Flexible factories begin to take shape in Spain


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The industry has always tended to look for increasingly productive and versatile systems, models that allow the manufacture of different elements with the available productive means. But it is now, in the wake of the 4.0 revolution, when the concept of flexible manufacturing is more alive than ever. With the stoppage in supply chains, the coronavirus crisis highlighted the need to bring manufacturing closer to consumption. In the midst of the pandemic, many industries had to change their production lines to manufacture medical supplies. An express conversion that was a lesson learned by force. As a result of this experience, investment in technologies that allow factories to adapt production to current needs in a short period of time.

The main advantage of these systems is that, according to Aimen’s R & D & i director, Fernando Sanchez, manufacture “simply” parts that can be very different from each other. “Manufacturing 300,000 equal parts using automated processes is, simplifying it a lot, a problem already solved at an industrial level. The machines are designed, adjusted and programmed to manufacture these types of parts and any small changes that may exist from one part to another are easily absorbed by the little flexibility that these “conventional” processes have ”. But until relatively recently, when 300,000 “similar” parts had to be manufactured but with notable differences between them, a large range and number of machines were needed. The objective of flexible manufacturing is to smooth that transformation: to manufacture a very diverse range of parts “by reconfiguring machines in a simple way”, explains Sánchez.

Prediction and action

The technologies that allow factories to adapt to this type of system are all those that give machines the ability to perceive what is happening, to process that information quickly and reliably and to make decisions autonomously or through simple interaction with workers.

Thus, the head of the Department of Information and Communication Technologies of Ainia, David Martinez, considers that the fact of having systems that are constantly collecting information and generating algorithms (which make it possible to see what is sometimes undetectable), is what will allow manufacturing in a flexible way. In a sector such as beverages, for example, it can help to identify a problem in the quality of the product and offer answers quickly, explains Martínez.

The flexible factory allows responding to a market demand for increasingly personalized products

From Itainnova work the
flexible production systems
from different fields. In the automotive industry, for example, collaborative robots or autonomous vehicles are being used more and more widely to improve internal logistics. But one of
The technologies that are experiencing the fastest development is that of digital twins.
As explained from this technology center, they use different technologies to create digital replicas of industrial and logistics processes that allow processes to be analyzed and optimized. In addition, they participate in the Stream-0D project, the objective of which is to move towards zero-defect manufacturing by integrating simulation models capable of interacting with the production process in real time in production systems. “These models are fed with real production data and control, on the other hand, the production process based on the prediction of the model itself”, states the deputy director of Itainnova, Carlos Millán, by showing that this technology allows reducing production variability, increasing line flexibility and eliminating defects.

Flexible manufacturing, therefore, according to Martínez, responds to a market demand for increasingly personalized products adapted to the different types of consumers, so offering quick responses to these customer demands is key to underpinning competitiveness. . With that, manufacturing times are reduced, you gain in security and you get better productivity. And it has nothing to do with sectors. It can be applied transversally although, according to Martínez, these technologies require strong specialization, depending on the sector and the product. Even so, Sánchez sees it with a lot of sense “in many sectors”, from the manufacture of clothing and footwear to the production of cars or airplanes, “where they look for machines that allow autonomous reconfiguration depending on the type of product they have to manufacture at that time.

Interoperable and mutable

According to Carlos Millán (Itainnova), for an industry to have flexible manufacturing systems, a digital services platform is necessary. That is, the production software is interoperable and easily changeable. «That the software to manufacture a product can be changed quickly through a digital platform by software to make other products, “he explains. And the second necessary and basic point, he indicates, is that all that are tools and transport systems are also “completely interchangeable.” And, he points out, “flexibility comes from the interoperability of both software and hardware systems.”

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