In 2001, Japanese robotic company FANC started a revolution by pursuing the “lights out” manufacturing process with robots building other robots on 24-hour shifts, and 30 unsupervised consecutive days. Changying Precision Technology, which makes phones, is another example of a company using lights out manufacturing. Using the “lights out” system it went from 650 employees to 60. Productivity increased 250 percent. Lights out manufacturing increases productivity with lower upkeep cost.
But now, just 20 years later there is a new term in the manufacturing world, Dark Manufacturing. Industry 4.0 has been in discussion for at least a decade and now may be the time that we must embrace it. Technology has overtaken the administration side of things, with many companies using remote and/or automated reporting with the information then saved on the cloud. No more file cabinets, no more boxes in storage rooms. The best example of Dark Manufacturing being put to use may be the way the stock market handles transactions. Within seconds, purchases or sales are made, and only the buyer or seller are involved. Millions of dollars exchange hands daily in full automation.
I had the opportunity to visit a Hyundai car plant in Alabama. And it is mind blowing to see how a car is made (from a steel roll to a full body and chassis) without a person operating a machine. The communication among different robots can automatically slow or speed the pace as needed. And this can be applied to truck manufacturing too.
Machine-only factories known now as Dark Manufacturing are also coming to our industry. The pandemic is dramatically affecting the health of the world’s population. This is prompting tech companies to
push forward with more technology to eliminate downtime. Technology- driven workflows and assembly lines are seen as necessities today.
With connectivity comes monitoring and analytics. Of course, you need to secure the data. All of this can be handled by AI (artificial intelligence), and at some point regulation will be needed to control all this data that can build things. The digital and robotic transformation is upon us. The worldwide pandemic is reshaping the way we think and do things. In the last four months companies have had to improvise and /or adapt to new technology-based solutions. The pandemic has accelerated the use of digital tech like nothing before.
The United States is still a leader in manufacturing overall. But when you look at the transition to Dark Manufacturing, however, the U.S competes against companies (now only a few) that span the globe. What happens to manufacturing in general post this pandemic will have serious implications to the world economy.
According to the International Federation of Robotics, in the U.S. there are about 164 industrial robots per 10,000 employees. Germany has about 292 robots for every 10,000 employees. Japan has 315 robots per 10,000 workers. South Korea is the current leader in Dark Manufacturing with about 478 robots per 10,000 workers.
You may be wondering how China stacks up. China has only 36 robots per the same work force number. But China is boosting its use of Dark Manufacturing by 50 percent per year, as it gains more experience in using a technology that South Korea has mastered. The demand for industrial robots from every sector of the manufacturing world is enormous. And this demand isn’t exclusive to large enterprises anymore. Amazon keeps adding units to its army of 45,000 robots that work at its
warehouses. This proves that applications for automatization go beyond manufacturing.
We are at the dawn of a new age. We now must learn how to work with technology that is way smarter than us. There is no gain without pain, but this time we are going to need each other to learn and overcome the downsides of what we have created.
Sources: https://investmentu.com/dark-factories-changing-manufacturing-profit/ https://ifr.org/news/world-robotics-survey-industrial-robots-are-conquering-the-world-/
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