Robots and the Lights Out Factory

Talk to anyone concerned with manufacturing, and they’ll tell you that the best design engineers know the factory floor. They know the processes, the technologies, and even some of the tricks that technicians and assemblers use to get products out the door and stay on top of quotas.

A good engineer takes all that knowledge and uses it to produce designs that are manufacturing friendly. In many cases, the designer further consults with manufacturing engineers to optimize the final assembly for production.

Design for manufacturing (DFM) and assembly (DFA) practices save costs and reduce rework. For example, here are a few traditional DFM guidelines:

  • Use a snap fit or a tab rather than a separate fastener. That reduces parts and errors.
  • Incorporate highly reflective surfaces to improve the inspection process.
  • Combine multiple parts into a single injection-molded piece.

All that said, the factory floor is changing so fast, no set of guidelines covers it all.  Automated manufacturing lines add new robotic, sensor, and conveyor capabilities every year. Systems become more sophisticated. And DFM best practices often need revisited.

That brings us to this episode of the Product Design Show. The topic is factory automation, specifically how the vision of a fully automated lights out manufacturing system is ever closer with advances in robotics.

What will that mean to product designers and DFM? Can they keep up? The hosts on the Product Design Show say, “Yes.”

“In the near future, product design teams will access real-time information from a series of connected machines and robots in factories world’s away,” says Allison. “Highly automated, connected factories will get tomorrow’s designers a greater grasp of their product design cycle and the data to track manufacturing and delivery.”

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[Ed. This post was published in another PTC blog. It has been updated slightly.]