Pulse news magazine

Volume 30, September 2020

The future is now

The future is now

Imagine a factory where the machines know when they need maintenance; the warehouse knows what is coming and when to expect it; and robots pick the components, updating inventory lists automatically. If this sounds like the future, the future is now and BAE Systems is working to make it a reality today.

Just as industry transitioned from smoke-filled factories to clean rooms, and introduced production lines and automation, another transformation is taking place. The integration of interconnected machines, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, and data analytics is the next step in the evolution of manufacturing.

Within Electronic Systems, this evolution is known as creating the Factory Workplace of the Future, or FWoF, and aims to create a world-class digital manufacturing infrastructure to give the company a competitive edge in this new industrial era.

ES Deputy Vice President of Operations and FWoF project lead Justin Siebert said, “Developments over recent years have meant that we need to totally reimagine the way we use technology through every facet of our organization. It’s about looking at how we can use the latest innovations to make our manufacturing processes more efficient and effective to build our products with zero defects and get it into the hands of our customers as quickly as possible. The Factory Workplace of the Future is our vision of manufacturing in 2030.”

The project focuses on five key areas (shown below). Each key area, or pillar, is overseen by a champion, supported by a cross-functional core team.

“These teams enable us to understand how the technology can be applied throughout the business while ensuring that our plans align with the existing advanced technology roadmaps,” explained Siebert. “They’re looking at how we can further integrate our entire supply chain to optimize our processes from order entry, through to sourcing from internal and external suppliers and the final shipment to the customer.”

Additionally, the team is reviewing how to introduce cobots – robots that work with humans – to help with assemblies along the application of data analytics to give the company an all-important competitive edge.

“The Factory Workplace of the Future project is a key part of our strategy to put digital manufacturing at the heart of our production capabilities and deliver on our promises to our customers,” said Kim Cadorette, ES Vice President of Operations. “We not only invent new technologies in our products, but the way we execute also needs to be cutting edge. Having a roadmap that gets us there is what FWoF is all about.”

Some of the technology being reviewed by the FWoF team is already seeing use in parts of the organization. Virtual reality and augmented reality is being used to assist with assemblies and advise on maintenance, while RFID – radio frequency identification – technology is now an established part of the supply chain.

“By the nature of our business we use high-tech tools on a daily basis,” said Siebert, “but FWoF is about looking at how we can integrate those tools further. Incorporating these advances into our processes and into our infrastructure will be crucial.”

One example is the daily use of RFID in our supply chain.

Taking it a step further, the team is investigating how we can integrate the information RFID provides to enable Oracle to update our inventory lists whenever something arrives into or leaves the warehouse.

“There are some hugely exciting possibilities for using AR and VR both in the design of new production facilities and as part of the product development process. By seeing in three dimensions how machinery and benches could be laid out and working on the technical aspects of new products in collaboration with our customers in a virtual space, we can avoid costly errors.”

Inevitably, talk of introducing more advanced technology and increased automation raises the question of how front-line workers could be impacted.

“This is a process of evolution, not revolution,” explained Siebert. “FWoF is a transformation that will be implemented over many years. Just as manufacturing evolved from sweat and muscle to microscopes and printed circuit boards, the changes we’re looking at will see us adapting to the increased use of robotics, artificial intelligence, and other technologies to continue our competitive advantage well into the future. Human ingenuity and skills will be a critical part of that.”

The team looks forward to employees’ ideas and suggestions to improve the business within this exciting new Factory Workplace of the Future.

Factory Workplace of the Future – Focus Areas

  • Core operations business systems, including Enterprise Resource Planning,
  • Product Lifecycle Management, and Quality Management
  • Robotics and automation, including robots, cobots, and artificial intelligence
  • Human machine interface, including the integration of tablets, touch screens, and augmented/virtual reality into ES’ processes
  • Data collection, analytics and intelligence
  • Digital supply chain management

By Tim Palmer, Communications, Nashua, New Hampshire