Where the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) was once regarded “cutting-edge”, the next generation of manufacturing machines is leaping lightyears ahead. Connected clouds, artificial intelligence, augmented reality; there is a whole host of new technology waiting in the wings. What makes these especially exciting, however, is that they won’t simply boost productivity and profitability on the work floor - they will revolutionise our industry as we know it today.
Want to know what 2019 has in store for machine builders? We sat down with Marc Booth, OEM UK Sales Manager at Siemens Digital Factory, to get his predictions on the future of machine building.
According to Marc, in 2019, artificial intelligence (AI), or “improved machine learning algorithms”, will start to appear on the production lines of the future.
“Dynamic and ever-changing algorithms will wipe out the need for standard automated machines”, says Marc. “No longer will we rely on basic machinery to only engage in repetitive tasks. Instead, AI will work as judiciously as a human and as quickly as a machine, polishing its action through the data it receives.”
By analysing these learnings, AI will be able to deduce what makes an efficient production line, thus continually improving upon its service. To experts like Marc, and those within the OEM industry, this alone could “dramatically revolutionise production times.”
Here at Siemens, we are already using machine learning to increase the electricity output of wind turbines. When tasked with improving the efficiency of wind farms, we first look towards AI for weather pattern data collection. When enough pattern data is stored, the system is then able to make predictions about how the changing direction of the wind affects the speed of the turbine’s rotors. AI can then autonomously adjust the position of the rotors, depending on the direction of the wind. The result is greater electricity output and better-optimised operations.
Last year, 66 per cent of the world’s manufacturing companies implemented cloud technology into their production lines. In the coming years, Marc predicts there will be a seismic uptake in virtual data storage along every pillar of factory production.
“Where heavy computing systems once reigned supreme, cloud computing will make it possible to manage, process and store all machine data from a single cloud server”, says Marc. “In turn, expensive – and obtrusive - equipment will no longer be needed on the factory floor.”
Along with the physical benefits, the cloud is also useful for its flexible and functional applications. “With connected clouds, multiple networks will be able to link up and communicate with one another. This means factories, no matter how large, will have all the information they need at a click of a button.” As a result, tasks will be completed more quickly, products will get to market sooner, and customer demands will be addressed more efficiently.
Connected cloud systems, however, are just the beginning. The real magic happens when they are combined with edge computing. By introducing local and high-performance data processing directly within the automation system, app-based data analysis can then be managed outside of the cloud’s core, closer to where it makes contact with the physical world.
This is already a fully-operating feature of our communication system. For instance, Analyze MyWorkpiece collects and analyses data close to where it originates in the production process. This is then integrated into Siemens’ MindSphere cloud-based operating system, so that everything from software updates to data processing can be quickly – and securely – controlled.
According to Marc, augmented reality (AR) headsets will soon be “as ubiquitous as hard hats on a construction site.”
One of the first areas AR will positively impact in the manufacturing space will be the assembly line. “Staff, wearing these AR headsets, will only need to glance over items to receive assembly instructions. Questions will be asked via voice control and answered automatically on the headset’s screen, while technical drawings will be displayed to provide additional insight,” says Marc. What’s more, videos from previous assembly successes will be shown in AR, so that staff members can see how it’s done without removing themselves from their workstation.
To Marc, this “hands-free” theme will be a defining step in the manufacturing machinery world. “When repairs are issued”, he says, “employees will only need to turn their headsets towards an item to identify the problem.” Malfunctions will also be automatically highlighted by the AR device, along with “auto-generated repair instructions and special tool requirements” for the job.
At Siemens, the answer to AR already exists in the Digital Twin simulation tool. “Digital Twin overlays digital information onto real products so that engineers can see inside the machines they are working on”, Marc says. “Then, if any issues are identified, changes can be made virtually, thus sparing the builders’ expense.” As a result, the existing software simply needs to be rewritten (as opposed to buying a new machine).
For machine builders of the future, being competitive means producing and delivering high-quality machines more efficiently and at a faster rate.
Yet despite the constant changes and trends in the industry, Marc reminds us that there is one thing, and one thing only, machine builders need to do to stay ahead of the curve: “Be the first to grasp advanced technology. Don’t wait for the industry to catch up; take hold of new processes like they’re going out of fashion”
12, 18, 2018
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