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The Light and Dark of Manufacturing

Pat Evans
By Pat Evans Contributing Editor, SME Media

As I walked through the DMG Mori factory in Davis, Calif., during the company’s Manufacturing Days event in October, there was something noticeably different about it compared to other factories I’ve visited: it was brightly lit and quiet.

Granted, it was louder than an average room, but the constant hum wasn’t enough to drown out conversations. The stations set up on the floor did have microphones and the Manufacturing Days visitors did have earphones, but it was certainly more for courtesy than necessity.

I grew up around factories and covered manufacturing as part of my job for five years at the Grand Rapids Business Journal. DMG Mori’s factory left me in awe in most aspects, from the lack of noise to the cleanliness to the lighting.

The only other facility I’ve seen that rivaled what I saw was a factory in China I visited with my dad in 2017. It left him, a career manufacturing CFO, saying it was the most beautiful factory he’d ever seen. After DMG Mori’s Manufacturing Days, I’m now left wondering how many other relatively recently built factories are helping change the way the industry is seen and the way it works.

How the industry works is certainly on my mind after my visit to DMG Mori. Seeing the operation in action led to a culmination of several months—and really years—of being exposed to reporting about AI and robotics.

A Tale of Two Factories

It was nice to see, in the first half of the factory, the assembly of DMG Mori’s machines being done by hand and hear about some of the processes that still must be done by hand. But walking into the second half of the factory floor and seeing an all-automated process was like stepping into a scene described several months earlier while reporting an article that appeared in Manufacturing Engineering.

At HxGN Live in Las Vegas in June, Hexagon’s President of Metrology Stephen Graham painted a picture of a future factory with no lights on and robots doing their jobs. Graham made a counter argument as well, however, that the more autonomous manufacturing processes get, the more time skilled workers can spend doing more productive tasks.

What I saw in Davis was that future factory, albeit with bright lights clearly illuminating the assembly floor.

With Graham’s comments in my head while touring the factory, I imagined the lights off and the slight hum, but also wondered more about the future. I’ve recently been reporting about the trend of sports venues turning to artificial intelligence (AI) and robots in concessions operations.

Redeploying Talent

I do think Graham is onto something about redeploying the talent, as concessions executives have made similar statements. And like I was told at DMG Mori, the movement to robotic concession operations will help provide more consistent quality, so that’s not all bad.

The humorous element of it all, at least at the moment, is the idea there have to be three human workers in DMG Mori’s automated factory, per OSHA’s rules: one person to be there if something happens, another if something happens to the first person and a third in case one of the others calls in sick. Surely it’s not all wasted work hours and I’m sure they have serious jobs to do, but it’s still a bit comical.

Plus, those three workers help push Graham’s vision of a darkened, purely robotic factory years into the future, so we get to see DMG Mori’s magnificent factory in full light.

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