Held in parallel with National Manufacturing week (NMW), the inaugural Factories of the Future (FotF) event covered themes such as the decoupling of manufacturing from design, the growing influence of the cloud, and what an increasingly connected world might offer.
Held at the Crown Casino, FotF attendees were treated to a high-powered panel that spoke about the trends that continue to shake up all parts of the manufacturing industry.
For example, due to increasingly powerful and affordable computational muscle offered by the cloud, a team of students could have as much ability to design, develop and simulate world-beating innovations as a multi-national company.
“You don’t need the local processing power,” said Autodesk’s Russell Speight, presenting on the company’s Future of Making Things theme. He pointed to an example of over 1,000 iterations of a chair, and its avant-garde but functional final shape that was enabled by topology optimisation.
“What occurred here was you put in the constraints: you wanted a chair which is about a half a metre off the floor, can take 100 kilos, and you put in the constraints and let the computer come up with the design,” he said.
“Using additive manufacturing you can actually make the design as well: You’re not limited by the manufacturing process, which is what I talked about, decoupling the idea of design and manufacture.”
“We continue to be reminded of cloud’s inevitability,” said Lucas Vear of Klugo, “and it has greatly changed and streamlined reporting and transparency in many companies’ operations.”
“What makes the cloud transformative? First and foremost it’s the cost savings,” said Vear, Klugo’s General Manager.
“Second is mobility, and the ability to connect anywhere, anytime. And the ability to connect to stakeholders, including customers and suppliers, due to data availability and the web interface.”
Production would increasingly be through additive manufacturing, where benefits like light weighting at no expense to strength would be enabled through topology optimisation and lattice structuring.
“It will take some percentage off [conventional manufacturing], simply because of the benefits it offers” noted RMIT’s Professor Milan Brandt.
“It has already proven useful, even in the conservative world of aerospace, in semi-critical applications.”
It wouldn’t replace subtractive manufacturing any time soon, but Brandt predicted it could be seen in critical aerospace applications as soon as five to ten years from now.
An increasingly open (thanks to open source in design and crowdfunding) and connected future would also see software be more important within manufactured products.
Using the Tesla car as an example, concepts like regular updates would be seen in more vehicles, with potential in other products.
“[A Tesla car] is online, it plugs into your Wi-Fi when you get home, it downloads all the data, sees where it’s going, but if there’s an upgrade – and there was an upgrade because of some suspension problems – for all the vehicles, the modification was made during the night,” said Speight.
“You start the vehicle – software update – there’s no recall and going back to the garage and fixing it.”
An increasingly connected world was one that Australia might need to catch up to.
Countries such as Germany have invested heavily in the Internet of Things (IoT) with the idea being very popular in the United States, for example.
“When I go to the states or Europe, everybody’s talking about it,” said Speight.
“It’s definitely in our faces. And it’s coming quickly.”
Though IoT wasn’t a focus of the Factories of the Future event, when the topic came up, it was generally agreed Australia as a country was “poorly prepared.”
A recent PwC survey predicted found about 80 per cent of German industrial companies are expected to have totally digitised their value chains by 2020.
As some Australian visitors to the Hannover Messe industrial show in April reported back, we seem comparatively flat footed regarding Industry 4.0.
“Of 100 manufacturers in Australia that I’ve talked to, maybe between two and four, depending on how you count them, had any plans in that area,” noted one audience member.