Smart Factory… Artificial Intelligence… Machine Learning… whatever you call it, it’s coming to a plastic injection molding plant near you, and soon. (Maybe it’s your plastic injection molding plant!) At NPE 2018 in Orlando (May 7 – 11), exhibitors will say they’re not there to sell you something which will simply incrementally improve the status quo. Instead, they’ll say they’re there to prepare you for the future.
Which, by the way, is now.
Oh, sure, there’ll be plenty of new injection machines that provide molders with improvements in speed, energy efficiency and quality. But the theme of this year’s show will be demonstrating “smart factory” equipment and techniques which are a quantum leap forward for our industry and not simply more of the same things we have always done. The end-user markets which will be featured in connection with this are:
- automotive manufacturing
- consumer products
First of all, show attendees will likely be inundated with a storm of high-tech terms heralding the IoT (Internet of Things), Inject 4.0, Plastics 4.0, or any number of other “4.0” variations.
While the rest of the world is already far along in the “4.0” revolution, North American plastic injection molders, generally speaking, are expected to be still investigating what all this really means to them in terms of the bottom line. NPE will be the best opportunity yet in this hemisphere to see where the “4.0” rubber (or plastic) meets the road. Since makers of primary machinery, namely robots (see below), are all eager to show how they are becoming “4.0 ready,” there will be an overwhelming amount of technology to investigate. But there are really only three major elements of Industry 4.0:
• Smart machines capable of machine-learning new processes, that is, regulating themselves
• Smart production, in which machines and processes communicate among themselves and realy real-time data on production status to sensors and human production staff
• Smart service, involving 24/7 remote troubleshooting, online (often automated) ordering of spare parts, and new ways of monitoring machines—locally and remotely—for preventative maintenance
If attendees come away from NPE: 2018 having learned about these three new capabilities, and how they affect their operations, they can consider their time at the show well-spent.