Building virtual infrastructure with flexible manufacturing system

The shift from mass production to mass customization is constantly becoming a more common approach in the heavy steel industry. As the Industry 4.0 technologies evolve, companies can leverage the benefits, such as organizational performance and flexibility, and build an entire virtual infrastructure. In this article, we discuss the essence of a flexible manufacturing system and investigate the new dimensions that Industry 4.0 brings to the concept.

The new approach to manufacturing

While transformation opens new opportunities, it also challenges the status quo. Currently, the manufacturing industry is challenged by varied factors, such as a widening portfolio of different types of products, increasing production costs, and the growing lack of a skilled workforce. Furthermore, as Gen Z has entered the workplace, the structures of work are at their culmination point.

During the past years, one of the most appealing trends in the manufacturing industry has been the shift from mass production to mass customization. The centralized mindset that has guided manufacturing during the three previous industrial revolutions is now yielding and replaced with a more reactive and dynamically altering approach. Now, these changes in the market require reinvention from the manufacturers, and utilizing the available smart technology becomes a must to respond to the progressions.

FMS and virtual infrastructure

The purpose of the Flexible Manufacturing System (FMS) is to economically permit the creation of varied workpieces in small (or even a single piece) and repeatable batches. The system allows altering the type of produced workpieces efficiently and flexibly. In the context of heavy manufacturing, FMS is a software-controlled tool that includes production lines capable of automated material handling and welding processes based on a predefined schedule while mitigating manual interventions.

Initially, FMS has been built on the core idea that it ensures adaptive manufacturing. Hence, the minimum expectation is that it smoothly adapts to changes in production by integrating varied automation machinery that communicates and collaborates directly with each other.

A layout example of PEMA FMS. The system is a software-controlled set of equipment consisting of production lines that automize material handling and welding processes based on a predefined route. The system mitigates manual interventions while increases performance and flexibility.

As an example, in the PEMA FMS manufacturing cell, tack-welded workpieces are lifted on input conveyors to the work queue. The solution allows altering workpieces since they are identified individually by the robot cell. The applied welding program is selected by utilizing a PC control for each piece. The tack-welded workpiece on the lifting device is loaded in the positioner’s fastener whether with hydraulic, electronic, or pressurized air action. Fastening the structure to a positioner through a palette fastener enables a fast and safe set-up of palettes and workpieces. Finally, the welded workpieces are transported out of the cell with their conveyor.

Enhancing FMS with Industry 4.0.

Industry 4.0, in other words, the digital transformation of manufacturing to produce value processes, has firmly made its way across industries. It is known as a developmental trajectory in which traditional manufacturing and industrial operations are combined with digital technologies. The main objective in adopting Industry 4.0. technologies are to enable people, machines, equipment, logistical systems, and work-in-process components to communicate and collaborate directly. Reports show, that companies who have successfully incorporated the technologies into their manufacturing procedures have gained improved organizational performance and sustainable competitiveness.

When it comes to flexible manufacturing systems, the 4.0 technologies, such as IoT, big data, advanced robotics, additive manufacturing, and virtual reality, enhance machines’ altering capability throughout the entire manufacturing process. Smart automation can collect a vast amount of data and generate it into algorithms to execute the optimal course of action. Furthermore, machines can precisely detect and forecast which aspects will affect production or assembly line speed and quality.

According to some reports, the first FM system has been patented in the 1960s by Theo Williamson who developed numerically controlled equipment. Throughout the decades the concept of FMS has evolved and grown tremendously bringing along new capabilities and features. The integration of Industry 4.0 technologies has taken FMS several steps further towards significant betterment while creating novel innovation and R&D trajectories. Figure 1 presents the fundamental strategies and 4.0 technologies for enhancing FMS. These technologies are IoT & robotics, integrated logistics, tracking systems, and data analytics.

In the heavy fabrication industry, the shift from mass production to mass customization is constantly becoming more popular. Advanced robotic solutions along with smart software enable more reactive and flexible manufacturing.

Smart routing

As a company, Pemamek distinguishes itself by designing and developing the software included in the PEMA automation machinery. Some of the masterpieces are PEMA WeldControl 200 for shipbuilding, PEMA WeldControl 300 for robotic stations, and PEMA WeldControl 500 for managing heavy fabrication with Column & Boom.

Pemamek is known for developing user-friendly and visually appealing software in-house. The PEMA FMS has LineControl 2000 software that is one of the most advanced systems.

When it comes to PEMA FMS, the strategy has been no different. The freshly updated software for Pemamek’s PEMA FMS, known as LineControl 2000, has turned out to be one of the most advanced in terms of altering and adapting the routing. In the system, each workpiece is first identified by RFID or QR-code, after which the transport system takes the structure to the right station.

Throughout the process, the FMS tracks all work phases and provides information on the progress presented in the visually streamlined interface. Furthermore, the interface provides the constant status of the complete line, provides a view of the work queue, and sends possible alerts, among other features.

Towards the future

In the globalized world, the pool of potential competitors enlarges. Thus, manufacturers’ top priority should be to maintain and develop their operative competitiveness. In heavy steel industries, maintaining a conventional manufacturing environment is many times inefficient, time-consuming, and costly. To flourish in an operational environment with increasing turbulence and unexpected discontinuities, manufacturing is required to become more flexible through digital transformation.

Today’s cutting-edge technologies have proved that increasing production or welding speed is no more equal to sacrificing production. For companies that have significant product variations, but short product life cycles, PEMA FMS is an optimal solution to gain consistent manufacturing with high quality – and to stay ahead of the competition.

Originally published in the 2022 edition of PEMA News.

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