The Digital Twist of Smart Machines


There has been a recent trend of creating a smart manufacturing operation based on the smart machine approach. Lying at the centerpiece of the provoking thought is the ability of the assembled machines in delivering flexible demands based on flexible BOM and processes. At the high level, machines are being equipped with the ability of connecting with one another for orchestrating the manufacturing sequences and they are served by mobile tending robots that can help with the interchange of tooling as well as preparation of material loading. Then machines will have the capability of “offering itself” as a resource to fulfill order, based on a “published rate” that is calculated with a block-chain based smart contract orchestrated among the core associated resources provided to the machines.

The “scheduling agent” will be powered by Linear programming model to look at participating “bids” from the equipment with the aim to optimize profit level for the order while satisfying required management of delivery and quality risk level. With this kind of approach, orders sequencing will be self-aligned and any needs to re-schedule will be calculated at the best path with minimal impact to the bottom line.

When abnormality occurs, standby resources or re-dispatching of jobs can occur based on negotiation among the machines if there is no material impact to the original scenario committed to the scheduling agent. If however there is a core impact, the bid will be re-release for further optimization.

What comes interesting next is the ability of the machines to request services from specialist modules hosted at the edge or cloud to establish its own level of KPI. For example, a call to the IBM Watson for calculation of its component degradation level before triggering necessary service requests for maintenance, a trigger to the AGV route optimization engine to reduce the transfer cost or time, or even a trigger to the OEE module for self-benchmarking. This type of service request will increase the “bidding” chance of the machines thereby optimizing the use of the machine in real-time. On top of that, material movement will be planned by the machines thereby establishing a localized strategy to manage the inventory level based on risk-cost balance. This risk can also be jointly managed within a cluster to establish efficiency in inventory level.

So, with this way of operation how can the human be part of them? The answer is simple, human is the master to create jobs for the system and also help the system to put the products in the intended use. The manufacturing system is merely a great manufacturing agent for us so that we can focus on higher-value job that creates fundamental improvement and advancement to the living of mankind. In other words, some of the jobs will disappear while more jobs will be created to explore our potential as humans. After all, didn’t Stephen Hawking mention that the future of man has to be in the exploration of space?