The virtual factory of the future

We can usually associate each of the industrial revolutions with facts, dates and concrete people. In 1784, Edmund Cartwright designed the rst mechanized loom, an unusable design patented the following year and revised shortly thereafter to give rise to the rst industrial revolution, in which the steam engine facilitated the mechanization of production processes.

Almost a century later, in 1870, the rst conveyor belt was installed in the Cincinnati slaughterhouse. This was the beginning of the second industrial revolution, characterized by mass production over power-driven assembly lines.

Another hundred years went by before the Modicon 084, the rst Controllable Logic Programmer (CLP) was created by Dick Morley of Benford Associates in 1969. This was the device that initiated the third industrial revolution marked by automation, computing and robotics.

Much more recently, coinciding with the 2011 Hannover Fair, the concept of Industry 4.0 or the Factory of the Future emerged, sponsored by the German government in an effort to revitalize European industry. It was a commendable and necessary effort to guarantee the welfare society of which Europe is so proud.

Just consider that more than 40 million people are currently employed in the European manufacturing sector and each of these jobs generates at least one additional job in the service sector. Moreover, 80% of European exports are manufactured goods, representing 16% of Europe’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

However, although industrial production remains the main driver for innovation, growth and job creation in Europe, and the continent’s position in this sector is constantly challenged by Asia and America.

WHAT DOES INDUSTRY 4.0 REALLY MEAN?

Although this initiative is often associated with the introduction of new technologies in factories, the fourth industrial revolution is a much broader concept that encompasses profound transformations throughout the industrial value chain.

SMART FACTORIES STREAMLINE THE SUPPLY CHAIN

In order to remain competitive, Europe proposes to combine a huge array of new technologies to conceive a new industrial fabric, one in which small or mediumsized factories are more intelligent, fexible and interconnected and where moderate investments allow maximum optimization of each component of the production and supply value chain.

NEXT GENERATION INTERFACES OPTIMIZE INTERACTION WITH DATA

The introduction of increasingly intelligent systems at every step of the production value chain also requires the conception of new forms of interaction between men and machines.

VIRTUAL FACTORY REPLICA OPTIMIZES PRODUCTION MANAGEMENT

Factories of the future will not only be fully digitized and connected but also virtualized to offer workers digital replicas of real environments, thus making physical presence of human beings unnecessary in production environments.

IMMERSIVE TECHNOLOGIES REMOVE THE FRONTIERS BETWEEN REAL AND VIRTUAL

Virtual Reality has anticipated, but soon will be paired with its sister: Augmented or Mixed
Reality. While the former facilitates the remote control and management of intelligent factories, the latter offers similar possibilities in-situ.

SCI-FI?

Palmer Luckey started his little revolution just a few years ago when he realized that by combining some of the smartphone’s sensors (accelerometers, gyroscopes, etc …) with new graphic processors, he could create a virtual reality goggle capable of offering a satisfactory experience at a reasonable cost. This was the dream pursued by engineers since the 1970s when Sony launched the Virtual Boy, a product created by visionaries too far ahead of their time.

FEELING IN THE VIRTUAL WORLD: THE EXPECTED ADDITION OF VIRTUAL SENSES

Interacting with Virtual Objects is another feld of development. Using your own hands in virtual environments has become an everyday option thanks to devices such as Leap Motion. Combining this technology with a virtual reality headset, you can see your hands and how your fingertips move so you can press buttons or push virtual objects. This capability will come integrated into most new-generation virtual reality headsets, such as the aforementioned Alloy by Intel.

WELCOME TO THE FACTORY OF THE FUTURE

The future will offer a greater variety of virtual reality headsets. Some will remain connected to consoles and computers while others work independently. We will also see the price of VR Ready desktops and laptops fall dramatically. VR capability and graphics cards able to move virtual environments will eventually become standard in desktops, laptops and mobiles.

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