Industry 4.0 is an idea that heralds in the fourth industrial revolution. It combines the Internet of Things with Cyber-Physical Systems in order to create a manufacturing environment which facilitiates unprecedented flexibiliy. Instead of a dedicated manufacturing line where you can make 100,000 of the same part, the factory of the future will be able to create parts customized to individual customers. This is enabled by the vast network of commmunication that characterises the Internet of Things. You’re probably already familiar with this concept if you’ve ever ordered products online that had you pick a few drop-down menu opions. The manufacturing process is no longer just automation, but machines, operators, and even products communicating with an intelligence that allows for the process to be continually changeable. The factory in which all of this happens is called the Smart Factory.
This project will utilize the capability of an industrial robot arm to form a modular production cell, which can be quickly reconfigured to any number of configurations. The cell will be formed by the robot arm, surrounded by up to four production modules, which can be anything from a counter of part bins to a CNC machining center. A simplified diagram of this setup is shown in Figure 1.
The production modules will contain small RF transceivers that will communicate with a computer. Each module will have a unique identification number associated with it. The computer will have to ability to look up these identification numbers in a database, and obtain from it the information related to that specific module, including what type of parts the module may be carrying, and what manufacturing options the module can perform (drilling, machining, painting, etc). In this way, the computer can obtain a complete description of what parts and operations are currently available.
In order to place orders for the manufacturing cell, a modular mobile app will be used. In the same way that the computer reads the configuration of the manufacturing modules, the mobile device will receive information from the computer about the configuration. It will use this to update the interface of the app to accurately reflect the current conditions. For example, if the cell is configured to manufacture piston cylinders, the app would display an interface that would ask users to input stroke length, diameter, etc.