2 minute read time.

I was delighted to listen into the future of manufacturing automation workshop organized by the IET Manufacturing, Control and Automation and Robotics Technical Networks last week.  

The Keynotes from Mike Wilson were insightful. While labor shortages, Covid, Brexit & trade tensions have been a challenge to the manufacturing sector these have put a new focus on reshoring and near shoring. The growth in ecommerce and the increased demand for personalization of product have demanded small batch high mix model manufacturing. These factors are leading to an increase in uptake in automation in manufacture. Robotics installations have seen an increase of 31% since 2020 with China being the main growth area. The growth of robotics installations in the consumer electronics industry now makes this the largest user surpassing traditional installed sectors such as Automotive. Future automation will be driven by enhanced technologies providing improved ease of use with low code no-code programming, improved visualisation and greater ease of use and capability in machine vision using artificial intelligence.  
One case presented by Alastair Orchard (Vice president of digital enterprise at Siemens) with a consumer of packaged goods emphasized how machine build vendors could access factory equipment CAD models to design machines quickly. Quick concepts were developed and added to a digital twin of the factory. The Bill of Process (BoPEx) was also implemented as a process flow within the model. Smart carriers brought unique orders and product configurations through the facility. A capability matching engine running in the model (and on the factory CIM system) could route to different stations based on the parameters of product and the stations available. With the implementation of this capability matching engine in BoPEx throughput was 12 times faster. One million unique orders were processed each month.  
Another case was given by Roberto Alfano (technical Manager – Royal mail engineering) of a food and beverage manufacturer who were able to implement a more tactile pick and place with soft robotics. Big improvements were seen in defect detection and validation using AI. The manufacturer was running new Automatic Xray inspection technology with 50MegaPixel resolution giving improved definition and accuracy to defect detection. Roberto explained that new Graphic processing units should assist non-hyperbolic state recognition in differentiating false negative reads against an entire photo trigger rather than a simple aspect parameter.  
Some of the discussion in a breakout session around the implications for business strategies suggested getting more hands on with equipment to evaluate capabilities. Further integration of automation models into Manufactures Simulations would help better justify the case for automation. There was a challenge raised around near shoring. If we are to build close to point of use, as manufacturers, to mitigate against traffic jams in the Suez Canal, as an extreme example, this means getting highly capable and flexible contract manufacturers to build at point of consumption. To this end sourcing materials at that point of use becomes the next challenge to overcome. 

Alan Rossney 
IET Robotics Chair