I was having lunch with Dick Morley on a recent afternoon and the talk turned to the future of automation. Given Dick can be credited with the developing modern industrial automation and has been called the “father of the PLC,” his perspective on the future of industrial automation is interesting.
So how do we start on the future? “It takes 5 years before the project can be started,” according to Dick. “You have to think 5 to 10 years ahead and 5 to 10 years back. What was the big thing 5 years ago and what will exist in 5 years. … Look at the worldwide web today.” To Dick’s point web services and cloud computing are a strong influence on the automation market today with companies rushing to take advantage of this new technology. The technology is not really new having been around for 5 plus years but it is new to automation.
Dick believes that manufacturing at the point of sale will change industrial automation. “Manufacturing at the site of sale, McDonald’s is a good example of that, these guys manufacture stuff. … At McDonald’s you get it in 2 minutes. They have demonstrated printed circuit pizzas.” There is a major effort going on with point of sale manufacturing. 3-D printing enables this.
I made the mistake of comparing 3-D printing to injection mold manufacturing. Dick pointed out my mistake. It is not the cost of a part that is important but the ability to deliver different things quickly. Adaptive manufacturing is, as Dick calls it, where “one plant makes everything, instead of 10 plants making 10 different things. Every plant is capable of making a broad spectrum of products.”
There are 3 basic types of manufacturing; forming, additive and subtractive. “Forming is difficult, people do it. Removal is the CNC machine and now we have additive (3-D printing).”
Disk’s vision of adaptive manufacturing is based on additive manufacturing and “image processing” where you upload the whole image to the plant and print the image. Change the image on-site and you change the product you produce but the plant is the same. “At the plant on-site, at the point of sale, you walk in, you want a gear — like McDonald’s.” “Yes sir, come back in a half hour.” You come back “and your gear is made with the metal coating and all. That’s the view.”
Adaptive manufacturing will be based on the capacity and size of the plant and not the products. That is, the plant will be able to produce nearly anything and the output of the plant will be limited only by its ability to process the images. One significant change will be the types of product created. You will be able to produce a hollow sphere as a single piece unit or a hollow shaft without further processing.
One key to success for this new manufacturing methodology as defined by Dick is “you have to have a model of the problem and work from the problem back. We cannot forget the customer.”
Point of sale manufacturing is an interesting future. It will change how we buy things and change the companies that build and manufacture things.
How does Dick’s future compare to your vision of the future for industrial automation??