Future digital factory controlled by virtual robots
The robotics need not manifest in the form of a Bumblebee, Data, C3PO or Terminator, and not even an R2D2 or a Wall-E.
Engineers at the Technical Research Center (VTT) and Tampere University, both in Finland, are working on much more discrete robots.
They are robots that exist in the form of binary codes, inside computers, but that will be responsible for managing entire factories – more than that, coordinating several plants.
With this “digital in charge” will be born what engineers call virtual factories, several real manufacturing units that become one in the eyes of their robotic coordinators, producing goods in an integrated and coordinated way.
“The digital factory of the future can operate globally as a decentralized network of companies with different subnetworks. The manufacture is controlled remotely from any place via the Internet. The criteria for the manufacturing site can be, for example, efficiency, quality or proximity to the customer, “summarizes Professor Risto Kuivanen, coordinator of the SMACC project, Center for Manufacturing and Intelligent Machines.
And it’s not just ideas. Kuivanen spoke while demonstrating the joint operation of three industrial cells – which could be entire factories in the future – with their robots, welding machines, presses, laser cutting machines, etc. – all being coordinated by virtual robots – or software agents.
Images of the plants and data of each machine were shown in real time in the control center during the demonstration – the “any place” to which the engineer referred.
The intention of the team is that different production units – the real factories – can have their integrated equipment to react quickly to changes in the market, be it a peak of demand or a lack of buyers for products originally manufactured – virtual integration will allow equipment to be reused to make other products.
Several productive units of the same group may also reorganize to increase efficiency or support some factory in difficulty.
The team asserts that the technologies needed to integrate real factories “are in rapid development” and can be used depending on economic conditions.
Meanwhile, they are working to include 3D printing, which promises to give a new level of flexibility to the production process.