What will the factory of the future look like?
The answer is all around us, informed by the revolution in new technologies, advanced materials, and machine trends that have shaped modern life.
Factory automation today is at the equivalent maturity of the mainframe era of computing just before the personal computer revolution. But new automation-enabling technologies, including 3D printing, new energy sources, wireless solutions, advanced sensors, and ubiquitous Internet connectivity will fuel what many call Industrial Revolution 3.0.
Today upwards of 40% of the world’s electricity production is used by factories, with motors alone consuming almost 30% of that total. The future will be much more efficient, as manufacturers shift to renewable energy sources, advanced battery technologies and more efficient electric motors.
Also in the picture; a quantum improvement in robots and robotics that will free these workhorses from their cages to work alongside humans. Today, robots perform the heavy lifting and repetitive work that frees human workers to concentrate on tasks that require more human dexterity or analysis. Going forward, look to see a more highly integrated man/machine interface incorporating sophisticated human/robot manufacturing techniques.
As factories put their spin on computer and network connectivity, the Industrial Internet (II) or Industrial Internet of the Things (IIoT) will usher in a new era of interoperability as powerful Machine-to-Machine (M2M) protocols replace closed, proprietary protocols such as Modbus, Ethernet/IP, and CANopen.
For a deeper look at some of the key levers — the enabling technologies — that will operate the future factory see Trends in 21st Century Factory Automation.