The factory of the future is not only a range of new technologies, but it is also a new way of working for the people who operate there. During ALTEN’s presence at Global Industrie 2022, François Portier, Director of ALTEN “Smart Factory 4.0” Research Program, analyzes the Group’s approach to enhancing the role of people in tomorrow’s industry. This initiative is based on partnerships with high technological added value.
What are the success factors of the fourth industrial revolution?
François Portier : The companies that are growing today are those that manage to make a digital transformation before the others. Today, we order a car from our smartphone, we do our shopping online, we try on clothes thanks to a virtual wardrobe and in less than 24 hours, someone rings at our door to deliver. Without high digital technology, none of this would be possible, even for short circuits.
As a high-tech consulting firm, one of the main challenges of this transformation is to position ourselves as integrators with ecosystems (large companies, start-ups, etc.) that work with each other. The key to this paradigm shift is also to be able to work on programs and trends that have real added value for the industry.
Among them: the Digital Twin. Many projects are linked to this technology, whose definition applies to a thousand and one industrial applications: data, AR/VR, training… But it is above all through digital continuity that the definition of the Digital Twin is best understood. It is around this theme that we are working with our partners, such as SIEMENS and STMicroelectronics, with the aim of forming this digital continuity, the guarantee of a connected factory. Through the spectrum of this trend, we are able to develop high value-added projects such as predictive maintenance, which is currently in the test phase at one of our main aeronautical customers and which drastically reduces costs.
Another key to success in the ongoing digital transformation is group development in the broadest sense of the term: companies of varying sizes form ecosystems with each other, but Factory 4.0 engineers also pool their decision making, rich in the variety of their skills in data, logistics, AR/VR, robotics…
Finally, the 4.0 transformation of the factory is considered successful when it is brought about by a rigorous methodology. Do not disperse: that is the miracle recipe! And ALTEN’s Innovation Department teams are working hard to meet this goal by helping their customers to formulate their needs accurately, based on their local challenges and with a pragmatic approach: inventory, studies, value-added solution proposals, deployment on increasingly large areas, measurement of the value of the projects to finalize the overall transformation, etc. The final goal is to train people in these automated processes and to encourage them to adopt the approach. In other words, it is a question of creating change and learning how to make it last in order to succeed in the industrial transformation of 4.0.
And what about the human factor in all this?
F.P: Human is at the heart of all Factory 4.0 projects. Nevertheless, this theme is very present through the Digital Twin technology, mentioned earlier. We are working mainly on prediction and prescription from our algorithms for the different protagonists of the Smart Factory. For example, we can cite real-time assistance on manufacturing or assembly lines, alerts on accident risks or on decisions given to the human being to avoid a predicted production disruption.
The most mature project for which we have measured the gains in an industrial environment is predictive and prescriptive maintenance, which has allowed us to extend the lifespan of cutting tools in the Aerospace industry by up to 30%. We are also implementing all of the Digital Twin projects on a miniature factory manufactured in the ALTEN Lab in Toulouse, on which all of our French engineers can work, even remotely. To develop our projects, we equip ourselves with the latest generation equipment: a prerequisite that allows us to mature our projects internally as well as with our partners.
“Combining human intelligence and artificial intelligence is a response to the Smart Factory’s ambition:
to enable production flexibility in response to increasingly personalized customer demand, with transparency regarding the path of products – from their manufacture to the hands of the end customer – while respecting costs, quality and deadlines and minimizing the environmental footprint.”
What partnerships have you forged to strengthen your leading-edge technological position?
F.P: SIEMENS is a key partner for the connection of our Digital Twin in the factory of the future. The group’s experts have extensive experience with our industrial customers. In addition, their digital tools, like their latest generation machines, allow us to work on Edge projects and to integrate our predictive and prescriptive algorithms closer to the lines to gain efficiency and reduce data transmission to the Cloud. .
Once the machines are connected, we are working internally on how we can bring our virtual world to life. To do this, we are using several technologies that will allow the factory operator to be informed of the activities of the virtual world thanks to AR/VR. There are two main areas of focus: training and monitoring of operator actions. The first is training to ensure compliance with the industrial ranges, which is the subject of our work on the Vizendo tool from SIEMENS. Secondly, the monitoring of operator handling, via image processing, to be able to help them if necessary.
STMicroelectronics is an ally in the field of IoT, which is becoming more and more essential if you want to connect an existing system to any level of digital 4.0 system maturity. AI in embedded systems is a technological revolution. It is thanks to this technology that we have achieved the results previously mentioned on predictive maintenance in the aeronautics industry. We are working hand in hand with our partner on the development of intelligent sensors, which can be grafted onto any type of system in the factory, to understand the associated functions: this is what we call learning intelligence.
In terms of added value, beyond the connectivity established between the plant’s old and new systems, this method allows us to process data at the source with a green approach. Indeed, the fact of processing the data at the source thanks to these sensors means that we do not send back into the system a flow of data that will require a lot of energy and generate a lot of storage and losses. Our algorithms will communicate with the sensors in order to process only the desired information. For example, if an operator needs precise information on the state of a machine, the sensor will communicate the precise data on this subject and indicate the actions to be taken.
A final word?
F.P: We are preparing activities for the deployment of intelligent IoTs (they are referred to as Green IoTs) in partnership with STMicroelectronics, projects on predictive maintenance with the latest generation of SIEMENS machines, a whole training component via Vizendo AR/VR as well as other development programs in the field of logistics.
On a completely different note, as Research Program Director, I find it very gratifying to work with young engineers who are passionate about code and the factory of the future. Their ability to think outside the box is a real asset as we continue to learn and pass on our knowledge to those we are supporting in the transition to an ever more connected factory, both technologically and in terms of people!
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