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Industry 4.0: Smart Factories & What That Means For You

Vector HD: _600lb capacity mobile robot

Manufacturers of all sizes are searching for ways to improve processes that make them faster, more efficient, and cost-effective to compete in today’s global economy.  Increasingly, they are turning to automation for continued productivity gains. With automation comes the ability to connect various processes and leverage data in ways unimaginable just 10 to 20 years ago. Did you know this trend towards smarter factories has a name?

Welcome to Industry 4.0.

Loosely defined as the fourth revolution in the world of manufacturing, Industry 4.0 is the growth of automation and data technologies powered by the internet of things (IoT), the cloud, advanced computers, robotics, and people. This revolution has not only made smart manufacturing possible but easier than ever to achieve for manufacturers and factories of all sizes and varieties.

Industry 4.0 and You

Industry 4.0 is the seamless integration of software, equipment, and people that increases the speed, reliability, and flow of information between all systems of a manufacturer. Often, these operations are manual, with work orders and parts delivered from area to area within a factory, often a slow and inconsistent process. Industry 4.0 automates these workflows, improving speed and efficiency in smart factories.

The idea of automation can be concerning for workers afraid of losing their jobs as well as for their leaders who value their existing workforce.  However, the key to an automated workflow is the people – they are the brains, the power, and the trained professionals who bring all of these components together. The people in a smart factory should be part of every design process and calculation in order to fully leverage the potential benefits of Industry 4.0

Smart Factories at Work

Automation and Industry 4.0 sound promising, but what do they actually look
like? For a better understanding of what a smart factory and smart manufacturing might
look like for you, here’s an example of one put into practice:

Many manufacturers and factories with sophisticated technologies still use manual processes. A software program (manufacturing resource planning, MRP or enterprise resource planning, ERP)  tracks orders, identifies materials needed, locates where materials are in the factory, and then creates a work order. From there, it’s a multi-step process to manufacture goods.

  1. A worker takes the printed work order and collects the parts needed.
  2. They deliver the goods to a workstation.
  3. An employee assembles the product.
  4. The product is then delivered by an employee to quality control.
  5. Q/C  inspects parts, then sends it to shipping and receiving.

Along the way, the MRP or ERP systems collect data at three points of the process – the work order, the stop in quality control, and when it is sent to shipping. This, once considered an advanced system, gives very little data and insight into how well the factory was operating.

Today, automation is changing the game and improving all facets of traditional workflows.

How does it work? Waypoint has teamed up with Oracle to demonstrate how new data technologies, and advanced equipment at work — like robotics — are reducing manual movement of materials and giving companies more visibility into the entire process with no extra effort or cost.

All of the data (cycle time, inventory, quality control, and more) is incredibly helpful but is oftentimes too costly and time-consuming to collect in traditional manufacturing systems. Smart factory IoT reduces manual material movement and data entry, making the process more efficient and cost-effective while providing insight into every step of the manufacturing process. Most importantly, it allows workers to focus on more valuable tasks so they can get more done.  Creating a smart factory depends upon the fusion of software systems, material handling, inspection systems, robots, and most importantly, the people.

At Waypoint, we not only build autonomous mobile robots for the factory, we also believe that the workforce should be at the center of every operation. If you are a machinist or a computer technician or work in shipping, your value is your expertise, and you should be empowered to use it.

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