This is a very exciting time to be in Manufacturing! Manufacturing Engineers’ toolboxes are expanding everyday with new technologies and possibilities for greater efficiency and capability. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, or what some are calling Industry 4.0, is bringing all kinds of tools to bear on all processes in our industrial world. It used to be that only very large companies could take advantage of the latest technologies due to cost, limited availability, and the need for continuous development as they were implemented. Today, the suppliers of these critical technologies have more robust, user friendly solutions at costs that enable even small to medium size enterprises to employ. The next step in embracing this revolution is making sure that Manufacturing Engineers are exposed to and educated on what is possible.
At Parker Hannifin we are re-architecting our organizations for Information Technology and Operations Technology to take full advantage of these latest opportunities. Historically this has been a stumbling block for industry. The lines of demarcation and corporate policies hinder the adoption of solutions requiring on-floor data and back office information to mix fluently and create optimal solutions. Data-Driven Manufacturing (DDM) can enable increased optimization and productivity proportionally with connectivity and data accessibility.
"With new tools and technologies repeatedly becoming available, how could anyone not become even more enamored with this profession?"
With the complexity of operations, taking Lean to the next level requires taking advantage of analytics and processors to crunch the data and present the meaningful minority to the team. It is, and has always been, extremely valuable to have the operations personnel comb through, chart, and analyze the production data to keep quality and productivity high. The increasing amount of data available has surpassed the ability for completely manual efforts. It is more efficient to have computers analyze the data and point to the critical areas where operations should review and take action. Setting up that process and linkage to action properly is now more important than ever to keep that tight-knit connection.
So what tools should be included in your toolbox?
Robotics: Low unemployment today has created a situation of not having enough qualified applicants to fill job openings. Robotic automation, both collaborative and traditional industrial, provide an opportunity to mitigate this issue. More and more, employees are seeing this as less of a threat and more of an opportunity to avoid the jobs they do not like with the ability to do more interesting and complex work. Implementing Lean practices and hosting Kaizen events prior to implementation help avoid automating bad processes. Benefits of greater efficiency, consistency, quick return on investment and the inherent data available for DDM make automation a must do.
Vision Systems: Whether adding sight to robots or used for visual inspection or sorting, vision has come a long way in the past few years. Updates and new options for high resolution 2D cameras, 3D visual systems, laser line scanners and random robotic bin picking solutions are coming out with increasing velocity. The quality of the systems today not only ease the strain on employees but make robust the application of Zero Defect Manufacturing (ZDM) utilizing No Faults Forward (NFF) approaches.
Augmented Reality (AR): AR takes on many forms from station or warehouse scale projection systems to wearables. This rapidly expanding technology presents additional data and instruction to the user within their view of the real world which creates opportunities like never before. Imagine the time savings for training new operators! Instead of working with a new employee on their assembly tasks for several hours, the new operator starts directly at their workstation and follows the directions presented; parts to pick up are highlighted, how-to videos are run, and their motions are tracked for correctness. This non-intrusive system trains the new employee while not limiting the experienced team member, provides real motion data for DDM and enables NFF on manual operations. In high-mix / low-volume operations, it can dramatically improve output quality by making sure things are done properly every time.
Virtual Reality (VR), The complete immersion in the 3D simulation now allows global engineering teams to collaborate and review designs and systems that exist only in a computer without having to leave their facilities.The teams can interact, walk around, mark up changes and work together as if they were together in the same room around real hardware.
Additive Manufacturing (AM): 3D printing is re-writing the rules of how to design and make things. AM is not only used for prototyping and manufacturing trials (machine interference, CMM teaching, fluid studies…), but additionally for tooling, fixtures and gauges. These are being produced in great numbers. Created in very short time at minimal cost, these items can be iterated and optimized for the parts and application. Production parts are always the desire. Metal and many polymer systems produce parts suitable for end use. Design technologies are catching up with our abilities to “grow” parts. Generative Design / Topology Optimization are technologies where the computer uses loads, torques, envelope and constraints provided by the engineer to evolve the design. It does this through multitudes of iterations and presents functional geometry options at minimal weight that may not have occurred to the user.
Machine Learning / Artificial Intelligence (AI): Many manufacturing challenges still rely on people. Difficult inspection processes, or operations with a great deal of variability of parts require the intelligence of people to make decisions. Optimization of machine cycles and robot motion today may only be taken so far due to human limitations. The capabilities of AI and Machine Learning are expanding at a fast pace and will soon be one more common tool in a Manufacturing Engineer’s toolbox to take on these and other tasks. These technologies are good at finding the anomaly and working through multitudes of trials to find the right solution. As processing power increases, so will the application of these technologies.
This rapidly expanding world of manufacturing technologies and capabilities is truly exciting. Manufacturing Engineers have always found developing new processes and manufacturing systems to be rewarding. With new tools and technologies repeatedly becoming available, how could anyone not become even more enamored with this profession?