What’s sexy? Try 3D printing, cobots, Yammer, VR, AR, blockchain technology
CHICAGO—When a Schindler Elevators field technician goes in to fix an elevator these days, he is not alone; along for the ride is a top-level technician working in a far-away operating center “who is able to tell him exactly what cable he should be repairing”—because the field technician is using Xpert Eye, a system that includes a camera mounted on the likes of Google Glass, as well as software for video conferencing. The hands-free solution for real-time tele-presence is also seeing uptake by other manufacturers, such as ArcelorMittal, L’Oréal, Optel and Volvo, AMA Xpert Eye’s Julien Develle said recently in a French manufacturing innovation panel talk here.
Schindler is a good example of “assisted reality”—yet another iteration of technologically enhanced live experiences manufacturers are using to avoid expensive downtime and conserve human resources. While “augmented reality” is more about tearing down “walls of technology” involved in a repair situation, “assisted reality” is about bringing in remote experts and “getting adoption by the people you work with,” he said.
“Industrie 4.0 is about connecting machines to machines,” Develle added. “We do ‘people to people.’ There is a lot of knowledge out there that is difficult to share. AMA is trying to improve this.”
In manufacturing, there is too much focus on Industrie 4.0—when it comes at the expense of “Labor 4.0,” Carlos Ruiz Rabago, VP of manufacturing for North America at L’Oréal, said during the panel discussion, “How smart manufacturing is transforming our industry,” which was moderated by Smart Manufacturing magazine Editor in Chief Brett Brune.
Manufacturers need different skills in the workforce, and so they must work to develop those skills, he said. “We need to help people get there, to develop different capabilities,” he said. “At the same time, we need to better understand how new technology will impact the way we work.”
Including social media in the new-tech basket is important, Ruiz said.
L’Oréal is starting to carefully watch what “influencers” in the market say about its products—so its plant managers can immediately spot and fix problems, he said. “It’s very important that we manage that change in a smart way because people continue to be at the center of what we do—but they are now supported by different technology.”
Julien Acis—representing EMC2, the French industrial cluster dedicated to advanced manufacturing technologies, as well as his employer, the French industrial conglomerate Daher, on the panel—chimed in: “You are totally right. This is exactly what we are doing in EMC2.
“Everybody, in the aerospace industry at least, is talking about ‘PRL (process readiness level)’ and ‘MRL (material readiness level)’. But nobody has come to manufacturing with ‘HRL (human readiness level).’ It’s the question of, ‘Are our people ready to appropriate themselves the tools that we are developing?’ And I think this is the key of Industrie 4.0.”
Face it: Some people are very tech savvy, and some people are not, Develle said. “We see projects succeed, or not, depending on the actual user,” he added. “So it’s very key to focus on the people and making sure they understand the technology well enough to make sure everything works.”
Incorporating what can be considered “sexy” in manufacturing helps, said Acis, Daher’s business development manager for aerospace and defense in Seattle.
He recounted a project EMC2 undertook with a foundry in France. “They were running into a problem because the job is dirty, because there are a lot of old employees that have tribal knowledge that is never documented and is hard to pass along.”
The solution EMC2 and the foundry settled on was to introduce a virtual reality (VR) system. The partners took videos of the more experienced guys who were ready to retire, Acis said. The videographer filmed not only the processes they followed but also their gestures. “And as soon as the new employees put a headset on, they could reproduce the processes and gestures. And they were motivated, attracted to this new element.”
Getting people working in manufacturing to adapt to change quickly and on a regular basis is essential, Ruiz said.
“In our business, we cannot wait six or eight months to make things happen because if we do we will be out of the game,” he said. “We’re used to living in an economy of scale. We are now in an economy of repetition, different cycles very fast.”
In the past, mechanics at L’Oréal who detected a problem on a manufacturing line would sometimes plan for the line to be down 13 weeks as they waited for work to be done or equipment to be shipped to the factory.
“Today, they have the freedom to start doing 3D printing, keep the line running, have a modified part printed and installed immediately,” Ruiz said. “So they are now more excited to look for opportunity for improvement.
“The sexy part of our business is that we continue to launch new products all the time,” he said. “To do that, we need agile lines to launch those new products. And in some cases, waiting 13, 14 weeks for changed parts is not an option. Our people need the tools and the technology necessary to be able to react in one week and modify our equipment to run any other product, any other component. This is key for the future of our business.”
As long as workers receive good communication from management, access to new technology and “the right training, the right time to adopt and adapt to the technology, people respond fantastic,” Ruiz said.
“We had people in one North American factory who been working in that plant for 40 years—and they were the ones who took up posting in Yammer about all the work that they were doing! They really got into technology. We are now starting to ask employees to bring their own projects to the plant and play with our 3D printer—so they can really adopt that technology.”
Collaborative robots (cobots) are another sexy addition to manufacturing—in part because they free people up to do less manual labor and more analyzing and planning, Ruiz said.
The sexiest thing on the horizon in manufacturing is a little-understood technology responsible for the rise of a cryptocurrency called Bitcoin, Acis said.
“In aerospace, at least, what I can tell you about is a word that everybody has on the tip of their tongue right now: blockchain,” he added. “The blockchain concept is very promising”—so much so that Daher has charged two staffers with searching for startups to work with on what some call the “ledger of ledgers.”
Blockchain technology promises to “optimize a lot the configuration of spare parts,” Acis said. No matter where in the world a plane might land and discover it needs a spare part, “just by reading the blockchain of the spare parts, you will know exactly what type, what class and where it has been built. No need for the time-consuming, difficult investigation to identify supplier, contact, revision of drawing, etc. The information will be supported by the part itself, and you will have the whole traceability: You will be able to send that right away, via the Internet, to the factory floor and they will reproduce it—possibly with 3D printing. That is really the future of 4.0 in aerospace.”