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sts.components.contact.mr.placeholder Sebastian Webel
Mr. Sebastian Webel

Editor-in-Chief

Tel: +49 (89) 636-32221

Fax: +49 89 636-35292

Werner-von-Siemens-Straße 1
80333 Munich


sts.components.contact.mr.placeholder Arthur F. Pease
Mr. Arthur F. Pease

Executive Editor English Edition

Tel: +49 (89) 636-48824

Fax: +49 89 636-35292

Otto-Hahn-Ring 6
81739 Munich
Germany

Pictures of the Future
The Magazine for Research and Innovation
 

Digital Factory

Customized Workstations

Tomorrow’s factories will be both productive and flexible, meaning that humans will provide flexibility while robots will ensure fast and efficient production.

In the factory of the future, everything will be networked. Each workstation along the assembly line will know which employee is scheduled to work at it next — and cooperative robots will help humans to perform difficult tasks.

In the factory of the future, the employees’ only resemblance to the workers of today may be their work clothes. Although they will still work at assembly stations, they will not work in rigid shifts, be subject to inflexible production processes, or be restricted to a single workstation. Most monotonous and unilaterally strenuous activities will probably also be things of the past in 15 years, according to Johannes Labuttis, who studied mechanical engineering at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and now works work at Siemens Corporate Development in Munich. As a Lead Consultant, he deals with issues such as the role of human beings in production processes.

“With the help of computers, employees will use their smartphones to organize their shifts themselves in the future,” he says. “In the process, they will even be able to take into account their personal chronobiological attributes — in other words, whether they’re day people or night people. This will enable them to flexibly adapt their work assignments to their personal needs and current situation.”

The factory of the future will be organized like a “living Internet.”

The employees’ individual time management will be optimally aligned with the company’s human resources requirements. That’s because, as Labuttis points out, the factory of the future will be highly flexible and organized like a living Internet in which everything and everyone is networked. “The production lines and their individual assembly stations will be transformable, so it will be easy to retool them in line with the customer order in question,” he explains. This will make it possible to quickly adapt production to changes in demand. The employees will work at each assembly station in turn in a fixed cycle. They will know all the steps of the work process, from the blank to the final product. Plant managers will benefit from this, because the employees will be able to work efficiently at any workstation.

“Knowledgeable" Workstations

Because everything will be networked, each workstation will “know” at all times which employee is scheduled to work at it next. It will then adjust its parameters within seconds to match that particular employee. The tools will lie ready at the “best point,” and the height and inclination of each workstation will be adjusted in accordance with individual workers’ physical dimensions and any disabilities they may have. “The variants will be as individualized as the workers themselves. They might include standing aids, footrests or even a completely different workstation design,” says Labuttis.

Moreover, collaborative robots will help humans to perform complex tasks. The work done in this factory of the future will be both productive and flexible. The people will provide the flexibility, and the robots will ensure fast and efficient production. The average age of the factory employees will also change. In today’s industrialized countries especially, the factories of the future will have a significantly older workforce because of the rapid demographic transformation that is already under way. By 2050 the number of people over 65 worldwide, which is currently 500 million, will triple. As a result, people will have to work for more years in order to ensure that social security systems remain affordable. But in the factories of tomorrow older workers will also be urgently needed because of their skills and their wealth of knowledge and experience.

Susanne Gold