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cyber-physical systems

Today I’d like to continue to talk about the future of manufacturing. In recent blogs we described what industry 4.0 means and how smart factories work. In both articles I mentioned a lot technical expressions and talked about computer chips which are responsible for the workflow or the organisation of entire supply chains.

To make it all happen CYBER-PHYSICAL SYSTEMS (CPS) (wikipedia link) are running in the background. You can find IT systems in all areas of the production process already but now they will become far more connected. Cyber-physical systems are at the heart of it and steer the links between machines, warehouse space, transport ways, sub-systems, processes, internal and external objects. It’s all controlled in realtime and therefor highly efficient and flexible. Production processes can be changed at short notice and downtime can be avoided. Production orders can be changed at short notice and informations will be passed on to the entire supply chain immediately so that they can adjust their processes. As wonderful as it sounds CPS is very complex and I only recommend to integrate it step by step, sector by sector.

A second important ingredient for reliable cyber-physical systems are smart robots. Robots were the big change in the last industrial revolution. Their numbers have increased significantly and the use in European manufacturing has almost doubled in the past ten years. Experts think that robots will become intelligent and will be able to adapt, communicate and interact in future. Equipped with all sorts of chips and electronics you can clearly see their impact on industry 4.0 and the link to cyber-physical systems. Smart robots will replace humans in simple work areas such as production, logistics and handling documents.

Now before I will get lots of complaints about machines taking over human jobs I want to add this important point. Yes robots will take care of all sorts of transport through the factory in future. Yes, computer systems will make the decision on what to produce next in future. BUT humans are the most flexible resource any company / factory can have. Robots can be controlled remotely, if a problem occurs human workers will be informed via mobile devices, make decisions and give instructions to the machines. That means that 24/7 factories don’t need workers all the time. So the time for human night shifts could well be numbered. Humans will play a big part if robots fail. Humans will repair robots. Humans will (re-)program robots. I believe we still need the same amount of manufacturing workers. Instead of welding they will be mechatronic technicians, instead of forklift driving they will be logistics IT developers.

No night shifts and developing the newest robot gadget? Sounds alright to me.