Facilitating the Factory of the Future
Dr. Radu Pavel, Chief Technology Officer at OPTIS, discusses whether we’re ready for the Factory of the Future, as featured in Manufacturing Engineering.
Factories of the Future will transform the manufacturing process from a patchwork of isolated sectors and cells to an agile, integrated environment, with seamless downstream and upstream communications.
Data will be key. With more to manage, and related processes to integrate, a Lean approach is more important than ever. Information is the new business currency. From shop floor to board room, it must be easily updated and evaluated. Well segmented, actionable data creates the premise for new customer experiences. However, challenges in security, standardization and skills must be overcome.
The IT world is fighting its own security battles as data multiplies. This consideration is even more complex in industrial automation. Cyber-physical security is critical: security must evolve with the technology it protects.
This will mean harnessing virtual security, protecting physical and non-physical assets. Security and industrial control systems must be integrated for full operational oversight and gap analysis.
Standardization is the fundamental principle underpinning success, ensuring that machines, operators, and analysts all talk the same language. It forms the basis for communication between production, automation and oversight.
Factories of the Future will interconnect every step of the manufacturing process, integrating systems across domains, hierarchy, geographic boundaries, value chains and life cycle phases. The efficiency and viability of this integration will be strongly dependent on technologies, supported by global consensus-based standards.
Future factories will be shaped by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). As this evolution unfolds, standardization becomes even more important for automation and seamless communication between various production assets.
A unique skillset is required to operate industrial and ‘virtual’ machining processes. This skills gap represents a huge challenge. There are also cultural considerations to overcome in bringing together two ‘legacy’ teams that have traditionally had responsibility for, and expertise in, very different areas.
The human operator will interact with smart assistance systems, integrated with production equipment and cyber-physical systems. To keep up with rapid technological advancements, manufacturers will need to invest in developing technical talent to harvest the benefits offered by fast-paced factories.
From human to machine, there are key ‘enabling technologies’ to consider in facilitating ‘intelligent machining’.
Machine tools have evolved into advanced systems, with faster spindle speeds and traverse feed rates, automatic tool changers, and complex controls. However, advancement in the development of the machine tool hasn’t been matched by a system to monitor it. Although much information can be collected from the machine tool control itself, there are still sub-systems and performance parameters that require additional sensing solutions for proper monitoring.
New sensing solutions or adaptations are needed to enable inclusive, accurate and robust monitoring strategies to characterize, diagnose and control manufacturing.
Smart tools and inserts, with sensing capabilities will allow users to monitor the process and/or condition of the cutting tool, enabling accurate control of condition and prevention of breakage. This technology is in the early research stage, but once available, could revolutionize tool condition monitoring and shape the future of machining.
Software and analytic models
Most solutions today only address cutting or grinding process design and parameters, and tooling optimization. Future analytic tools will be continually adaptable to operating conditions. Data must determine decisions and machines must self-correct to optimize efficiencies.
A solution to the inflexibility of CNC programs is adaptive control: monitoring cutting conditions in real time and providing automatic optimization. Adaptive control is often part of a tool or machine condition monitoring system, and involves different sensing, data processing, and actuation solutions.
Machine tool maintenance
Across many industries, 15% – 40% of manufacturing costs and machine downtime are typically attributable to maintenance activities. Operational safety, maintenance, cost effectiveness, and asset availability have a direct impact on the competitiveness and viability of the Factory of the future.
There are significant technical challenges in machine tool condition monitoring and maintenance regimes. Current technologies ascertain ‘normal’ versus ‘abnormal’ behavior and/or track the magnitude of a known parameter or detected change over time. The highly dynamic environment of machining combined with the variety of manufacturing equipment configurations requires a much more advanced approach. Adaptive, self-aware systems, capable of accurate prognostics are envisioned as the next generation solution.