Factory of the Future

Full-Day Workshop at IROS 2019 in Macau


Robotics is one of the great technological revolutions of our century, with fundamental implications for a wide range of different industries. Industrial mass production is no longer conceivable without robotics and automation. The trend in modern manufacturing is towards individualized products, tailored to the customer, with an exploding variety of variants and much shorter product life-cycles. This, in order to satisfy the market demand of a flexible and customizable industrial production. In this context, the classic way of conceiving industrial automation, which is mainly focused on purely automated or manual forms of production, is clearly reaching its limits. Nowadays, robots and autonomous systems, partly in direct human-robot cooperation, are moving into the production of smaller batch sizes and can thus create a decisive competitive advantage in all industries. This flexibilisation also includes opportunities to optimize energy and material flows for resource-efficient production.

In our view, a modern manufactory or Factory of the Future needs a broad range of digital production technologies, robot systems, and applications for flexible and networked manufacturing processes effectively integrated in different production scenarios. One focus is on the realization of robust robot-supported manufacturing processes using digitization approaches and industry 4.0. This will make factory applications in particular more efficient, more cost-effective, safer, and more resource-conserving. More in details, a competitive Factory of the Future has to pursue the following objectives:

  • Development of new digital production chains from the digital model to the automatically assembled product. In doing so, resource and energy consumption as well as costs are reduced despite flexibilisation and human personnel are relieved. In this context, digital mapping, the so-called “Digital Twin”, can be used during the entire production cycle of a component, e.g. for preliminary design, design support, virtual commissioning, or optimization of production processes and plants.

  • Establishment of versatile digital production concepts through mobile robotic systems and networked, intelligent production and assembly robots. For assembly, inspection, maintenance and disposal of products and large structures, the use of mobile manipulators and large robot arms in big production lines seems a promising solution until the “futuristic” use of humanoid robots will become a concrete option.

  • Safe, highly efficient, and intuitive collaboration between humans and robots as well as between humans and machines in general in the cognitive production plant of the future. Robotic systems and industry 4.0 concepts have a proven broad impact on general industrial robotics. Lightweight robots are currently undergoing a fundamental change towards human-robot cooperation and sensitive manipulation in automotive manufacturing, production in SMEs, and in surgery. In addition to fully automated solutions, modern manufacturies increasingly relying on advanced assistance systems to support people in order to be able to act highly flexibly and efficiently.

  • Increased productivity with high quality standards through efficient material flow, advanced assembly capabilities, and self-reconfigurable machineries and workcells.

The objectives of the Factory of the Future are ambitious and therefore challenging to pursue. The enormous technical challenges need the bundling and closely interlinking of expertise in different fields related to robotics and autonomous systems, like robotic assistance, perception, sensor technology, control, and AI. Only with the joint effort of such expertise, holistic answers to the questions of production and assistance of the future will be possible. This workshop aims at presenting and discussing current research results in the broad field of robot-aided  manufacturing, directing the way towards novel innovations and open issues. Some of the questions we will try to answer are:

  • Which level of integration digital solutions have in current in industrial scenarios?

  • Which is the role of intuitive robot programming and human-robot collaboration in flexible manufacturing?

  • Which is the role of mobile and dexterous manipulation in smart factories?

  • Are reconfigurable workcells ready to use in mass production?

In one sentence, our workshop will discuss what has been done and what we need to do to realize the Factory of the Future.