Assembly lines are one of the most productive innovations in the manufacturing industry, after robotics and automation. Over the last century, improvements made in production lines have enhanced efficiency and increased overall quality and output. However, the traditional assembly systems can only be modified with major capital investments. Managing and monitoring these systems are also equally challenging due to their complexity.
Manufacturers are also facing a bigger business challenge – the continuously evolving market demands and the need to broaden their scope. The solution to this is simple, construct more infrastructure, a simple but very costly undertaking. This is where smart assembly lines, their management, and monitoring become inevitable.
Smart assembly lines integrate several technologies to bring a more resilient, flexible, and efficient solution to manufacturing, such as:
- Sensors, IoT, and data-generating technologies to feed real-time data into the computing systems.
- Digital technologies like cloud computing, advanced analytics, AI/ML, etc. to power the complex management and monitoring of the assembly lines.
- An assembly line’s flexible and adjustable design offers the flexibility to change production scenarios.
Among these, implementing the first two is fairly cost-effective compared to upgrading the assembly line. This blog will look at each of these in detail.
Real-Time Data Integration
Before implementing smart technologies, sensors, and imaging technology one should form the foundation for data-generating capabilities. Depending on the type of manufacturing, these sensors should be installed on machinery, equipment, storage infrastructure, transportation systems, etc. This can enable a holistic data influx from all aspects of production, from procurement to delivery.
With a steady flow of data, monitoring capabilities and subsequently, better management can be achieved directly with minimal computational requirements. Analytics of this data can also reveal hidden inefficiencies and problems with the assembly lines and the production processes.
Smart Computational Technologies
Data from assembly lines can be overwhelming for any kind of manual processing and requires some smart computational power. Cloud computing and data centralization are the key aspects of this system. However, the “smartness” of the system comes from machine learning and AI implementations for real-time monitoring, advanced analytics, and automation. With AI/ML, operational problems with assembly lines can be identified in real-time and, in some cases, resolved autonomously as well.
AI/ML combined with real-time data streams can provide many advantageous capabilities besides monitoring and management. Predictive analytics is among the most important benefits that can help predict problems with machinery and equipment to provide timely mitigation, reduce downtimes, and prolong their life. Other benefits include better safety, improved quality control, reduced waste, optimal production performance and efficiency, and an overall reduction in cost.
Configurable Assembly Line
Configurable smart assembly lines are the goal for manufacturers in today’s competitive market. Many manufacturers, especially made-to-order manufacturers, already use modular robotics and discontinuous assembly techniques to add the necessary versatility to their production. However, better designs in machinery and infrastructure can provide a widely configurable assembly line that can quickly adapt to changing needs.
The future of manufacturing is slated to use many advanced techniques and infrastructure to open new possibilities for individual manufacturing units. Changes in physical infrastructure are capital-intensive and will be a gradual change throughout the manufacturing industry.
Smart adaptable assembly line monitoring and management systems are one of the key areas of research and development. Digital technologies are already mature and capable of improving manufacturing flexibility and resilience. With the advancements in other technologies, the future of smart, adaptable manufacturing is not very far. Laying the right foundation early with smart IT infrastructure can help manufacturers strategize the necessary requirements to achieve their goals.
Building a smart assembly line pays off for manufacturers by resulting in a safer, more effective, and more dependable option. Companies will need to incorporate digital technology to keep up with consumers’ growing demands for cheaper prices, free shipping, customizable items, and faster turnaround times.