At Bosch Rexroth, our vision of the Factory of the Future offers complete variability. The walls, the floor, the ceiling will all be fixed, but everything else will be mobile. Assembly lines will be modular, and their constituent machines will move and reorganize themselves into new lines for new purposes. They’ll communicate wirelessly with one another and with other process functions via 5G, and they will be powered through the floor via an inductive charging system.
This is our big picture. This is our vision.
It’s a customer-oriented proposition. It’s going to meet their needs as manufacturers, and the needs of their own customers in turn – but in the short term, it may seem less appealing, especially to smaller manufacturers. They have more immediate concerns: how can I do this better? How can I do it cheaper? To them, any long-term vision seems less relevant.
We tell them it’s entirely relevant, not just down the line, but right now. Starting down a path to the Factory of the Future can address those questions of process improvements, and product quality, and cost-effectiveness and so on.
Take small-run production. That’s something some manufacturers have to do right now. Think of the customization needed in, say, the production of sports shoes, or in the automotive industry. Before you reconfigure equipment for that small run, you need to know it’s going to work.
We can do a lot of things for ourselves, particularly in the area of drives and controls for which we’re best known. But we recognize we’re only part of the picture, and that for everything to work together there need to be standards on which everyone can agree. Communications protocols are key.
That’s why we’re working closely together with partners from the IT sector, and it’s why we’re also active in initiatives such as the OPC Foundation and the German Industrie 4.0 platform. Manufacturers will only invest if they feel comfortable that the path they’re taking is one to which the whole industry is committed.
I think we can expect superb products of enormous variety and flexibility – not just for manufacturers, but for their customers in turn. What’s more, it will be increasingly possible to make these products to a very high quality and under very economical conditions.
One more thing. In a world of anything up to 10 billion people, customization will be the big USP – and the Factory of the Future will make it possible.
— Rolf Najork