Today, everyday objects are able to collect data, analyze external information and communicate with each other. That’s at the heart of the Internet of Things.
But what happens when this type of technology is applied to the factory—both large companies and SMEs? What elements will characterize the factory of the future?
From wearables to exoskeletons, from artificial intelligence and machine learning to
collaborative robots, smart factories will use these technologies to generate value. Smart manufacturing systems and cells are extremely flexible, scalable, and fully connected, creating an environment where humans and machines can easily collaborate to achieve increased productivity while reducing time to market.
The factory of the future provides the ability to remotely manage more tasks through IoT and augmented reality. The leveraging of edge computing, big-data methodology and advance analytics provides the capability to generate actionable insights such as those that inform predictive maintenance.
But to fully maximize this modern approach to manufacturing, the safe deployment of high-payload collaborative robotics and integrated logistics is required to give companies the chance to reduce the footprint of their production cells while adding a new level of interconnected efficiency to manufacturing operations of all sizes.
Exoskeletons are a tangible example of how smart industry, through wearable technology, can support workers in many sectors, including construction, domestic appliances, agriculture, services and automotive. The benefits for the worker, such as improved workplace comfort, reduced muscle effort and, consequently, improved quality-of-work-life, are combined with benefits for business owners.
Exoskeletons in workplaces are becoming more common to (literally) support workers and improve the quality of their working hours. In 2018 more than 7,000 units were sold in manufacturing, but the potential market need would be over 60,000 units for all types of exoskeleton, with an estimated growth rate of more than 50% from 2019 to 2024. A trend that, taking into account the increasing average age of population in industrialized countries, could grow again.
Of course, the use of exoskeletons into factories is only a small part of the impact of Industry 4.0 as we move forward. Generally speaking, Industry 4.0 has an estimated value creation potential for manufacturers and suppliers of $3.7 trillion in 2025, but today only 30% of global companies are capturing value from Industry 4.0 solutions on a large scale. Fully supported workers will help those numbers.
Paolo Avagliano is head of digital platforms, North America, with Comau