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The new tools of the future factory


19 Oct, 2016 04:40 pm

Digital modelling, additive manufacturing and the Internet of Things have drastically changed the way that industrial stakeholders design, produce and maintain their products. Welcome to the future factory!


Make way for the fourth industrial revolution! After steam power (18th century), electricity (19th century) and the first examples of automation (20th century), digital technology has made a notable entry into our factories. 
This factory 4.0, as our German friends have dubbed it, constitutes first and foremost a new way of designing products. The new generation of digital modelling offers not only the possibility to model an object in 3D, but also to expose it to different kinds of simulations before creating a physical prototype. 

"When designing a drone, we will be able to study the flow of fluids over its fuselage in order to find the best balance," highlights Sébastien Vercruysse, CEO of AvenAo Industrie and rapporteur for the Alliance Industrie du Futur (Future Industry Alliance). Digital modelling is also breaking free of the research labs, to be shared with experts the world over. 


As for production methods, they have been influenced by the arrival of additive manufacturing. As its name indicates, this type of manufacturing involves depositing materials, while current processes rely on reshaping or removing materials (machining). This means that complex components can be "printed", either individually or in series. 

Bruno Grandjean, president of the Fédération des Industries Mécaniques (the Federation of Mechanical Industries), also known as FIM, and president of the Redex directory, is eager to point out that "additive manufacturing is paving the way for creativity. It enables us to create components of different shapes, inspired by nature (biomimetics). Michelin uses this process to make moulds that give its tyres a particular type of structure so that ensures better grip.

Additive manufacturing also offers myriad possibilities in terms of tailor-made products. The mass manufacturing effect disappears: it is no longer necessary to produce a thousand components in order to reduce the production cost per unit. "A car manufacturer will be able to release a pre-series model ten to fifteen times quicker," explains Sébastien Vercruysse. "In the aerospace sector, where the challenges are different, additive manufacturing can be used in the development of components which enhance mass, such as beehive structures."

"Additive manufacturing will never replace all of the links in the production chain," Bruno Grandjean tells us. "But it will be integrated into other industrial processes. Indeed, we can already mill and roll a component so that it can then be reshaped using additive technologies, and all of this using the same machine."

PSA gears up for the factory of the future
Interview with Yann Vincent, Director of Manufacturing for PSA Peugeot Citröen

As part of PSA Peugeot Citroën's drive to shorten the production cycle and reduce costs in addition to allowing for greater vehicle customisation, the company is creating a factory of the future today. In this state-of-the-art facility all aspects of the manufacturing chain will be connected via the Internet and virtual networks, with cobots working alongside humans.

A factory led by data



The factory of the future is also synonymous with a continuous stream of data -- all links in the chain are interconnected. This starts with digitally controlled robots, which can be programmed to move their arms and complete a succession of tasks. Beyond that, there is also "line control" and, finally, the "Manufacturing Execution System" (MES).

"This industrial process management collects production data in real time before providing quality, performance and availability indicators. It is directly linked to ERP, which controls orders and invoices," explains Karine Gosse, director of digital development and future industry for Fives. 

Schmidt group also use robots in the production of kitchens, in order to respect the exact measurements of a room. To shorten deadlines, the cutting of panels is optimised and production is harmonised with the preparation of orders and the delivery process. 
Meanwhile, data collection is carried by a series of heat, pressure or vibration sensors placed on the machines. In association with big data, the internet of things enables us to evaluate the level of the machine's performance while anticipating breakdowns and prolonging the machine's life span. "We can optimise a machine's operational settings and offer better operational configurations thanks to our highly detailed knowledge of how it works," Karine Gosse adds. 

Finally, thanks to connected objects, manufacturers maintain a link with their clients. They know, for example, exactly how many of their products are being used. "If a hydraulic cylinder is not working at 100% of its potential, it will be redeveloped in order to respond to a client's need as fully as possible," observes Bruno Grandjean. This type of feedback paves the way for new sales models. For example, a manufacturer can offer a pay-as-you-use type of invoicing. 

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What role will humans play in the future factory? 

The factory of the future is also an opportunity to highlight the continued role of humans. 

"The days of noise, arduous tasks and the risk of physical harm are behind us," affirms Bruno Grandjean. "The machine operator is no longer a slave to the machine. On the contrary, it is the robots who adapt to the humans, enabling the latter to carry out more fulfilling tasks." 

In order to break down the stereotypes of an industrial sector which has remained stuck in the age of Taylorism or Emile Zola's Germinal, the FIM has launched a series of youtube videos showing three young people who have chosen to work in this sector. 

With "cobotics" -- a catch-all word which combines "collaboration" with "robotics" -- the robot breaks free of its iron shackles to share the same workspace as humans. The robot helps the latter with difficult, strenuous or repetitive tasks and handles hot, heavy or unwieldy components. 

On the factory floor, humans also come across AGVs (Automatic Guided Vehicles). Similar to "automated Fenwicks", they move around freely to collect parts and prepare orders. Naturally, all necessary security measures are taken. 

"The cobot is equipped with sensors. It slows down then stops if it senses a human being in its immediate vicinity," states Jacques Dupenloup, head of sales in France for the manufacturer Stäubli.   

Will robots replace humans? To this recurring question those in the world of robotics reply yes, of course, for all of the undesirable tasks. 

Symop, the Union for Machines and Manufacturing Technology, even believes that robotisation is a bastion in the fight against the offshoring of jobs, as it ensures that the industrial fabric of a developed country is maintained.   

Indeed, not only are humans assigned to tasks more worthy of them, but they are also "enhanced". 

Donning connected glasses, a maintenance or quality control worker has at their disposal all of the useful information which can guide them in their work (plans, technical documents , etc.). These connected glasses also help when it comes to training. When put in a real life situation, a young recruit will be able to use the help of a video tutorial in order to carry out a specific welding or metalwork task.  

Digital technology is even changing the organisational models that exist in factories. "Immediate access to knowledge is overhauling the hierarchical and pyramidal model, which is giving way to one built on team work," Bruno Grandjean tells us, despite the fact that this could jeopardise middle management roles. 

Louisa Toubal, head of projects at the think tank La Fabrique de l'industrie, points out the risk of a generational gap forming. 

"Employees who have 20 or 30 years of experience under their belts and who have been trained according to traditional methods may feel destabilised with a tablet PC in their hands," she warns. 
Cyber security, a constant concern 
The digital factory raises questions about cyber security. Products and machines produce a constant stream of data generated by digital orders, connected machinery, MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems), etc. Furthermore, this data is shared across the whole industrial ecosystem, thus increasing the risk of weak links. In 2007 the Stuxnet virus allowed the Americans to take control of Iran's uranium enriching centrifuges. More recently, in 2014, Operation Heartbleed targeted the German steel industry. In France, the National Agency for IT System Security (Anssi) published a guide to protecting so-called Scada (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) industrial IT systems. 

"Digital continuity allows a product to be tracked throughout its lifespan"

3 questions for Jean-Pierre Petit, director of Sogeti High Tech and Capgemini's Digital Manufacturing services. 

What is the principle of digital continuity in the industrial sector?


The principle of digital continuity means working on the same virtual model from the research lab phase all the way up to the after sales service phase. This enables stakeholders to monitor a product across its life span, as well as reducing the "time to market". 

Today, there are gaps in this chain. Not all existing products and machines have been designed using a digital model. There is a need, therefore, to use 3D laser scanning in order to rebuild this digital model. 3D printing also seeks to develop components that are "printable" during the early phases of production, excluding screws and other types of nuts and bolts. 

Digital technology also reduces the cost of the transition from the virtual to the real world. Progress in the field of high performance processing today enables us to simulate a product, a production flow or a manufacturing procedure.  

What are the other benefits of the future factory?


By placing pressure, heat or vibration sensors on a machine, an industrial worker knows, in real time, how the machine is performing as well as its state of "health", and they can therefore anticipate breakdowns or malfunctions as part of their product quality policy.  

Connected objects also enable a manufacturer to know how his project is used and which types of operational settings have been adopted. This is precious feedback for handling future changes or the next generation of products, and more effective and efficient than a large pile of customer satisfaction surveys.  

The future factory will also give value to the role of humans. Enhanced reality will allow humans to obtain the right information -- while on the move -- about the machines that they supervise or repair. Robots will not replace humans. We see with cobotics that man and machine can coexist peacefully, with man focusing on data analysis.  

To what extent have these new technologies been adopted?

 
Not all industries encounter the same problems and not all of them are at the same level of maturity. In "asset intensive" industries such as the nuclear power industry, for example, each of the different stakeholders who develops, builds, operates, maintains and decommissions power plants has their own CAD and OLM tools. How do we know if all of their digital assets are up to date? This brings us back to the "digital twin" concept, which consists in making a copy every time a new machine is installed.  
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