Immersive technologies are being integrated into many businesses to enhance entire operations. This is being put to the test in a new “virtual factory” that will reportedly fast-track innovation in the steel sector.
Steel is the most commonly used structural material in the world, used in many major manufacturing sectors including the automotive industry, construction, packaging and defence.
In the modern steel industry (and many others), innovation is crucial to keep pace with advanced technologies, 4IR and changing customer demands.
However, developing new steel alloys can be a lengthy process, with many different stages. It also often requires expensive trials on hundreds of tonnes of material.
The introduction of a virtual steel factory could enable developing and testing of new steel alloys to be reportedly up to 100-times faster, allowing new products to reach the market more quickly.
Funding worth £7m was announced for a new “virtual factory” to be developed by Swansea University, in partnership with Tata Steel and WMG, at the University of Warwick.
Their solution is to combine physical testing and computational modelling to rapidly assess hundreds of small-scale samples, covering areas including strength, electrical and mechanical properties, durability and resistance to corrosion.
Test data can be fed into computational models, further refining their accuracy, enabling for increasingly better predictions on the final material properties. Alloys that show potential can then be investigated in more detail.
This process is called rapid alloy prototyping. Essentially, it means that much of the testing can be carried out in research labs and imaging suites – a ‘virtual factory’ – rather than in an actual steel plant.
Case study: Pop-up factory
It is not always practical to manufacture construction tools or components and then transfer these to a site to be used. The answer to this issue? A smart device controlled pop-up factory.
This is what Danish company, Odico is preparing to launch. ‘Factory on the Fly’ is a mobile system that promises to make it possible for workers to instruct robots to manufacture building components onsite.
It can be controlled via standard iOS or Android tablets, making it user friendly and connected.
The miniature factory can also fit in a standard three-metre-long shipping container, making it an easy unit to transport across the globe.
Factory on the Fly is currently a prototype, which Odico is working to have on sale in the first half of 2019.
Case study: Smart factory as a service
A service based approach to manufacturing a product is one level of servitization, but taking this concept to an entire factory to produce personalised items is an ambitious plan, one that could potentially be normal in the future.
Smart factory as a service concept, will reportedly independently and flexibly produce different product types in any quantity and entirely fulfill clients’ changing demand for products.
The project could represent a fully integrated value creation chain and this could enable companies to overcome the challenges of the future via a completely digitalised production process.
Digital Manufacturing Week
Digital Manufacturing Week or DMW, is the UK’s largest showcase of industrial technologies, innovation and individual excellence.
It is made up of a series of different events that can help your business learn and understand the latest in 4IR and more!
- Smart Factory Expo – grew by a third to 3,968 attendees in 2017, with exhibitors doubling to 100+
- Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit – grew by 56% to more than 600 delegates
- The Manufacturer Top 100 2018 – a 500-strong alumni community of UK manufacturing talent
- The Manufacturer MX Awards – the UK’s largest annual manufacturing awards, celebrating the Best of British industry