What might our factories look like in the future?

Within the next 2-4 years our factories and manufacturing facilities may look entirely different to the way they do now. Technology, automation, robotics, 5G and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are completely changing the way we live, work and play. In the next 10 years AI will have the capability to transform itself. By 2136 it is believed that factories will actually design themselves!

So, what does the latest technology look like, and what can it do? Here are just some of the ways that factories in particular are developing – with thanks and credit to Ed Keenan from Integrated Food Projects Ltd for the fascinating webinar on this topic:

Cobots – robots that work alongside humans, speeding up the manufacturing process. Let’s face it, they never take breaks, don’t get ill, never get tired and can work 24/7.

Automated Storage and Retrieval – robots that will pick, pack and even deliver. No need for fork lift trucks and space savings mean less land, quicker factory builds and huge labour savings. Imagine an Amazon warehouse filled with robots? You get the idea….

AGV or Automated Guided Vehicles – These vehicles use marked lines to find their way around. Equipped with GPS they use radio waves and vision cameras to manoeuvre and can be adapted to use magnets and lasers.

Lights Out! РIf factories start using fully robotic AI systems there will be no need for expensive lighting systems as there will be no people. This could have a positive impact on our environment in future years.

Electric Articulated Vehicles – An articulated truck has been developed which can cover a range of 600 miles. That’s the equivalent of travelling from Peterborough to John O’Groats at the most northern point of Scotland. A 30 minute charge will give the truck enough power to drive 400 miles. Imagine the savings in fuel for our haulage companies, and the environmental impact as a whole….

Self Diagnostic Predictive Machinery¬†– These machines produce results far beyond the capabilities of human analysis. Google this technology and you’ll be amazed at what can be achieved.

3D Printed Parts – Even stainless steel can now be 3D printed. There is no need to stock large amounts which cuts down on storage requirements. With laser rapid cooling, parts can be made available within minutes.

Materials Technology – Superhydrophobic materials are inspired by nature and can produce microscopic laser engravings with no need for chemical cleaning. Silver ion building materials are also being used for their anti bacterial qualities – a much needed product due to COVID-19.

Ozone and UV Sterilisation – As Ozone gas readily converts back into oxygen, it could be used in a number of ways, along with UV light. Drains with ozone or UV built into them provide continuous disinfection and prevent the need for aerosols that we get with conventional jetting techniques. Food packing processes can use ozone pack sterilisation to increase shelf life and destroy bacteria and viruses.

Vision and Camera Systems – From inspecting the quality of fruit and vegetables to looking at the chemical composition of food, and even analysing individual nutrients, these systems could transform our eating habits. By using MRI they can look at the 3D structure of food and use AI to ‘learn’ the perfect product ‘make up’.

Battery Powered Sites – Factories using battery power can work all day, with no consumption ‘spikes’ and charge at night. No more ‘downtime’ for workers and a much more stable power system. Wireless charging means less cables and a higher level of safety. Solar buildings where the entire building is made of solar panels – including the windows! Harvested piezoelectricity converts vibration and movement into stored energy – think of the lit dancefloors in clubs and bars. Within the next 10 years factories may be using ‘Night Sky Cooling’, using the cold darkness of outer space to refrigerate goods.

If all of this seems unreal – bear in mind that there is now a mine in China which is fully operated by remote control….

We need to teach our young people all about this latest technology, how it affects them and what skills they will need for the future.

Watch out for our new project ZEROTO4.0 – launching soon!