The past, present, and future of smart factories
Technavio recently published a report detailing the top three emerging trends impacting the Global RTLS Market for industrial applications to 2020, and found that Ubisense is behind smart factories for many of the globe’s leading manufacturers. Jay Cadman at Ubisense talks about the history of smart factories and the new products today that are enabling many more businesses to realise the benefits of RTLS.
“While the phrase ‘smart factory’ is relatively recent, first coined at The Hanover Fair in 2011, the concept has been talked about in various forms for the past 30 years. And at Ubisense we’ve been creating smart factories for some of the world’s leading manufacturers in the automotive and discrete industries for more than a decade.
“Ubisense’s Smart Factory product was originally designed to specifically help vehicle OEMs tackle the challenges of managing ever increasing levels of complexity in assembly lines brought about by mass-customisation. By placing UWB tags on tools and mounting networked UWB sensors around the factory, we can locate and make sense of thousands of objects in a factory in real-time. This delivers real-time operational awareness and data-driven insights that enable smarter decisions for optimal process execution, eliminating the cost and burden of manual processes. This reduced the risk of errors and rework, increasing productivity and savings, enabling total traceability and compliance and increasing efficiency and automation.
“Around 4 percent of the world’s cars are now built in a factory installed with Ubisense’s Smart Factory but while automotive manufacturers have been the early adopters of location-driven Smart Factory solutions, others have also realised the benefits of best-in-class RTLS. For the past six years we have been working with Airbus to gain global perspective of its assembly operations across multiple sites and have helped to boost production efficiency. We’re now seeing an increase in demand from manufacturers of agricultural, military and industrial vehicles. This cross-sector demand is driving growth and analysts are predicting that the smart factory market will be worth 74.80 Billion USD by 2022, at a CAGR of 10.4 percent between 2016 and 2022.
“The rising adoption of UWB RTLS is one of the key trends fuelling the global RTLS market, a trend accelerated by new products that provide an entry level to this technology. Investing in a full blown RTLS solution is not only a major financial investment but represents a significant change to operations, systems and processes - a step too big for some who want to take a more cautious approach. Ubisense’s new product AngleID helps make this transition in incremental stages, delivering immediate benefits at little cost. Simple to use and taking just minutes to set up, AngleID offers precise zone tracking of UWB tags at a distance of up to 45 metres. Working even in highly metallic environments, it has a wide range of uses such as tool tracking and vehicle direction identification or dock door management plus work step verification. As the benefits of AngleID are realised and ROI delivered, multiple readers can be networked together, offering a solution that is both scalable and future-proofed. It can then transition into full Smart Factory RTLS.
“While the emergence of cost-effective technologies such as UWB and ZigBee are contributing to the growth of the global RTLS for industrial applications market, solutions in the future need to be able to make sense of any location data. Ubisense’s SmartSpace offers the next generation of location intelligence solutions, creating location context in large scale Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) environments. It compliments IIoT platforms from market leaders such as Cisco, IBM and GE by monitoring the fine-grain interactions of objects as they move through processes, creating unprecedented visibility and robust, real-time industrial controls.
“With the wide range of products now available the question for many manufacturers is not ‘can I afford to install an RTLS system’ but ‘can I afford not to in order to remain competitive with smart factories of the future’?”
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IMF: Variants Can Still Hurt Manufacturing Recovery
After a year of on-and-off manufacturing in the US, UK, and the eurozone, demand for goods surged early last week. Factories set growth records in April and May, suppliers started to recover, and US crude hit its highest price point since pre-COVID. As vaccination efforts immunise much of the US and UK populations, manufacturers are now able to fully ramp up their supply chains. In fact, GDP growth could approach double-digits by 2022.
Now, the ISM productivity measure has surpassed the 50-point mark that separates industry expansion from contraction. Since U.S. president Biden passed his US$1.9tn stimulus package and the UK purchasing managers index (PMI) increased to 65.6, both sides of the Atlantic are facing a much-welcomed manufacturing recovery.
Lingering Concerns Over COVID
Even as Spain, France, Italy, and Germany race to catch up, and mining companies pushed the FTSE 100 index of list shares to a monthly high of 7,129, some say that UK and US markets still suffer from a lack of confidence in raw material supplies. Yes, the Dow Jones has made up its 19,173-point crash of March 2020, and MSCI’s global stock index is at an all-time high.
Yet manufacturers around the world realise that these wins will be short-lived until pandemic supply chain bottlenecks are solved. If we keep the status quo, consumers will pay the price. In April, inflation in Germany reached 2.4%, and across the EU’s 19 member countries, overall prices have increased at an unusual pace. Some ask: Is this true recovery?
IMF: Current Boom Could Falter
Even as Elon Musk tweeted about chip shortages forcing Tesla to raise its prices, UK mining demand skyrocketed; housing markets lifted; and the pound sterling gained value. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), however, cautioned that manufacturing recovery won’t last long if COVID mutates into forms our vaccinations can’t touch. Kristalina Georgieva, Washington’s IMF director, noted that fewer than 1% of African citizens have been vaccinated: “Worldwide access to vaccines offers the best hope for stopping the coronavirus pandemic, saving lives, and securing a broad-based economic recovery”.
Across the globe, manufacturing companies are keeping a watchful eye on new developments in the spread of COVID. Though US FDA officials don’t think we’ll have to “start at square one” with new vaccines, the March 2021 World Economic Outlook states that “high uncertainty” surrounds the projected 6% global growth. Continued manufacturing success will in large part depend on “the path of the pandemic, the effectiveness of policy support, and the evolution of financial conditions”.
Mathias Cormann, secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) concurred—without global immunisation, the estimated economic boom expected by 2025 could go kaput. “We need to...pursue an all-out effort to reach the entire world population”, Australia’s finance minister added. US$50bn to end COVID across the world, they imply, is a small investment to restart our economies.