machine vision and blockchain. Machine vision can scan for imperfections in production not easily noticeable by the human eye. With it, AI is also being applied to spot manufacturing defects. Blockchain is helping to improve product quality, particularly food safety. By using blockchain, companies can figure out the origin of defective parts or contaminated food more quickly and cost efficiently.

IT is central to all of these innovations in manufacturing. By partnering with a managed services provider (MSP), companies can keep up with industry-disrupting trends and future-proof their own business. Contact Spectrumwise today and find more how your IT can be scaled, updated, and maximized for cutting-edge performance.


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