Advanced factory technology, otherwise known as Industry 4.0, is helping Eaton’s vehicle group in Galesburg, west of Battle Creek, safely deal with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and continue to serve its customers.
The company says it is using autonomous production systems that are interconnected and work in an optimized, transparent, proactive, and agile manner. Supported by an integrated ecosystem, the technologies are a combination of augmented reality, fast application development, autonomous robots, digital simulation, and additive manufacturing or 3-D printing.
“By leveraging augmented reality, we are able to continue to maintain our operations remotely and … develop new products so that we can meet our customers’ deadlines despite the global challenges we all face,” says João Faria, president of Eaton’s vehicle group.
Examples of how the Vehicle Group uses Industry 4.0 technologies include:
- Display of 3-D images and remote connection to improve security.
- Using augmented reality glasses that offer the ability to display 3-D images in physical spaces and establish a remote connection, which ensures that work can be done and everyone stays safe.
- Improved training and acceleration of review processes through augmented reality.
Augmented reality also helps maintain knowledge and training, the company says. The Vehicle Group has recognized an opportunity, for example, to use the technology to train operators and engineers on new equipment, which traditionally would have been done by instructors who travel to various remote locations. In addition, the technology has proven critical in recent customer reviews and approvals.
By connecting systems and machines to collect, analyze, and report information in real time, management of the plant area is optimized, and real-time production problems become visible so that they can be addressed immediately. These efforts are aimed at reducing lead times, maintenance, repair, and operation costs; inventory, and labor costs, as well as increasing performance and quality.
To optimize the production process and to eliminate the need for forklifts and other human-operated transport machines, the group uses autonomous driverless transport vehicles or autonomous mobile robots. In addition to improving the flow of materials within a manufacturing plant, AMR and autonomous AGVs increase safety and enable social distancing while reducing costs, according to Eaton.
COBOTs, robots that are designed to interact with people in a common space or work safely in close proximity, are used to safely master complex and repetitive tasks. This leads to improved uniformity and accuracy in the manufacturing process.
Another way Eaton increases its productivity is to use digital simulation applications to define which solution and/or combination of factors leads to the highest production results. These applications can run through multiple scenarios by changing parameters. In most cases, the Vehicle Group observes an increase in productivity of between 10 and 30 percent due to higher production output or lower investment requirements.
Additive manufacturing or 3-D printing is used to improve safety, quality, and efficiency by developing and manufacturing tools, poka-yoke principles, and standards internally in relation to both polymer and metal materials. This enables shorter lead times, reduced purchasing costs and highly customer-specific solutions. For example, lead times can be reduced from weeks to days and costs can be decreased from thousands to hundreds.