Originally published in i4.0 Today here.
Our journey towards industry 4.0 is by no means over, but with so much written about the Smart Factory recently I thought it would be interesting to imagine just how things could change in the near-term future with enabling technologies like conversational AI, robotics, AR and wearables, and the digital twin.
But before we get into that, our Industry 4.0 adventure started some time ago and it was not a solitary adventure. It’s only with collaboration, both inside and outside of the factory, that allowed us to be successful. We identified awesome partners and guides to help us through the process and our internal team embraced the changes whole-heartedly, seeing quickly that these changes would allow them to do an even better job! We’ve learned many lessons along the way, the biggest ones being around the importance of open, pragmatic collaboration and teamwork.
So, who’s Lectronics Luigi?
In the same way that so called smart speakers or digital assistants, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home were everywhere at CES2018 (Consumer Electronics Show) and are ever present in millions of homes, Lectronics Luigi is our very own conversational AI for the factory.
Jason: “Hey Luigi, how’s line two performing today?”
Luigi: “It was running at full capacity and speed on the first shift, Jason; but since the second shift started, we are seeing some variability in SPI results that are impacting both print quality and speed”
Jason: “What do you suggest Luigi?”
Luigi: “I’d like to try adjusting the print pressure first and if that doesn’t work, I’ll schedule maintenance of the printer after this job is complete, I can transfer production to line three and four to keep us on schedule for all our deliveries.”
Jason: “Go ahead Luigi, once completed please update the production team and inform the printer vendor of any concerns”
Luigi: “It’s done Jason. By the way, Alexa tells me the traffic is heavy today and you’ll be late to the office, the coffee is on and Davina brought donuts!”
We believe that conversational AI and voice controlled assistance are an important part of just about every part of our future, at work, at home and in the car between the two. Access to Luigi will be through mobile devices as well as on the factory floor, and we believe that Luigi will also be talking to our vendors and customers. The idea of multiple voices on the same platform is exciting, so when Alexa and Luigi meet we envision a day when Jason Sciberras, VP of Manufacturing and Operations, can check the weather with Alexa in the morning and the overnight factory performance with Luigi.
Artificial Intelligence Learns Quickly
Many expect AI to be like electricity in the future, we know it’s there whenever we need it, but we don’t talk about it anymore. If this is the case and AI delivers the promise of rapid processing of large amounts of data and deep machine learning, the applications in electronic manufacturing are endless. There are many voices in production that want to influence planning, from supply chain management and materials issues, to machine prioritization and of course, most importantly, our customers. As a production planner, you must consider and prioritize all those voices to reach the right decision, often with little time to model all the options. Imagine an AI driven system that learns from experience, models different scenarios that take every ‘digital voice’ into consideration, and delivers a solution in seconds. That’s powerful!
The demands of every part of the line are rarely identical; and in fact, some are in conflict. For example, the oven would ideally go from the coldest to the hottest recipe through a shift and cool down between shifts. That plan may not suit the placement machine, which works on job families, or customer priorities, which change at any time. We think AI will help balance these issues and output the best solution, improving line utilization and performance.
Manufacturing in The Augmented Age
In the augmented age, we will use tools like VR headsets to augment our skills and to make processes simpler and more repeatable. We expect to be using AR glasses to deliver a mixed reality experience to both our staff and our visitors.
As operators pass the oven, KIC’s smart oven technology will deliver the current oven profile into view, showing them each zone of the oven as they shift their gaze from left to right. Work instructions will also be delivered to heads-up displays, giving process management the ability to update instructions on-the-fly, and when queries occur, see precisely what the operator sees. Our maintenance team will use the same glasses to get service instructions for equipment. If an issue arises, voice activation will allow them to link with the equipment vendor’s technical support team who will be able to troubleshoot the process remotely.
For customers and prospects, our plant tour will become a mixed reality experience that can be enjoyed onsite and remotely. Taking a tour with AR glasses will allow visitors to see real-time data as they move through each part of our electronics assembly facility and past every machine. At exhibitions or in remote locations, we’ll be able to take people on a virtual tour with 360 video. Imagine accompanying Jason on a factory tour from your own desk, seeing exactly what he sees, including real-time production data.
In training, new operators will enjoy an immersive experience, where their trainer sees what they see and vice versa. Training instructions are delivered in audio and visual ways and even using haptic feedback through wearables. Instructions and prompts can be projected directly onto the work area. Maybe this means we will be recruiting more millennials with virtual gaming skills in the future!
Cobots – Companions and Collaborators
In the electronic manufacturing world, we know cobots as collaborative robots, but in the consumer world they’re companion robots. These are robots that humans build relationships with, that become part of the family. Robot dogs, play robots, sleep robots that you can cuddle, and robots that teach pre-school kids all featured at this year’s CES2018 in Las Vegas.
While I don’t see Saline Lectronics having a robot dog, I do see collaborative robots supporting, or augmenting, our team on the factory floor.
Collaborative robots will work alongside technicians performing repetitive, intensive tasks. They aren’t replacing our technicians; rather, these robots will be making their work easier to do, augmenting them, and making them more productive. I envision our cobots shuttling PCBA’s from one department to another, performing the duties of a water spider, refilling components at each station, and performing routine maintenance of production equipment.
The most important part of the application of robotics, like other forms of automation is going to be the human machine interface (HMI) and the close and mutually beneficial relationship between the two. Robots will learn from humans, as well as sharing their ability to do the tasks operators can’t, or don’t need to, do. Systems that simulate work will allow our technicians to review processes, via those aforementioned AR glasses, before starting work on live product.
Wearables That Keep Our Team Safe
Wearables like smart gloves offer the user the ability to use gesture control to operate equipment as well as pull up display information or make adjustments; but what about smart fabrics that monitor stress levels within operators doing challenging and mission critical work? Whilst we’d never advocate constant monitoring of operators, it is interesting to imagine a situation where attentiveness and stress levels can be measured to keep our team safe.
Wearables could also ensure ESD compliance as well as monitor comfort, fatigue and even boredom of operators in order to help create the most ergonomic environment. The wearable device would alarm to move an operator to a task that keeps them stimulated.
Whilst not a wearable, gaze monitoring and control is finding its way into the automotive sectors where it monitors a driver’s readiness to take over from the ADAS (Automated Drivers Assistance System). In manufacturing, it could offer a further measure of attentiveness, while movement of gaze could be used as a prompt to operate tools hands-free.
We currently collect vast amounts of data from our Lectronics Connected Factory. Powered through intelligent machine-to-machine communication (M2M) and Cogiscan’s Track Trace and Control (TTC) System, we think our factory is a shining example of the Internet of Manufacturing (IoM) for an EMS provider. We’re working on converging IT and OT to revolutionize the way we quote new jobs, plan the supply chain and schedule the production floor. A digital twin of our lines, or even our whole manufacturing supply chain, could offer us the ability to use this data to create some amazing simulations.
This would allow us to predict the impact of additional orders, a supply chain disruption, or a simple component shortage. A digital twin will allow our supply chain and scheduling teams to quickly and efficiently simulate the ideal scenario for a new job. It would quickly analyze current production, align the new job within the pipeline and make suggestions based on the target delivery, required material, and assembly steps. This work is labor intensive and requires our experienced quoting, purchasing and scheduling teams to analyze each job individually. It’s tedious work to manipulate the ERP system line by line and one change, like a rush production job added last minute, can create hours of additional work. A digital twin system would allow this work to be completed in minutes!
Vive le Revolution!
Many of these technologies were more sci-fi than reality when the concepts of Industry 4.0 were discussed five years ago, but we are moving towards the adoption of them at an alarming speed. Like Industry 4.0, Industry 4.5 or 5.0 will be all about the flexibility of an open architecture, with the result being greater than the sum of its parts. In this future, we expect to be able to blend all these technologies and work with some existing and new partners to deliver an amazing customer experience and service.
We’re as excited about the journey as we are about the destination. Similar to our journey towards Industry 4.0, it’s going to be all about teamwork and the awesome technology being delivered by incredibly talented people who really care about what we can deliver to our customers.