Top 10 digital factories: General Motors
When it comes to widespread adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies, General Motors (GM) - while looking to accelerate its adoption of advanced technologies - has taken a more selective approach.
“There will be technology that will transform our business,” commented Dan Grieshaber, Director, Global Manufacturing Integration, GM. “But we won’t do it just because we can.” Grieshaber calls this approach smart manufacturing, where the company is harnessing certain aspects of Industry 4.0 such as data, artificial intelligence and robotics to drive efficiency, productivity, quality and safety. “We’ll apply it where it works best, and is needed most, and integrate the new technologies with existing ones,” added Grieshaber.
Dating back to 1961, GM became the first automotive manufacturer to harness robotic technology, today the company has between 800 and 1,200 robots in a single assembly plant, working with the likes of Fanuc to further develop its collaborative robotics’ capabilities.
GM has also been working with NASA and Bioservo Technologies to develop what is known as the ‘Robo-Glove’. THe technology gives the user a stronger grip to use tools more safely and comfortably, reducing repetitive injuries. Pressure sensors in the glove detect the grip motion and synthetic tendons automatically retract to pull the fingers into a grip, holding them until the sensor is released.
In addition, GM is harnessing drone technology to perform equipment inspections in environments where it might be unsafe or time consuming for maintenance employees.
Within many of its manufacturing facilities, GM has adopted 3D printing technology to create on-demand parts to assist employees. The printed parts - which can also be sent to suppliers for mass production - have saved $300,000 for the company over 24 months, at its facility in Lansing, Michigan.
Advanced software design
Leading the industry into a new generation of vehicle lightweighting, GM has over the last two years been harnessing advanced software design technology, to develop its components. Partnering with Autodesk, GM has been harnessing cloud computing and AI-based algorithms to rapidly explore multiple permutations of a part design.
The technology generates hundreds of design options based on goals and parameters set by the user who can then determine the best part design option that fits those requirements.
“This disruptive technology provides tremendous advancements in how we can design and develop components for our future vehicles to make them lighter and more efficient, said Ken Kelzer, Vice President, Global Vehicle Components and Subsystems, GM. “When we pair the design technology with manufacturing advancements such as 3D printing, our approach to vehicle development is completely transformed and is fundamentally different to co-create with the computer in ways we simply couldn’t have imagined before.”
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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.