Profitable Intelligent Manufacturing Systems for the Future
Paper i proceeding, 2004
The demands on manufacturing industry today are ever changing, becoming more and more challenging. Fulfilling the customer requirements is not good enough anymore. Products have to be produced before customer needs in order to be first on the market. Needs can be created through com-mercials and other enticements. While the lifecycle of products and production systems become shorter and shorter and the low cost countries, with labour flexibility as the main tool for production planning and control, are gaining more and more industrial competitiveness. This is a threat in itself on European SMEs and MMEs, since todays inflexible automated manufacturing equipment cannot compete with the labour flexibility low cost countries use. The above statements put very high pressure on the future production facilities in the western world. The need for intelligent manufacturing systems which can support many products and product variants, are essential if the competitiveness should last. There are many automation solutions available on the market today, however, the potential is not fully utilized. A chain is not stronger than its weakest link and the chain in automated production facilities is long. The chain consists of not only the equipment; it is the usage of the equipment in terms of working procedures, organisational structure, knowledge and learning environments for continuous improvements and the striving to keep the competencies within the company. Additionally, automation equipment set demands on process efficiency, including communication, PDM, ERP, Production IT in combination with the empowerment of operators which is one of the key enablers for successful manufacturing in the factory of the future.
In order to empower operators in a reconfigurable modular manufacturing system, the need of well developed Human Machine Interfaces (HMI) is of greatest importance. One successful prototype plant has been made in the concept of PLM (Product and Process Lifecycle Management), which is proof of the concept, and a taste of future automation solutions for modern countries.
Large companies who sells automation software solutions, like ERP and PDM, often take the upper hand on SME who invest in their solutions. There is a need for a complete reconfigurable modular manufacturing system which can be easily adaptable to product changes and demands. This system will also need to have a built in software interface, including extensive HMIs for operators, which give the operators more control and responsibility. This increased work content will keep the production facilities competitive and profitable in the western world, caused by the demand of competence levels on the employees. The approach of an intelligent modular reconfigurable manufacturing system will be able to last for many product and product variants. It will also support SME and MME in the competitive environment on the future market, since the long term investment cost will be much lower with a reconfigurable modular manufacturing system. This paper will enlighten the possibilities concerning reconfigurable modular manufacturing systems for future profitability.