From automation to a Smart Factory

Many modern production facilities today are highly automated, and some industries like automotive have used roboticized assembly for decades. Industrial automation – the automated movement of material through a process and the mechanical manipulation of the product – is mature and necessary for efficiency. Automation produces higher productivity and greater repeatability.

The higher demands of competition and customers today mean that more manufacturers face many engineering challenges to remain competitive. These include:

  • The continuous need for companies to automate more in order to reduce cycle times, increase output and reduce scrap.
  • Efficiency improvement, driven ever harder by customer demands, competition and environmental issues.
  • The need for greater flexibility of their automated processes, answering the demand for shorter lifecycles of models or variants, higher numbers of product variants, and smaller batch sizes – even up to “the batch of one”.
  • Visibility of real-time factory operations to assist with effective asset management of on-site equipment.

New possibilities in automation are being revealed by the drivers of Industry 4.0 technology, such as the connectivity and interoperability of systems, machines, products and components. FARO calls this future state “Automation 4.0”.

So what is the difference between today’s highly automated factory and a connected or smart factory? Intelligent sensor technology is the main difference.

New sensor technology will power this move toward a truly Smart Factory

Embracing the right technology is crucial for smart automated processes.

Sensors collect and provide data that is necessary to control and ensure quality in automated processes. Better sensor technology, including 3D sensors, will help automation to become more flexible.

3D sensors and related solutions for automated 3D Measurement, Inspection, Validation and Quality processes can help a manufacturing company to solve several challenges of the smart factory described above.

These solutions include:

  • Automated inspection eliminates human operator influence and helps to standardize measurements and inspections. Collaborative solutions can work hand-in-hand with operatives on the factory floor.
  • These solutions automatically trigger the next process steps based on measurement, i.e. quality, results. Or they can support workers with relevant information, reducing the complexity of measurement results and simplifying decision-making for the next procedure.
  • Quality systems monitor every part and reduce cycle times. An intelligent system can provide real-time status information on the quality of a single part at separate process steps, for example, by passing integrated quality stages or gates with a 100% inspection. This allows fast response to quality-related issues at any given stage in the process and for every part.
  • Smarter sensor technology also helps to reduce cycle times, it allows in-process inspection rates of up to 100% of inspected parts and enables in-process validation of components.

This automated inspection technology is connected to the digital twin concept, having a digital facsimile of the real asset to monitor its state and, therefore, its quality.