Building a flexible factory

The industries of today are getting more and more interested in having a flexible production. The customer behavior is changing and nowadays frequently requires customer-tailored products. That puts pressure on factories to quickly be able to rearrange and adapt to the new product variants. Being able to be competitive requires that the company thinks through how they want to reach flexibility. How this could be done is shown in the project Production for Future within the framework of Smarta Fabriker in their new demonstrator.

In Smarta Fabriker the building of mini factories has been a central part in creating knowledge in industrial digitalization. This knowledge has been spread through the industry and schools to help the Swedish industry become competitive on a global market, to develop skills in the industry and to get more young people interested in technology. This is done through workshops where different demonstrators are used to show the possibilities with digitalization. Smarta Fabriker’s newest addition focuses on digitalization and creating a flexible production. The project is demonstrating how different challenges in production can be solved using digitalization and how to reach flexibility. The scenario is created using a mini factory that produces a product made of Lego. The product mimics Volvo AB’s future transport vehicle Vera.

The product made in the mini factory is a modular product made of Lego

The mini factory that builds this Lego-product had problems with quality, bottle necks and ergonomic problems for the fitters before being digitalized. To solve the different challenges in the factory, and to still be flexible, a strategy was developed. In the project, the following parts were important to reach flexibility:

  1. A software system
  2. Flexible production equipment
  3. A modular product
  4. Humans

The software system is required to be able to steer production and adapt the process, assembly instructions and much more after a product modification has entered the system. By using a digital twin all departments can work together and shorten the time-to-market.

The digital twin enables the process to be controlled easier and quicker and specialized products can be implemented

Flexible production equipment is created through building a moveable robot module consisting of, for example, a collaborative robot application and a 3D-vision camera. What collaborative robot application means is that the robot doesn’t need cages surrounding it and therefore can easily be moves through the factory. The robot module is also connected via 5G so that no extra cables can hinder the robot being moved. The flexible robot module can be moved between three mounting stations and help with three different tasks. Depending on what product variant and the strain on the different stations the robot can be placed at one of the three tables. At station 1 the robot does a quality control of the wheels and can also mount the grey body mounts while the human mounts the wheels. Robot and human are collaborating and working on the same product.

At station 2 the robot can prepare small battery packs that the human then mounts on the chassi.

At station 3 the robot relieves the strain by doing a quality control much faster than the human would be able to. The robot module should also easily be able to learn new tasks and product variations, therefore it is important that the programming is relatively simple.

A modular product was created using Lego as a base. Different product variations can easily be achieved when the product is built in modules, for example the module “wheels” can vary by “black rims” or “grey rims”. This means that a variety of different product variations can be created even if only some of the modules offer variation.

Humans are needed in the flexible system because humans are the most flexible part of the whole, if it has the right conditions. If you give a human the right knowledge it needs it can solve tasks very quickly. Therefore the humans are a very important part in the demonstrator and are only getting help and support from the robot module.

By working with the four points a flexible factory is created, making new product variations easy and quick to produce.


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This article is categorised as Intermediate  |  Published 2020-06-14  |  Authored by Greta Braun