The factory of the future is smart, connected and already here

The factory of the future is about much more than robots. It is about sensors that connect devices and machines to the internet to monitor their condition and improve the performance of a production line, creating substantial cost savings. It is also about vertical integration of the supply chain, fully automated manufacturing processes, connecting the shop floor to the board room and creating highly flexible production systems.

Smart, connected factories are the future of manufacturing. And just as over a century ago when it was at the forefront of electrifying cities and railways, ABB is today leading the way into the new era with a range of products and solutions under the name ABB Ability™.

The new industrial revolution, the Fourth, enables extensive the use of sensors and connects machines and robots to the internet. Sensors measure what is happening within and around a machine - for instance, temperature or vibration - and produce digital data, which are analyzed by software, and then turned into information that manufacturers can apply in real time to improve and adapt their production processes.

The process of automation becomes smarter and more adaptable with the help of The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Dating back to the 1950s, automation can be found everywhere from automatic pilots in planes, to robots on an assembly line for cars, to control systems in mines and offshore oil and gas platforms. Automation increases production, reduces waste and improves safety for workers.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution builds on its predecessors, which started with the mechanization of production with the help of water and steam power. The second was ushered in by electricity, enabling mass production and the assembly line, while the third was brought by the rise of computer software and automation with the help of robots.

Each industrial revolution produced an increase in productivity and efficiency, while improving conditions for workers. A similar thing is happening now as the factory of the future is automated, connected and increasingly smart. Advances in artificial intelligence mean robots are starting to learn from their mistakes and share knowledge to improve their performance.

 $1 trillion in cost reductions

Launched earlier this year, ABB Ability brings a number of ABB’s digital products, solutions and services under one umbrella. A number of ABB Ability offerings will be showcased at this year’s IOT Solutions World Congress in Barcelona from October 3-5.

Using digital technologies to change business models and create new value-producing opportunities is expected to create nearly one trillion dollars of customer value in the form of cost reductions and extra revenue across the markets in which ABB is active.

Management consultant McKinsey has quantified the economic value created by digitalization across a broader market at between $4 trillion and $11 trillion annually by 2025. ABB estimates its addressable market at $20 billion in annual revenues by then.

Smart Circuit breakers

ABB’s factory in Heidelberg, Germany, which makes miniature circuit breakers (MCBs) shows what the factory of tomorrow looks like with ABB Ability™ and how it can make things faster and better. 

ABB has been making MCBs for more than 90 years and has produced over a billion of them. MCBs can be found in almost every house or electrical installation. They cut off electricity in case of a short circuit to protect the installation or house from overheating and possibly catching fire.

The Heidelberg facility is equipped with seven types of ABB robots, all of which are connected to the industrial internet and monitored to ensure optimum performance. Since these connected robots were introduced, productivity has increased by 3 percent from already high levels and the assembly line is much more flexible. It can produce three times as much product variants than before.

The smart factory or factory of the future connects a number of dots in ABB’s portfolio, including products and solutions of recently acquired companies, such as machine and factory automation leader, Bernecker + Rainer Industrie-Elektronik GmbH (B&R).

It is examples like these that make it easier to explain to customers why the internet of things (IoT) and the factory of the future are transforming industries and upending traditional business models. Guido Jouret, ABB’s Chief Digital Officer, writes in a blogpost: “Everybody’s getting it. IoT builds on prior chapters of the digital revolution and extends them into the physical world. Web and mobile are digital talking to digital, whereas IoT converts the physical into digital and then into physical again.” 

The ABB Ability Smart Sensor

A key feature of the factory of the future is the sensor, which collects and feeds information about the production process into the industrial internet. ABB has developed a compact ABB Ability Smart Sensor that can be easily attached to the frame of a low-voltage induction motor to measure key parameters, such as vibration and temperature. Using on-board algorithms, based on ABB’s decades of expertise in electric motors, the ABB Ability Smart Sensor gathers information about the motor’s condition and sends the data via a wireless Bluetooth connection to a secure server, from which it can be accessed through a smartphone or tablet. The sensor can be applied to almost any low-voltage electric motor to turn it into a connected device.

Equipping a motor with an ABB Ability™ Smart Sensor typically reduces downtime by up to 70 percent, extends lifetime by as much as 30 percent and lowers energy use by up to 10 percent. 

ABB was instrumental in kick-starting the second and third industrial revolutions and is leading its customers into the Fourth, where machines and factories are connected and increasingly autonomous and self-learning. The factory of the future is already here.

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