Manufacturing is changing beyond recognition, with the balance shifting from the economic advantages derived from the mass production of standardised goods to an era in which products can be customised in real time and made to order for almost the same cost. Frank Blaimberger, Head of Services and Tools, Factory Operations at Fujitsu explains how this is achieved in smart factories, where humans and machines work in harmony.
Having Frank’s university degree of electrical engineering and ergonomics in mind, he continuously developing features and services together with team. Those functions are part of the digital initiates towards a smart factory at Fujitsu’s campus, Augsburg.
Frank Blaimberger is not afraid to take and deploy technologies from outer factory areas such as consumer area as long as useful application for production, logistics and customer services are to generate. In that matter – to try out, supervise and adopt appliance schemes are daily operations in order to leap the factory ahead. Based on that premise, he and his team already successfully deployed a bunch of smart solutions along the supply chain.
Changing Manufacturing Workplace
Industry 4.0 signals the end of piecework production on rigid assembly lines. The goal is to ultimately enable manufacturers to produce goods to unique customer specifications, down to a lot size of just one – at costs that, until now, could only be achieved through standardisation and mass production.
Factories are becoming high-tech locations where the entire ecosystem is digitally connected, thanks to databased monitoring and analytics. Collected by RFID, NFC and radar sensors, data flows across logistics, planning and materials to the shop floor and back, providing previously unknown transparency into the manufacturing process.
New Level of Innovation
Technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning are transforming the way in which human workers and machines can interact, bringing the speed and agility needed to make smaller batches of more tailored products in shorter timescales. Rather than completing a single, repetitive task as part of a long manufacturing line, teams of people and machines can work together seamlessly in dynamic production areas across the entire product manufacturing process from start to finish.
Humans Come First
Humans remain firmly at the heart of these smart factories, supported by technologies such as AI-enabled robots. Smart facilities use IT to enhance workers’ skills, by guiding them with context sensitive instruction terminals, linked to the manufacturing process – adding value at every stage, from customer requirements and the supply chain to quality assurance.
Delivered through screens or wearables such as digital glasses, these systems provide workers with all the information they need to fulfill each custom order, and then reconfigure the manufacturing area for the next unit. As a result, an individual can now build a highly tailored product, assisted by detailed instructions via images, text and video in near real time, while AI robots take on the heavy lifting, in addition to other monotonous and repetitive tasks. Robots are also on hand to take over the precise processes that require superhuman levels of accuracy.
The same assistance systems can also control smart tools and machines, enabling them to carry out multiple different production steps automatically by, for example, ordering, fetching and preparing required components.
Smart Robots Provide Assistance
Although the use of robots in manufacturing is nothing new, today AI enables these machines to learn and adapt – revolutionising their role in the factory. Supervised and managed by humans, they can work partly autonomously. An AI controlled robot does not need to be programmed to learn a new task; instead, a human worker can easily teach it, for example by hand guiding. The interaction between man and machine becomes much more natural, and because the robot is able to provide support in more sophisticated ways, workers are empowered to be more skilled and more creative.
“In a smart factory, robots are not intended to replace human workers, rather they assist them, so humans can focus on tasks that are more mentally stimulating and rewarding.”
Machines are also being deployed to take over operations where human beings may get harmed. The result is an inspiring, fully digitalised workplace that enables people to learn on the job, every day, and to master increasingly complex products by allocating operational tasks in a smart way.
We are still at the beginning of this next industrial revolution, but human-machine teamwork is fast becoming the future of manufacturing. We should re-examine every process, step by step and consider how it could be handled more effectively by connecting people with machines. If we achieve this, with people at the center of the digital transformation, the result will be factories that are more human than even the first industrial revolution.
Fujitsu is the leading Japanese information and communication technology (ICT) company, offering a full range of technology products, solutions, and services. Our comprehensive business encompasses the development, manufacture, sales and maintenance of the cutting-edge, high-quality products and services. Co-creation is central to Fujitsu’s partnership approach. In a digital world, bringing together previously unconnected fields of expertise to realise innovation and value creation at scale, becomes an imperative. Fujitsu is working collaboratively to rapidly evolve organisations’ business processes and create new services and products, providing the widest range of IT solutions to the customers. Approximately 155,000 Fujitsu people support customers in more than 100 countries. We use our experience and the power of ICT to shape the future of society with our customers. Fujitsu Limited (TSE: 6702) reported consolidated revenues of 4.5 trillion yen (US $40 billion) for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2017.