What does the factory of the future look like?

Posted on 1 Mar 2017 by The Manufacturer

Industry 4.0 arrives on the factory floor with converged plant infrastructure.

Manufacturing has been earmarked by the World Economic Forum and the European Union as a major driver of increased employment opportunities, reduced carbon emissions and better educational prospects for young people. This huge ambition largely rests on the advent of the smart factory and the rollout of Industry 4.0, which will make manufacturing more affordable in high-wage countries.

The WEF sets out the scale of change in its paper on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). “The possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge, are unlimited. And these possibilities will be multiplied by emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.”

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Momentum for and the potential of the smart factory was very much in evidence at Discover London and featured a robot picker, designed by HPE in conjunction with the Frauhofer Institute. The robot, controlled by an algorithm in in the cloud, performed a fairly routine and simple task; but the potential for software-programmed and connected devices is much greater and eminently scalable.

Jacques Spee, HPE Industry Advisor on Manufacturing Industry Solutions at Enterprise Services, talked to me about the incremental revolution that is unfolding on the factory floor. Powered by the cloud, data analytics, the Internet of Things and hyper connectivity, the end result of these forces is the convergence of physical and digital manufacturing. Accompanying this shift is the opportunity to optimize not only a single plant fabric but an entire network of smart factories, he explained.

Enterprise Services has produced a customized slice of digital capabilities for manufacturing customers, called Converged Plant Infrastructure (CPI). “CPI is one essential part to make Industry 4.0 a reality. Manufacturing physical goods alone is not yielding you the utmost value – it needs to be augmented by a digital representation and a digital way of doing things”, said Jacques.

“CPI is the foundation of the smart factory in a Connected Manufacturing ecosystem where the operational machinery world and the information technology world get connected”, he continues.  Networking machines, equipment and components on the factory floor enables the capture of more data than ever before. But as Jacques points out, the critical part is what you do with the data. “It lets our customers find patterns in operations; how to improve performance, gain more flexibility, and if it manufactures multiple products across multiple sites how optimise.”

A further aspect of the maturity of the digital offering for manufacturers and part of the CPI package was showcased at Discover by Hewlett Packard Enterprise Services – the Virtual Fort Knox. Analogous to an app store for the smartphone, it offers manufacturers a secure market place for smart digital products such as a dashboard for the factory floor. ‘Cloud-picking’, is another smart app that uses algorithms in the cloud to teach robots how, where and when to select components, while cloud navigation teaches HGVs how to self-drive.

This is a tantalising glimpse of what lies ahead in the factory of the future and to find out more, watch Jacques in conversation.