Smart Factories in Manufacturing & Engineering
21 June 2017
It sounds like something out of a Phillip K. Dick novel – factories that are run via machine-to-machine learning, cognitive robotics and a whole other array of cyberphysical systems. Yet, it is looking increasingly likely that the Scottish Manufacturing and Engineering industry will be home to several ‘smart data factories’, operating in this exact way.
Whilst it is not something that will happen overnight, the use of artificial intelligence and technology has been creeping in to all sectors of industry in the past few years or so. Manufacturing, in particular, has seen jobs losses to machines. However, all of those writing about these new technologies insist that they will never fully replace humans. Rather, that we will have to learn new skills to maintain and update the robotics instead.
A report in trade magazine The Manufacturer, states: “Digital technologies and automation aren’t new concepts to manufacturers; many businesses have been successfully using them for decades … What’s new is the high-level of intelligence these disparate systems display, combined with the increasing rate of connectivity between them all.
“Due to the prior knowledge and experience of manufacturers, they are among the best placed to take advantage of this new wave of technology – indeed, many are, some without even being aware of it.”
We have more access to science and robotics than ever before, so it makes sense to take advantage of it in order to secure our position, as a nation, as one of the front runners of new and emerging technology. We can use data and intelligence facilities to work smarter. For example, it will be able to keep track of day-to-day efficiency and overall productivity trends. It will help a business to understand its employees working patterns more, and perhaps adjust orders and output based on this. Data will also allow a business to identify any errors quickly and rectify them.
The Scottish government’s focus on STEM education from primary school level will, hopefully, result in a wave of engaged and passionate employees who are able to read and manipulate such data and technology in order to make our factories productive and profitable. It is essential that the technology is used not only effectively but meaningfully.
Businesses simply have to keep up with the technology. If they don’t, they face being left behind. The journey towards realising digital capabilities will affect all departments within a company – from R&D to sales; from production to customer service and distribution. It is important that businesses continue to forge ahead with modernisation - especially if Britain is to truly open itself up to global markets.
The move towards any such ‘smart data factories’ may seem disruptive to many businesses. After all, our Manufacturing and Engineering sectors were built on traditional hands-on work. But it doesn’t need to be scary. Digital transformation could actually open up new streams of revenue, foster new and exciting innovations and make positive changes within the industry.
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Written By Michelle McLaughlin