Today, the traditional concept of the large, static factory is becoming an outdated relic, thanks to Industry 4.0. 3D printing, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and advanced human-machine interfaces are just some of Industry 4.0’s applications and components that are reshaping the manufacturing world.
Since we live in a customer-centric world, manufacturers need to adapt quickly to customer preferences in order to stay competitive and not risk becoming obsolete. The demand for quicker response times and cost-effective production workflows has led to the evolution of a new driver-- fabrication portability.
Imagine being able to move an assembly line from one location to another, from one manufacturing facility to another. For decades, the manufacturing process has required downtime of production lines for retooling in order to start production for a new product. Now, manufacturers can respond to the customer-driven supply chain by adapting and making line changes quickly by setting up a new production line in only a matter of days.
The concept of fabrication portability has been realized most recently in the Factory-in-a-Box package by Nokia. Nokia has created a fabrication system that includes all the key Industry 4.0 aspects you expect with the next generation of manufacturing including: Internet-connected equipment and controls, automated assembly with robots, and the ability to pick up the entire system and relocate it as desired. This whole compacted Factory-in-a-Box can literally be relocated and up in running in less than a day, not including travel time.
Alternatively, Autodesk has created their own larger scaletool factory module, which can provide a mobile fabrication unit to a construction site, a factory floor, or a temporary worksite. Unlike the Nokia model which is a small facility in itself, the Autodesk model works more like a tool bench that can be added to work site, bringing welding capabilities to a worksite versus having to order or ship out for metal-working. The entire unit can be rolled from location to another location on the back of a specialized hauler and made functionable in hours.
General Electric is also in the mobile factory game, rolling out a portable medical unit, KUBio, that allows hospitals and critical health centers to fabricate targeted viral responses on location versus dealing with the delay of large-scale production far away or out-of-country. This approach is extremely helpful in allowing response teams to deal with novel viral situations on the ground right way, versus losing months to the traditional vaccine production process. Industry 4.0’s concept of portability will make huge impacts for current industries and new players trying to break into larger markets. From realizing the ability to set up a factory in remote environments to compartmentalizing production to meet shifting consumer behaviors, fabrication portability opens many new possibilities.
And to stay competitive, the new portability of manufacturing increases functionality with add-ons. With one container producing one aspect and another container a second aspect, companies can implement a Lego-like methodology. The linking of factory boxes can produce complex manufacturing in one boxed location, and the second factory box location designated for a specialized tool shop matching the second purpose. Fabrication portability is clearly a game-changer in the evolving world of Industry 4.0 and this new application can break legacy paradigms to spawn innovation and consumer trends.