“The convergence of the physical and digital worlds means that manufacturers have to continue to adapt and adopt new processes quicker than ever before.” Duncan White, science and industry leader, Arup.
In its new Foresight + Research + Innovation report Rethinking the Factory Arup explores emerging trends and technologies in manufacturing. They predict that factory robotisation and 3D printing will allow manufacturing to move away from traditional sites and be more mobile and dispersed.
Factories are likely to become more varied, closer to consumers, and use non-traditional spaces such as small offices in a city centre. For the construction sector, this will allow production to take place closer to the point of use, lowering transport costs and emissions.
Modular Buildings for Diversification
Factories will be adaptable, with modular building techniques enabling re-scaling and diversified production. Energy, water and material consumption will also be managed more effectively, while producing an environment suited to the needs of highly skilled workforces.
Comprehensive Understanding Needed
The report suggests that as these changes are made, developing sustainable and resilient practices will be both essential and challenging, as will access to a skilled pool of workers. As such, it is critical that companies and policy makers have a comprehensive understanding of the changing manufacturing landscape.
Collaboration between humans and robots will be key to production in the future, with the integration of cameras and smart sensors already allowing robots to respond to their environments.
Becoming increasingly intuitive, robots will be able to “learn” tasks after being shown a portion of it. The human workers will serve as robot supervisors, operating machinery and controlling smart production processes such as systems management and data analysis, rather than participating in manual labour.
Increased Skills Needed
One side effect of the increasing technicality of future factories will be even greater competition for employees with STEM skills.
Self-Cleaning, Self-Healing Materials
Beyond machines, the report looks at new materials that could improve product performance. Arup predicts the emergence of self-healing, self-cleaning bio-inspired plastics, which are capable of repairing damage without human intervention.
Extra Role for BIM
It adds that tools such as BIM in factory design, planning and management will play a critical role in allowing manufacturers to foresee and mitigate issues based on access to resources, location choices, weather risks and transportation needs.
Factory design will also be more focused on consumer experience, with the factory as a “showroom”. It also describes a “transparent factory” where more people get involved in making products or gain a closer insight into how products are manufactured, especially bespoke or customised products.
Don’t Get Left Behind
Although Arup’s thinking may seem light years ahead of what you do every day, most –if not all – of the technologies they cite already exist. To keep up with the changes already being wrought we believe that we have to “Think Differently” – outside of the box, so to say. While each client’s needs are usually distinctly different, our Value Engineering approach generally means we help them achieve their aims cost effectively.