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Surprise in store
Surprise in store
Have you ever considered the difference between real and virtual reality? I do not mean whether or not the pictures are blurred or delayed or that you are getting a blinding headache wearing the VR helmet. Assuming the VR is perfect, then what is the difference?
Let me give a true life example … My electric toaster has always been rather enthusiastic but yesterday it excelled itself by ejecting a slice of toast, which then landed on its edge and stayed upright.
I bet I could spend the rest of my life making toast and never be able to repeat the event. And therein lies the difference between real and virtual reality. It is the element of surprise. Had I told you that I had programmed a VR suite to do the above, then not even an eyebrow would have been raised. In fact even if I had told you that my toaster had metamorphosed into a Harrier Jump Jet, the expected reaction would be "so what?"
So what, you may be asking, has this got to do with Assembly Automation? Our theme this issue is "Internet-based manufacturing" or "e-manufacturing", as it is often called. The Internet has become so much a part of our lives that it is hard to imagine life without it. I started off being rather sceptical but have been won over by the sheer usefulness of the system. When surfing the Net your personal physical location is almost immaterial, and the same applies to your manufacturing plant.
I remember a visit I made to the UK branch of Texas Instruments about 20 years ago, where it was explained to me that, if you sent a memo to the person working just along the hall, the message actually got routed via satellite to the USA and back again. Sounds crazy but, once you have set up such mechanisms, then the doors open for a whole range of opportunities.
Why bother going downstairs to the factory floor if you can monitor the production rate and status of your widget assembly system from the comfort of your own desktop? Link everything up over the Internet and you can move your desktop out of the factory and even out of the country and the information you receive will be just as good.
E-manufacturing is one of those developments that you just know is bound to take off, and I am sure the benefits will be profound. The gains are easy to quantify and a good number are discussed in this issue. But what are we likely to lose?
A desktop image of a manufacturing operation may not be virtual reality, but it is not a long way off. You will only see the information that the system provides and will be blind to everything else. In a perfect world this will be fine, but then if it was perfect you would not need to monitor it in the first place.
To give a sailing analogy, the great majority of ships and boats are equipped with GPS (global positioning system) and autopilots that can steer the ship along pre-programmed paths based on the incoming GPS positioning information. The trouble is that, if the GPS stops being updated, as can happen if the US military switches on selective availability, or if some other interference blocks the reception, then the ship will keep ploughing merrily on, firmly convinced that it is in mid-channel when in fact it is heading at 13 knots straight for Manhattan.
Perhaps this "Internet reality" will hold a lot of surprises after all!