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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Research trends and highlights – manufacturing challenge
Article Type: News From: Industrial Robot: An International Journal, Volume 39, Issue 2
The European manufacturing industry needs a performance boost as part of a consistent effort to keep the generation of wealth and employment inside the European frontiers. In fact, there is nothing we can do with a weak economy, which outsourced the manufacturing efforts to countries with lower salaries, because the effects in the long term tend to challenge our way of life and threaten the civilizational achievements we obtained during our long common history.
One way to this end is the investment in factories of the future, i.e. smart solutions designed to manufacture more efficiently. These solutions are highly automatic, usually including advanced robotic systems, and mixing machines with human operators (cow-orker scenario), which requires, for example, human-machine interfaces specially adapted for the collaborative work between humans and machines. Several exciting techniques have been developed with that purpose in mind, resulting from several R&D join efforts most of them financed by the European research framework programs (namely, FP6 and FP7). Factories of the future is in fact object of specific calls of the FP7 research program, putting focus in projects that join academia and industry to developed demonstrated (demo target as they call it) solutions designed to solve specific manufacturing challenges. Consequently, Europe is calling its research and development institutions to help companies to become more competitive, manufacture better, and offer better jobs. Only a country or federation of countries that offer good and exciting jobs is able to attract the best and skilled workers, the entrepreneurs, and the ones that make the difference due to their attitude and leadership.
The USA are also keen to develop their manufacturing installations: they know that the country economic strength depend heavily on its capacity to produce well. President Obama announced the “The Advanced Manufacturing Initiative” in a press conference held between robots and scientific realizations in one of the most successful research laboratories of the Carnegie Mellon University (National Robotics Engineering Center). An initiative that asks researchers and scientists to think about their economy and manufacturing capacity, telling the simple idea: a strong economy is only possible with a strong manufacturing industry. And that is only possible with innovation, science and technology, to make things better, faster and cheaper, joining together the best academics and scientists, the best companies, the best engineers in a partnership that envisions a revolution in a way they plan, design and manufacture products.
I am personally convinced that Europe is able of designing a collaborative initiative that puts manufacturing as a priority also for us. That means focusing on results, on demonstrations and on showing things working. That also means requiring that the outputs of the European R&D projects are demonstrators that show innovations developed in cooperation between academia and industry, leading to new products and services that can be sold and exported to other countries. But also that can create new exciting jobs in manufacturing capable of moving smart and skillful people to the manufacturing installations. We will only be competitive with low-salary countries if we invest on science and intelligence. We do not compete with low salaries with lower salaries or outsourcing our manufacturing, because that works against our social and economic model and it is basically a civilizational step-back, but instead by doing things more efficiently: with science, technology and smart people.
To manufacture better we need a strong partnership between academia and industry, which means a common agenda and at least a few shared objectives.
We need an R&D initiative that focus on manufacturing challenges and innovations.
The final outputs of those projects should be demonstrators and prototypes, instead of reports or scientific papers. Those are only a part of the way, not the end, because the gap is also based in the fact that researchers write papers and industrial engineers and developers do not read them so frequently.
We need to help SMEs to compete in the global economy, and help them generating better jobs, etc.
Things to search further:
Example of an applied R&D project: SMErobot™; web site: www.smerobot.org
Presentation of the US “Manufacturing Initiative”: web site: www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfTY38Xg9bg
US Roadmap for Robotics: web site: www.us-robotics.us/
J. Norberto Pires