When people think of the Factory of the Future, the first word that comes to their minds is automation. They think of the “lights-out” factories (famously quoted by Elon Musk), that are so dominated by robots and machines and don’t need human resources. The evolution to more automated processes has been years in the making. Although there are many technologies needed to automate manufacturing behind the scenes—such as programmable logic controllers (PLCs), software and vision systems—robots have become the most visible symbols of lights-out manufacturing.
Many people are currently trying to envision the Factory of the Future – a place where the Internet of Things has firmly established itself, where flexible automation solutions make possible custom products with batch sizes of a single unit, and where virtual and actual value streams merge into connected production. Many of these features are either already a reality, are on the horizon or have now become generally accepted principles. In our own international production networks, we at Bosch are experiencing how the framework conditions for manufacturers are changing and new challenges to overcome. The expectations are clear: manufacturing companies require lower maintenance and repair costs with higher machine availability, and increased efficiency from procurement (source) through production (make) to the end customer (deliver) through transparency and traceability.
We have been cooperating closely with plants in the Bosch Group to develop future-oriented automation products, solutions and services and make them available to machine manufacturers and end users. Production specialists in our own plants are actively engaged with these issues and are already working on the next generation in series production. On the basis of established production systems, IT networks will increase transparency and reduce wastage even further. Production will be able to achieve new records in terms of quality, cost and availability. To make this happen companies will use standardized production modules, which as part of international production networks will be the same everywhere. The factory of the future will be also be highly flexible and capable of production with ever smaller batch sizes, even down to a single unit. This requires closely connected, extremely flexible and optimized value streams in production which are descriptive of a target state in the virtual, data-driven world of the factory and which are in positive competition with the materialized real world. The goal is an ongoing exchange and the optimization of actual and target values. The vision is even more ambitious and we want to link up the entire international production network. Then data will flow from plant to plant, and similar facilities will compare their cycle times globally. Products will have a “memory” containing their basic features. Meanwhile, associates will continue to play a decisive role in the networked factory and the solutions will help to manage the complex issues.
We are the “movers and shapers” of the Internet of Things (IoT). In the industrial sector, this includes connecting entire value streams — from procurement (source) and manufacturing processes (make) to intralogistics and external logistics (deliver). But above all, humans play a key role in the development towards the connected factory. Although the portfolio is driven by technology, the central issue for Bosch is always: What are the human needs? The superordinate role of Industry 4.0 is to make day-to-day work easier for employees, while optimizing manufacturing processes with respect to transparency, quality, flexibility, and productivity. With the broad portfolio of intelligent Industry 4.0 software solutions and services, Bosch Connected Industry aims to provide solutions that address real challenges. All solutions are developed to support operators, maintenance staff, production supervisors, and factory managers in their daily work. Accordingly, the focus is on easy usage and a modular design. “We eat what we cook” is how Bosch describes the attitude underlying this approach.
There’s no doubt that the industry will continue to vigorously pursue automation solutions to lower the cost of producing products .But the reality is that any major leap forward on cost and efficiency will no longer be possible through automation alone, since most of the tasks that can be automated in the factory have already been tackled.