Reaching for the factory of the future

The history of the car and the history of the production line have always been intertwined, but it's clear to me that cars and factories also have a shared future.

At Lineview Solutions, we work with manufacturers around the world to modernise factories, helping them to improve efficiency and quality while reducing downtime and costs.

Fundamentally, manufacturing is all about the transformation of materials into saleable products, ideally with maximum efficiency and quality but with minimum cost and environmental impact.  At Lineview, we’re on a mission to help manufacturers continue to reach these goals through the capture and use of data as well as cutting edge innovations such as machine learning (a form of AI) & cloud computing.

Looking back through 100+ years of history, from the first production lines, we can clearly see the extent to which the car and the production line have always mirrored one another.

Originally, driving a car and running a factory was a challenging, hands-on experience where detailed technical knowledge and the constant intervention of highly skilled engineers was required simply to keep things running.

To enhance performance, cars and lines became more reliable, more efficient and much safer through mechanical improvements. They also became more autonomous; with ignition systems capable of starting car engines at the turn of a key, while production lines could be started and stopped at the push of a button, and both saw failsafe systems created to prevent injury or damage.

The two also became more capable of self-diagnosis, detecting faults and displaying warning lights to inform users of the nature of each problem, helping them to carry out repairs and reduce downtime.

While cars and production lines became more efficient and reliable, more intelligent systems were introduced to provide better guidance and to give users control over mechanisms more easily: In cars, this included GPS and parking sensors; in production, this meant automated quality control systems and an array of sensors to detect faults, monitor material volumes etc.

Now, we all recognise that cars are on the cusp of the next great innovation, with vehicles soon to become completely autonomous; able to gather, process and respond to data regarding immediate conditions and anticipate future hazards to become self-reliant.

Through this technology, cars can carry out their function more safely, more efficiently and more reliably, without the need for regular human intervention. Our ambition is to enable factories to do the same.

Automation improvements have helped factories produce high volumes of product quickly and efficiently, but this likely to be limited without another level of thinking. To become even more efficient, factories must get smarter. As Nick Nixon, Director, Supply Chain Development & Projects at Coca-Cola European Partners says in a recent webinar we co-hosted with The Manufacturer, data is key: getting the master data right is step one to the factory of the future.

Just as a self-driving car relies on radar, lidar, optical cameras, GPS, self-diagnostic sensors and AI to make intelligent and appropriate decisions about speed and direction, data will be just as important to the autonomous factories of tomorrow.

Currently, many factories track and collate historical data which can be used to make manual adjustments to address inefficiencies, repeated faults or identify opportunities to improve.

But our latest products will gather, process and report data from across a whole factory immediately, allowing changes, adjustments or interventions to be made as soon as they’re needed.

The next step into the future is for production lines to anticipate and respond to problems before they occur as well as seeing opportunities that would otherwise be hidden. Through data capture, cloud processing and machine learning, we’re making this possible.

Our next generation of Lineview software digitises and collates data streams on safety, process information, energy and utility, line and OEE monitoring, quality checks and more. Our software then instantly reports that data with detailed insight through machine learning and it also identifies opportunities for improvement. Crucially, it can also learn from real time and historical data to predict future problems, knowing exactly how to prevent their occurrence.

This major step is crucial in laying the groundwork for a fully autonomous factory.

While factories have come a long way since the first production line, we’re now within reach of the ultra-efficient, autonomous factory that Henry Ford could only dream of 107 years ago.

By Ian Rowledge, CEO of Lineview Solutions