Manufacturing tech: Progress in industrial and manufacturing technology has led to higher efficiency and productivity in the manufacturing sector. These technologies cover a variety of subjects such as ‘Factories of the future’ (FotF), cobots, digital twins, 3D printing. These technologies can work as an equal partner to human workers and as semi-autonomous tools. They can help reduce strain on workers while increasing the productivity of the manufacturing plant.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an important technology in manufacturing. The implementation of AI on the factory floor can increase productivity, quality, and safety while decreasing waste. FotFs, such as GE’s Brilliant Factory in Pune and Boeing’s Smart Factory in Bangalore are great examples of this. These factories utilize advanced sensors, Internet of Things (IoT), and AI to automate production and make it more efficient.
An emerging technology within manufacturing is the concept of Digital Twins. These are simulations of manufacturing environments that can precisely mimic how equipment is run in the factory. They can be used to design and test factory floors at remote locations. The company Tata Steel uses this technology to improve yield, throughput, and quality. In one Tata Steel plant in Jamshedpur, the digital twin of the sinter plant can predict performance 90 minutes in advance.
Cobots are collaborative robots that work with human workers on the factory floor. These machines can help increase productivity and decrease strain on workers. In India, Bajaj Auto has adopted Danish Universal Robots’ cobots into their production line to increase the effectiveness of their workforce. Cobots are great tools for equalizing the effectiveness of the workforce since they are able to take care of tough tasks that wear down workers such as heavy lifting and menial tasks. They can also take care of precision work too detailed and precise for human workers.
FotFs, digital twins, and cobots will not only increase the efficiency of manufacturing they will also increase the safety on the factory floor as they can predict exhaustion, simulate safer production methods, and simply take care of dangerous tasks.
The adoption of advanced tech in manufacturing will open up the industry to many different opportunities. There are two main opportunities relating to this tech trend; freeing up workers for more creative thinking tasks and the possibility to connect factories and distribution networks globally.
As more and more menial tasks are taken over by cobots or other automated processes in factories, workers will not just disappear. Instead, workers will be free to work on more important tasks that are either too expensive to automate or demands a creative mindset that AI has yet to achieve. Freeing up human labour to focus on these tasks will undoubtedly increase a factory’s productivity. With digital twins, there is even the possibility of work-from-home for blue-collar workers in the control room.
The usage of FotFs and digital twins could have global consequences. Automated factories could be set up to not only measure things internally, but to also talk to global distribution networks and other FotF. While digital twins could allow companies to test factory environments on the other side of the world. Automating logistics, production, and testing on this scale in real time could decrease delivery time and thus downtime at the factory.
Tech in manufacturing is an area, where there has been widespread support from all kinds of stakeholders in India allowing for quicker implementation and innovation.
From a policy perspective (4) many governments have a national strategy for AI such as India’s #AIforAll. In India, government leaders, such as Prime Minister Modi, have opened factories and showed high levels of interest in advanced manufacturing technology.
From a corporate perspective (5) there has been a great deal of interest. Multinational companies such as GE and Boeing have opened automated factories in India. On the cobots front, companies like Bajaj Auto are working with Universal Robots. Companies like Tata Steel and Tata Tech are betting on digital twins to increase their throughput and quality through simulations. AI is seeing growing penetration in manufacturing all over the world.
From an academic perspective, there is an interest in developing technology for the manufacturing sector. Test factories and centres are being developed by universities in cooperation with companies. For example, Boeing’s factory was created with the Indian Institute of Science. Companies are also collaborating on developing digital twins. Recently, L&T Technology Services launched a Centre of Excellence on digital twins with Microsoft and Bentley Systems, while Indian Railways is collaborating with Birmingham University on a digital twins project. Among educational institutions, there is a solid interest in the development of cobots, AI, and automation.
From an entrepreneurial perspective (4) there is already a big AI community in the start-up ecosystem in India and a lot of focus on automation and logistics. Addverb Technologies is an example of a successful Indian startup in this field. There are also several Indian start-ups focused on digital twins in various fields such as manufacturing and logistics.
From an investment perspective there is a growing increase in corporate investments from large companies into FotFs and digital twins with the market projected to increase. However, in India this is mostly driven by large companies investing in their own production such as Boeing, GE, Tata Steel, and SKF.
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