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What’s coming down the line? The future of industry

Author : Martin Walder, VP Industry at Schneider Electric

31 August 2017

Martin Walder, VP Industry at Schneider Electric takes a look at how the future of industry is getting smarter.

Getting smarter

In the factory of the future, the application of augmented reality will be the new normal for plant maintenance and the training of staff. While we might now rely on QR codes to download extra information, the future will drive engineers towards applications that enable them to overlay an entire data directory on specific machinery or areas of a plant to carry out maintenance with advanced capability. Access to video tutorials on configuration and repairs will mean learning on the job takes on an entirely new meaning. Plants will no longer waste hours of training on staff who’ve forgotten what they’ve learnt before they’ve had chance to apply it. 

Developments in smart sensing technology will match this development by improving the capabilities of smart devices to the point where their temperature, vibration, smell and touch sensing will enable them to detect problems far better than even humans can. Predictive maintenance will be the new standard for plants and automated work orders, ensuring that maintenance planning meetings cease to exist with scheduled (preventative) maintenance a distant memory. 

Efficiency has been a key driver for production for many years, emerging technologies will help them to make the next quantum leap. As plants shift from the use of 3D CAD systems and simulation software towards Virtual Reality tools, processes will be given a virtual dummy run before a physical build is set in motion, enabling output to be thoroughly assessed in advance.

Personalised for the masses 

In the consumer world, this capacity for virtual experiences will drive increased demand for personalisation and on-demand products, with purchases only initiated once shoppers have had the chance to experience and develop individual product specifications. This new demand will be met by a highly customised and varied product production phase, made possible by increasing levels of automation. In fact, ideas that we never thought possible will become a reality as complex processes can be delivered far more quickly. This sharp turn in consumer demand will also mean plants are no longer continuously making stock but moving to an era of developing products and delivering them in one go as part of smarter supply chain integration. 

A factory of robots 

Life in plants will also take on new meaning with smart sensing introducing a mix of human and robotic workers to the factory floor. Working in cages will be a thing of the past for robots, as humans accept that safe integration is a no longer a cause for concern. Even production lines will be populated with autonomous robots, which will be able to conduct activity all over the facility. Flexibility in programming will mean that even complex packaging processes will be tackled by enhanced automation, bringing an end to scenarios such as staff spending 8 hours in fridges packing meat. Instead, robots will share equal workloads. Manufacturers will reach a peak in flexibility where they can change products, volumes, batch sizes and match demand much quicker than ever before. Overall, software and intelligent devices will largely remove the need for human intervention at all, especially within food and beverage plants where staff today are still manually interacting with the automated processes. 

As a result of this activity, we’ll reach a peak in less than 30 years’ time where it will be ‘lights out’ for plants. The masses of data being created as part of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and the intelligence of smart devices will mean that factories can run harder for longer without being monitored from the physical location. As remote monitoring becomes sufficient, employees will no longer walk the plant unless engineers are dispatched to fix their repairs. 

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