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A first taste of 'future factories'

wuzhenwic.org Updated: 2021-03-19

East China province of Zhejiang released the first 12 "future factories" by the end of 2020. Covering such fields as digital security and protection, network communications, smart equipment and automobile and component manufacturing, the factories are harbingers of smart factories in the future.

Song Jia, director of the Research Institute of the Machinery Industry Economic & Management's Collaborative Innovation Center of Informatization and Industrialization, said that the "future factory" is a new production model based on deep integration of a new generation of information technology and industry. It is an exploration in industrial digitalization of infrastructure and will have a deep impact on various industries.

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A staff member at the "future factory" built by ZheJiang ZhaoFeng Mechanical and Electronic CO., LTD handles an order from General Motors. [Photo by Ding Li/ visual.people.cn]

What's a "future factory"?

According to the Economy and Information Technology Department of Zhejiang, a "future factory" is a modern factory with digital design, smart production and management, coordinated and green manufacturing, and safe control based on such technologies as digital twins, the internet of things and the industrial internet. Such a factory also has satisfying economic effectiveness.

A "super factory" plan was launched in Zhejiang in March 2020 to help traditional manufacturing transform and upgrade to modern customized modes.

In the "future factory" of Zhejiang-based CHINT Group, circuit breakers undergo processing on the production line for low-voltage devices. 

The tiny breakers consist of four parts on which the electromagnetic, thermal release and arc extinguishing systems, as well as an operating device, are placed. The robot arm needs to complete punching, welding and accurate assembly of the subtle components without any error.

Next to the production line is a spiral transporter tower which connects production of the key components to the assembly workshops. 5G-based automated guided vehicles move between those points, transporting materials.

Based on the industrial internet, the assembly line is capable of adjusting production speed automatically according to different demands, which realizes linkage between production lines and improves production efficiency.

The first fully-automatic production line of tiny circuit breakers with complete proprietary intellectual property rights developed by an enterprise in China, the production line can produce a breaker every 1.2 seconds.

According to the executive deputy general manager of the company's production and operation department, about 3 million such products roll off the production line each day.

CHINT Group has also built digital workshops to manufacture products including electric relays and contactors.

Today, Zhejiang has 12 such "future factories". They are developing well in coordinated, sharable and customized manufacturing and have launched a "product plus service" mode based on emerging information technologies.

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A worker at the "future factory" of Zhejiang Dingli Machinery Co., Ltd. works on smart equipment to be exported to Italy. [Photo by Xie Shangguo/visual.people.cn]

What's the specialty of a "future factory"?

A flexible production and delivery with quick response capacity is a unique characteristic that should feature in a "future factory". 

In the "future factory" of Hangzhou Robam Electric Co. in Zhejiang, robotic equipment like extensible boom mechanical arms, automatic conveyor belts, welding robots and automatic material carrying guided vehicles, can be seen all around in the workshop.

The elements form an industrial internet of things centered on a smart central platform based on the artificial intelligent Internet of things developed by Alibaba Cloud. The platform connects production and manufacturing, device connectivity and storage logistics systems and provides graphical data and analysis of sales, production and storage.

The data helps the company learn consumers' demands, preferences and expectations for the products, which contributes accuracy to the company's developmental plans.

Such exploration is also underway in other regions in China.

Moving northward to Shanghai, a robot at the industry 4.0-smart factory laboratory of Chinesisch-Deutsche Hochschule fur Angewandte Wissenschaften of Tongji University in Jiading district started production after received a remote order.

The semi-manufactured product was later put into another device for further processing. Assembly of the final product was also done with a robot.

It's surprising that the production instruction was sent from the Shanghai Autonomous Intelligent Unmanned System Science Center in Pudong New Area.

Xie Nan, vice president of the school explained that users can place an order by scanning the code with their mobile phones. Then related data will be transmitted to the manufacturing execution system in the lab. Users can also trace the entire procedure from production to delivery on their phone.

The production line developed by the lab meets demands of customized orders and operates with smart production and management. When the buyers have different demands, the line can automatically make adjustments.

Xie said that some application scenarios can be tested in the lab and promoted in real production when the technology is mature.

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Two workers at a smart workshop in Zhejiang adjust the 5G unmanned driving AGV forklift. [Photo by Wang Jinyan/visual.people.cn]

What does a "future factory" mean to enterprises?

The "future factory" is a result of the fusion of intelligentization. Cradled from deep integration of industrialization and informatization, such factories are expected to impact future industrial structure, production modes, the data chain and the value chain.

Song said that the current manufacturing information data mainly comes from internal data of an enterprise but the "future factory" will connect all industrial data together, which means data of the same or similar industries will go into each separate production line.

The data will accurately make each product unique from others, which will benefit customized demands.

China has beefed up new infrastructure construction, which is the foundation of industrial digitalization. Intelligent transformation is a must-go path for all enterprises.


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