TOP 5 IN 2011: Industrial automation technologies to watch for in the new year - Sherman LangWritten by Mary Del Ciancio Thursday, 20 January 2011 11:43
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Sherman Y.T. Lang is an industrial technology advisor for the National Research Council's Industrial Research Assistance Program in London, Ont. He is also a member of Manufacturing AUTOMATION's editorial
1. Robots: Robots are always going to be a key component in flexible automation. Expect to see more carbon fibre robots as the prices fall and suppliers learn how to design robots using the latest composites. Robots that are inherently safe to work with humans are also on the horizon, as researchers design new drives, sensors and control algorithms to create service robots, exo-skeleton robots that you can wear, and robots that can work collaboratively with humans in an industrial environment.
2. Vision systems: Integrating vision systems with robots and other automation equipment provides greater flexibility, lower tooling costs and improved quality. It's only a matter of time before new 3D motion tracking technology developed for game controllers gets adapted to let anyone teach a robot. Facial recognition can be included to make sure that only authorized persons can do the re-programming. Low cost 3D technology should also enable better training and troubleshooting.
3. Tracking systems: Wireless technology continues to be integrated into factory floors to reduce costs and increase flexibility. In addition to communications, wireless systems allow companies to track the flow of goods, tools, parts and even people through the factory floor. Low-cost optical and RFID systems can record the movement of objects or presence of inventory. Widely available WiFi, cellular and GPS-based systems can track over a larger range. New real-time locating systems based on ultra-wide band can track objects throughout the factory floor in real-time, while laser-based indoor GPS systems also add large-scale, real-time metrology.
4. Data mining: Highly successful web companies have a data warehouse that stores everything they know and every data transaction that they have handled, giving them a strategic advantage. The relentless advancements in storage and processing technology continue to lower the cost of storing and mining manufacturing data for quality control, real-time manufacturing planning and scheduling, shop floor optimization and layout, and maintenance.
5. Mobile technology: Indirectly, smartphones and tablets are impacting manufacturing by revolutionizing sales and marketing. Instant quotations and booking orders requires visibility into inventory, production planning and scheduling. Mobile technology can also improve the efficiency of knowledge workers on the factory floor by making information accessible at the location you need it, at the exact moment that you need it. Workers can actively participate in updating and sharing product and production issues and knowledge.