Integrating technology in manufacturing is one of the pillars of industrial competitiveness. It enables the industry to respond to the fundamental market requirements : quality, flexibility and sustainability. A company that neglects its production tools weakens its competitiveness. On the opposite, placing it at the top of its priorities is a competitive advantage.
In order to respond to market demand, machines integrate an ever-increasing number of electronically controlled functions to automate handling. Sensors monitor more and more operations to follow the processes in real time and control the frequent product changeovers. They thus guarantee higher quality and flexibility on the production and packaging lines. In this domain new vision and measurement technologies are particularly valuable.
Promoting the digital plant
We expect this trend to continue. In order to progress in terms of flexibility and performance we need to promote the digital plant concept. This entails integrating and developing simulation software that enables complete visualization and modelling of manufacturing processes. Manufacturers benefit in many ways: finer parameter setting, faster production changeover, more efficient coordination of successive manufacturing operations.
Another major innovation priority is developing communication protocols that enable machines on a given production line to exchange data. But there are other items on the list:
simplifying the control panel flow chart to make it more accessible to the operator, designing smaller and more powerful components, moving towards new generation robots that integrate mobile and drone technologies to make machines even smarter.
Accelerate robotics integration in our manufacturing processes
Any progress made to accelerate robotics integration in manufacturing processes is a step in the right direction. The challenge is to get all the players to innovate concurrently.
In France, the SYMOP (French Association for Manufacturing Machines and Technologies) has initiated the “SME (small and mid-sized enterprise) Robot Start”. The project plans to help 250 SME’s purchase, set up and integrate their first robot in their production line. It consists of helping the manufacturer invest in the robot and participating financially in hiring experts to define the specifications of the robot, as well as assist during installation and commissioning.
In the U.K. the BARA (British Automation & Robot Association) also launched a manufacturing automation program in 2011, called “ Automating Manufacturing Program ». Less than 6 months after its launch over 150 manufacturer requests had already been registered. The program involved two stages: first identify opportunities to improve production through automation; second provide the manufacturer with the knowledge and information required to plan and successfully implement the automation solution. The program was highly successful and ended in March 2013, having generated 207 audits.
Encourage investment and cross-fertilization
Another initiative is in place in France to encourage innovation in machinery and support the robotics industry at large: “France Robots Initiatives” has been launched by the French ministry of “Manufacturing-based Trade Development”. The SYMOP, the CEA (Atomic Energy Bureau) and the CETIM (Technical Center for the Mechanical Industry) head the “Smart Machines” group.
Their common objective is to give the suppliers easier access to the fundamental research centers in order to better implement their academic findings and accelerate the development of “Smart Machines” that are more flexible, more automated and in line with the requirements of sustainable manufacturing. In other words, integrate all the technological innovations that make their machines smarter!
Benchmarking with machine manufacturers from other industries, such as wood and paper, to identify how they evolve and working as a team to analyze how to integrate additional sensors and more evolved controls in their own machines is another asset to modernize manufacturing technologies. It will undoubtedly lead to increasing manufacturing competitiveness.
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