In a fast-moving world with dynamic changes to the demand structure, production systems have to be designed to be flexible and agile. The connection of all production capacities, materials flows and related logistics processes form the basis of Flexible Production. Supported by the use of new, high-performing technologies of additive manufacturing, the integration of cloud computing and applications for artificial intelligence, the factory of the future will become a decentralized and partly self-organising production facility. In addition to smart and connected technologies, Flexible Production mainly needs new forms of corporate organisation and culture. On the basis of current and prescriptive analysis-based future customer needs, goods will be produced via quickly arranged cooperations, an agile pooling of suppliers and the seamless integration of service providers using open and well secured interfaces. The use of additive manufacturing, decentralised production and the prescriptive analysis of demand is making flexible production possible. In overlap markets we are seeing innovations at the interfaces of previously separate industries, as the lines between them become increasingly blurred. Resilient supply chains – supply chains defined as resilient due to their agility, transparency and sustainability, which can quickly be relocated – are becoming a key factor in high-performance production. ABB is partnering with Planar Motors Inc. (PMI) to further expand its machine automation offering. The integration of PMI’s ACOPOS 6D magnetic levitation technology will enable ABB to accelerate the transition from strictly linear production to an open, adaptive manufacturing space. As a magnetic levitation technology for smart conveying robot systems, ACOPOS 6D offers the highest flexibility in manufacturing, assembly and packaging. The system has intelligent shuttles that move independently between stations, without being bound to a rigid production flow. ABB is partnering with Planar Motors Inc. (PMI) to expand its machine automation offering: The integration of PMI’s magnetic levitation technology into the company’s Machine Automation Division’s (B&R) portfolio will accelerate industry’s transition from strictly linear production to an open, adaptive manufacturing space. This will support manufactures in the transition to highly flexible and precise manufacturing in response to the fundamental shift to batch size one production and shorter product lifecycles. Furthermore, ABB has taken a significant equity stake in PMI as part of the agreement. PMI, founded in 2017 as a startup is based in Vancouver, Canada. It is the global leader in magnetically levitated planar motors, designing and producing smart conveying robot systems. PMI’s intelligent shuttle technology has been integrated into B&R’s portfolio and launched under the product name ACOPOS 6D. It will offer B&R customers the highest flexibility in manufacturing, assembly, and packaging. ACOPOS 6D is a rail-free product transportation system, with intelligent shuttles that move independently between stations, without being bound to a rigid, sequential production flow. The ACOPOS 6D shuttles are contactless, noiseless and precise, gliding freely above a surface, accelerating and maneuvering in every direction with six degrees of freedom – they can even move vertically on walls. The company states that the rail-free ACOPOS 6D system, can carry loads weighing from 0.6–14kg at speeds of up to 2m/s with a positioning repeatability of ±5µm, heralding z “a new era for manufacturing”. The micron level positioning repeatability makes ACOPOS 6D perfectly suited for applications with strict positioning requirements including inspection in the assembly of mechanical and electronic components. ACOPOS 6D is fully integrated in the B&R ecosystem. That allows the shuttles to be synchronized with servo axes, robots, track systems and machine vision cameras with microsecond precision. Path planning for the shuttles occurs in a dedicated controller, connected to the machine network via POWERLINK – which means it has no impact on the performance of the network or machine control system. For systems with more than 200 segments or 50 shuttles, multiple controllers can be synchronized with each other. With no mechanical friction or resulting contamination, the technology is particularly timely given rapid shifts in manufacturing accelerated by the current pandemic and the need for a sterile environment in industries that are accelerating automation as a result. Similar to automated guided vehicle systems (AGV’s), users benefit from the freedom of movement of objects carried within or between several machines. With ACOPOS 6D, machines can simultaneously manufacture different product variants or even entirely different products, with each shuttle able to navigate its own way through the production process, amongst a swarm of other shuttles, taking its individual product on a unique path to the stations it needs for customized production. “With ACOPOS 6D we are once again pushing the boundaries of technology by capitalizing on our strong partner network. The capability of ACOPOS 6D delivers unprecedented flexibility for a wide range of industries, allowing sectors such as healthcare and pharma to benefit from our flexible manufacturing solutions,” said Sami Atiya, President of ABB Robotics & Discrete Automation. “Through our partnership, we are complementing our industry-leading robotics and machine automation portfolio and fostering our position as the only company to offer machine manufacturers and industrial customers the entire range of integrated hardware and software solutions from a single source.” Xiaodong Lu, President and co-founder of PMI, said: “Partnering with ABB will ensure we can further develop our technology and revolutionize industrial manufacturing. Our technology will work seamlessly with ABB’s machine automation solutions, allowing customers to benefit from unrivaled flexibility, precision and intelligence. We are excited to jointly continue the success story of our technology together with ABB’s global presence and domain expertise.” B&R is a unit of ABB’s Robotics and Discrete Automation business and a global technology leader in machine automation. It combines state-of-the-art technology with advanced engineering to provide customers in virtually every industry with complete solutions for machine and factory automation, motion control, HMI and integrated safety technology. The company Bionic Production has developed an intelligent production module called Mobile Smart Factory that is equipped with 3D printing devices for the production of metals and polymers, and integrates additive manufacturing technologies as well as post-processing solutions for on-site part development. Particularly industries operating in remote areas could use the “3D printing factory in a box” to print or repair parts locally. This plug-and-print solution means the spare parts can be virtually stocked and printed on demand. A few months ago we first unveiled the concept of the Mobile Smart Factory, an intelligent production module that integrates additive manufacturing technologies as well as post-processing solutions for on-site part development. This project, which stems from a division of Bionic Production GmbH, aims to pave the way for cost-effective and reliable stand-alone 3D printing of parts. Furthermore, with the advent of COVID-19 globally, the industry has seen the supply chain experience disruptions and prevented supplying companies with on-demand parts. This is one of the solutions that promotes local manufacturing, and has earned our recognition as a featured startup of the month for April. To learn more about the modules, we spoke with one of the brains behind the project. One of Bionic Production’s main products is the Mobile Smart Factory, a modular container factory equipped with 3D printing devices for the production of metals and polymers. The product idea has been developed with our affiliated company, the Hamburg port operator. Together, we set our sights on addressing supply chain challenges, especially for industries operating in remote areas. We quickly realized that the ability to produce and repair parts locally with a “3D printing factory in a box” offers enormous potential. Instead of keeping all physical parts in stock, spare parts can be virtually stocked and printed on demand. Companies also reduce the time and expense associated with supplying spare parts. Finally, the risk of production downtime due to bottlenecks in the chain is mitigated, as our Mobile Smart Factory enables rapid production in close proximity to the customer. The Mobile Smart Factory is a plug-and-print solution for cost-effective 3D printing and repair service. The system covers the entire additive manufacturing process and consists of two CSC-certified shipping containers. The control unit is used for preprocessing and polymer production. Here, part digitizing can be performed using CAD software and a handheld scanner so that all required parts are stored in a “virtual cloud”. The production process begins with the selection of the required material from the storage area. The main function of the production unit is to create metal parts and perform repair services. For this purpose, a multi-optional 6-axis machine is used, which combines wire arc additive manufacturing (WAAM) with milling and drilling. The benefits of our WAAM metal production process are the high build rates, the large build space, the easy material handling and the simple and stable process. Our solution is aimed at industries operating in remote areas with limited logistical capabilities. In the mining, marine energy, defense or maritime industries, for example, a wide variety of individual spare parts are required that are generally costly to manufacture and store within an extremely tight schedule. Companies that use Mobile Smart Factory and print or repair parts locally can gain competitive advantages by reducing logistics efforts and costs while improving operational efficiency. For example, the Mobile Smart Factory can be implemented in nearby mines or oil and gas platforms. Thus, parts are produced directly wherever the need arises and without having to wait for them to arrive from a supplier or central storage. Overall, there is a wealth of potential applications that can be provided through the Mobile Smart Factory. In my opinion, we will see a strong trend towards reindustrialization and local production. First, the COVID-19 crisis clearly revealed supply chain vulnerabilities. Especially, China’s role as a global factory means that any disruption puts global supply chains at risk. More and more countries are striving to reduce dependencies on geographically distant suppliers. At the same time, Industry 4.0 will amplify the trend toward reindustrialization. It is expected to increase productivity through efficiency gains and thus gradually reduce wage differentials between countries. The next wave of mass customization is near and will accelerate the trend towards local production. In short, new and innovative ways of organizing production operations will be needed. Additive manufacturing will play an important role in this context. However, it should be noted that 3D printing is likely to be a complement rather than a substitute for traditional manufacturing techniques. We are convinced that additive manufacturing will disrupt supply chains and production processes worldwide and it is of utmost importance to be prepared for it. Therefore, it is time to prepare for the era of additive manufacturing and take advantage of the considerable potential, improve operational efficiency and open up new areas of business. You can find more information about Mobile Smart Factory HERE. What do you think of the Mobile Smart Factory? Let us know in a comment below or on our Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter pages! Sign up for our free weekly Newsletter here, the latest 3D printing news straight to your inbox! You can also find all our videos on our YouTube channel.