At Tembo, we’re committed to supporting young technical people to reach their full potential. Tembo is a multinational, large organisation, operating worldwide in several very competitive and fast-developing industries. Our agility and competitiveness for the future are directly conditioned by the speed and effectiveness of fast adaptation of new technologies, development of new applications, and very much attractiveness and relevancy for the young technical talent. And not just from the business perspective but, as a more than 100-year-old family company, our spirit of joy and pride is an essential drive in supporting and enabling creative technical talent to develop into future technology leaders.
In this blog, we’re going to tell you an initiative called Factory of the Future—or Fabriek van de Toekomst in Dutch. This program is designed for students of Hogeschool Windesheim in collaboration with the Perron038 partners.
What is the Factory of the Future, and why is it important?
Through our partnership with Perron038, we get involved in the latest technologies and see how we can apply them in new commercial scenarios. We do this by working closely with technicians, students, researches and entrepreneurs at their innovation centre in Zwolle, which offers a wide variety of new innovative developments. And by working together with Windesheim students, we can put together talented multi-disciplinary engineering teams to try new things, test theories, and develop smart solutions to complex problems.
The Factory of the Future is designed to achieve:
- To guide and support local students in their education, to inspire them to be creative in a technical environment, and to gain new skills in a focused way.
- To spotlight and nurture top technical talent among young professionals who are taking the first important steps in their careers.
- To discover new technological advancements and potential applications that could be relevant in real-production scenarios of Tembo’s business domains.
- To learn how to engage in an exciting, yet well-structured industrial experimentation space where thinking outside the box is in lead.
What do we do at the Factory of the Future?
The Factory of the Future gives us a chance to go in lots of different directions when it comes to innovation. Here, we want to tell you about some amazing results, and way forward to the future.
Introducing Spot (“the dog” robot)
Spot “the dog” is an agile robot, designed by Boston Dynamics. It can be used for a wide variety of data gathering tasks when combined with smart sensors, cameras, and other customisable features. Spot is a new frontier; plenty of unknown but exciting possibilities.
Since February 2021, students at the Factory of the Future have been tasked with using Spot in real-world manufacturing environments. This has been fun and challenging in equal measure. Below, we take you through some of the highlights so far.
1. Using high-level automation to extend Spot’s battery life
When we first started using Spot, its battery life was limited to 90-minutes at a time, before the power supply needed to be manually replaced. As is the case with many bleeding-edge technologies, battery limits progress. In 24/7 production environments, Spot needs to be up-and-running for much longer. So, this was our first challenge.
Solution: Smart battery docking system with adaptive, self-guided, fully automated battery handling system. Here’s a video:
When the battery gets low, Spot gives a signal to its base station and returns. The battery is then picked up by a robotic arm, and replaced with a new one. The empty battery is then put on charge, ready for the next changeover.
This solution allows Spot to continue working 24 hours a day, with zero downtime. The student-led design is an impressive example of their technical problem-solving.
2. Monitoring and detecting environmental anomalies
Spot is excellent at patrolling, while scanning and recognising an environment. At the Factory of the Future, Spot is going on its patrol every 20 minutes. It uses its cameras and image recognition technology to capture items such as chairs, laptops, and desks—and also people.
We already have data about what’s happening within our machines, due to sensors that are built into them to measure all sorts of processes. But anomalies often occur due to things that are happening around the machine. Until now, these have been harder to detect.
This is important for a Lean Six Sigma production environment, because everything needs to be standardised and heavily-controlled. Put simply, everything there is meant to be there. So, if something’s out of place, it should be noticed, recorded, and possibly fixed.
Spot can automatically scan the production environment around machines for logistics, safety, or anything which isn’t normal. We do this by setting up waypoints for Spot, and programming it to take pictures along those waypoints. Those pictures then get analysed, and machine learning allows this data to be interpreted and processed correctly.
The opportunities here are endless. For example, Spot could recognise the environment to be missing key logistical elements at specific times (e.g. during a product changeover). Or it might spot dangerous or unhelpful issues nearby, such as a door being left open by staff.
And it’s the role of the Factory of the Future to explore these opportunities.
3. Greeting visitors at the door and guiding them through the building
Spot is certainly smart and reliable, but can also be friendly and helpful. After getting to know Spot, the talented students at the Factory of the Future saw an opportunity to use the technology in a more “front-of-house” role. Check out the video below:
What you can see in the video is the visitor scanning a QR code by the door. When Spot gets notified, it walks to its waypoint by the door to greet the visitor.
Depending on what the visitor has selected as the purpose or destination of their visit (e.g. a company office, a department, a room, or a person), Spot will guide them to the right place.
We’re currently investigating how to install additional sensors on Spot’s back, as well as microphones, speakers, and other interactive features. For example, we’re looking at installing heat sensor cameras to figure out if items (or people) are warmer than normal.
There are lots of opportunities here, including checking whether a visitor is wearing the right safety equipment. For example, Spot can detect whether someone is wearing steel-toe capped safety boots, because that area of the foot will be colder than the rest.
4. Spot’s Friday dance-off
Student creativity is a wonderful thing. They’ve also programmed Spot to dance on Friday afternoons, so we can all celebrate the upcoming weekend.
What ideas do we have for the future?
The Factory of the Future will continue to push innovation in different fields. There’s so much more to explore. Here are a few ideas that we’re running through at the moment, with a particular focus on making Spot more interactive:
- React and respond: Detecting data is one thing, but we want Spot to react and respond. For example, if Spot detects an anomaly or sees that someone has done something wrong, we want to be able to give direct feedback to people in the room.
- Product changeover processes: Product changeovers can take a lot of time, which reduces overall output. We want to minimise any lost production, and we think Spot could help us here. Acting as a guide, Spot can check if changeover processes are correct and provide guidance via attached laser pointers, speakers, or screens.
- Better 360-degree cameras: We’re currently limited by the quality of the cameras on Spot, which are good enough for navigation but need to be better for flawless object detection. So we’re exploring our options for improving this.
- Building robust business cases: Overall, we’re aiming to use our research and development (and data) to help create an . We want to reach 100% OEE , and that’s a huge challenge. The journey from 90% to 100% OEE demands a lot of smart new ideas and outside-the-box thinking, which is exactly what the Factory of the Future is designed to nurture.
If you’re interested in getting involved in the Factory of the Future, or you want to hear more about Tembo’s innovative solutions, get in touch today.