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The entire manufacturing industry is set to change, spurred on by a connected environment linking every part of a factory together. Changes are already happening in user interaction, shift allocation, warehouse management, route management, risk management and the entire production process, as a result of technology.

Smart factories are getting smarterDereshin Pillay, Sales & Service Management Head: Manufacturing and Automotive, at T-Systems South Africa says that ultimately, smarter factories will mean that manufacturers will be able to deliver what the market needs, faster, with more accuracy and less risk. “Smart factories are becoming even smarter, as Artificial Intelligence (AI), data analytics, Augmented Reality (AR) and connected everything bring about an environment where self-correction, automatic streamlining and the elimination of expensive prototype development are entirely possible. In fact, it’s not just possible; it’s happening already,” he says.

The introduction of self-learning AI bots into the factory is playing a large role in the reshaping of smart factories, Pillay says. The bot monitors the entire production line and operation, gathering data from various sensors, machines and devices to teach itself what the parameters of “normal” operations are. Over time, the bot learns the intricacies of the factory and can advise on where to optimise, and can even accomplish this without human intervention.

The bot can pick up where and when something requires maintenance, making it easier to know precisely what components need maintenance, helping to reduce the risk of equipment failure. If needed, the bot can interact with a machine to automatically halt a production line and prevent failure. It issues a ticket for repair, creates an inventory list for components and assigns technicians for the repair in a matter of seconds.

At the same time, the bot can notify customers or logistics partners of the delay in production and what products are affected to ensure expectations are set. This fast, reactive process saves time and product loss, and quickly becomes proactive as the bot learns patterns and identifies triggers in advance. The bot also has the ability to identify objects, such as forklifts, and understand their operating parameters, making recommendations for safer routes or pinpointing where the greatest risks are for operation.

Pillay says that the world of AR also offers manufacturers a smart solution that can save them years in research and development, while also saving money spent on building, testing, re-building and re-testing prototypes. Offering unparalleled accuracy, AR allows manufacturers to virtually ‘build’ a prototype and trial various materials, looks and feels, and make tweaks without ever making or using a single component.

“A classic example are the prototypes created for airbuses. Aeroplanes are ‘built’ in AR with different materials and design parameters, and simulations are tested for aerodynamics, resiliency, speed, weather handling capacity and much more. This AR means fortunes are not spent on physically building and testing an entire airbus - something that is costly the first time and can chew through millions of Rands should changes or re-builds be needed. The final, approved AR version becomes the official blueprint for manufacturing,” he explains.

“When AR is able to produce and test prototypes without physically building anything, and bots are able to augment with machines to optimise production and reduce risk, the results are smarter than ever before.”

Image credit: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dereshin-pillay/

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