It Won’t Work without Robots: How to Accommodate the Extreme Personalisation of Manufacturing

Tereza Čechová Aimtec
2. 6. 2020 | 4 minutes reading

Autonomous robots are gradually becoming common “employees” at manufacturing and logistics companies. Everyone wants them. However, the presentation by Faouzi Grebici from OMRON at TAL 2020 led us to realise that they are the mere tip of the iceberg of a modern, maximally efficient warehouse. Nevertheless, they do play an important role in the transformation of manufacturing and logistics. Will robots play a greater role than their human colleagues?

The factory of the future is a holy grail that most manufacturers strive to approach. But its definitions vary. “It’s nearly impossible to agree on a universal concept. Today we must constantly rethink manufacturing and logistics. Every step and change, every day,” explains Grebici, who works as OMRON’s Industry Solution Manager for EMEA.

But how can we keep pace with changing conditions and influences?

Watch Faouzi Grebici’s presentation from this year’s Trends in Automotive Logistics conference in full:

The driver of digitalisation is not where you’d expect

If you’d like to see why logistics and manufacturing are transforming, forget Industry 4.0, recommended market strategies and robotisation for a moment. “The true driver is societal change. Me, you, our children. Today’s generation resides in an entirely different model. Products are not created to be sold, but rather to meet the personal preferences of each customer. This entirely changes the relationship between customer and factory,” explains Grebici. In his opinion it is, as a result, the end-customer who determines the factory’s operations. Market pressure forces manufacturers to prepare themselves for personalised, full-tilt production – ideally fully automated to prevent any errors. What conditions must we meet to accommodate the trend of low-volume customised products?

“The successful factories of the future are those that turn their operators into creators.”

We must smash the assembly lines

“Before, volume was the symbol of success; today, it is flexibility and how quickly we can react.” For this exact reason, the usual concept of factories and warehouses can no longer keep up with the times. This problem is addressed by the modular line, an element of smart manufacturing – a concept wherein individual stations are connected by none other than autonomous robots. Every product can therefore have a unique route, managed from a single place, and with room to flexibly change in line with the operation’s current conditions.

What benefits are offered by smart manufacturing?

  • Transparency in processes and data
  • The ability to respond to data in real time
  • Machine learning and predictive maintenance

Although it would seem that smart manufacturing is a fully automated process without human intervention, the opposite is true. “It is very important for humans to remain at the heart of the whole system. Machines assist people, never the opposite,” notes Grebici, whose work at OMRON indeed concerns robotisation.

Humans as the centre of the factory of the future

The question of robotisation of manufacturing and logistics is a sensitive one: it is connected with visions of layoffs or eliminating jobs. But must that be the case? “The successful factories of the future are those that turn their operators into creators,” Grebici explains. You just need to look at today’s autonomous robots. Their main goal is to make the operator’s work less demanding: operators have to walk roughly 10–12 kilometres a day, and this at a rather brisk pace. However, quite soon robots’ “job description” may change and no longer be satisfied with mere transporting of loads.

“We believe that not only will operators tune the robots, but that this will also work in reverse. After some time, the machine may be able to tune the skills of their human operators.” For indeed a robot that can adapt its activities to a human’s level of ability and gradually, purposefully improve it already exists. So perhaps this is all about a future less distant than it appears.

Faouzi Grebici

Faouzi Grebici works as Industry Solution Manager for the EMEA region at OMRON. He has been working in industrial automation for over thirty years. His main specialisation is mechatronics. At his presentations, you will often hear the idea that the flexible manufacturing of a new generation will not get by without personalised production – which companies can grow towards by transforming their operators into creators.

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