#AF2017 Advanced Factories Barcelona
The Advanced Factories Expo and Congress was the goto venue for technology solutions from Manufacturing Execution Systems to Big Data analytics, to CNC, to metrology, and of course, collaborative robotics.
The Expo and Congress, promoted by Nebext with the collaboration of Eurecat, closed its doors last Thursday (6th of April) after a surprisingly packed three days of exhibition floor and conference room activity.
- Advanced Factories clocked up 9.745 attendees, from 25 countries, although the predominant language around the floor was Catalan or Spanish. 200 exhibitors filled the expo hall, with representation from multinationals well established in Catalonia and Spain, local and national companies large and small from startups to well established machine tool manufacturers and software solution providers.
- The conference sessions were generally very well attended, often with standing room only. Many of the sessions were simply product presentations on behalf of the presenting company, despite session titles which suggested a more detached view of aspects of Industry 4.0, but none the less a good opportunity to get to know the solutions and portfolio of the presenting company.
Robotics. The incumbents and the newcomers.
Robotics, a key player in Industry 4.0, was well represented in the Expo Hall and in some of the sessions. ABB, Kuka, Fanuc, and Yaskawa, “the big four”, were all there, not surprisingly showing their collaborative robots centre stage. Universal Robots, which has its Southern European headquarters in Barcelona, was there as was the relative newcomer Rethink Robotics, with its Sawyer collaborative robot.
Rethink is currently finalizing its distribution plans for Spain, with 3 distributors by geographical region, but also some specialist distributors and integrators according to industrial sector expertise.
Several conference sessions were dedicated to robotics, and ABB showed its Ability suite, which englobes last year’s IoT Services and People, while Kuka showed Kuka Connect for which Kuka has strategic partnerships with SalesForce, InfoSys and Hauwai, the iiWa Collaborative robot, and mobility solutions which are currently deployed and market ready. Tecnalia talked about the research projects and services it offers to industry to solve the more technically challenging aspects of getting value from advanced technologies.
Collaborative robots were much on the agenda, and PILZ described the ISO standards and products and services which the company can supply to assure safe implementation.
Implementation Use Cases
Some of the conference sessions offered an opportunity to hear of real world implementations of Industry 4.0 solutions from end user companies. One of the most enlightening was Gonvarri Steel Services. David Sanchez Garcia explained the strategic approach and motivation for digitizing across geographic boundaries to provide real time decision making value. He also touched on the dilemma of partner selection in the process, from consultants to implementation solutions. Should the consultants have a high level strategy background but little factory floor culture, or the other way round?
The connectivity drive was well illustrated by the machine solution providers present at the event. Tecnomatrix, a third generation SME from Barcelona, explained how it is on the way to becoming a software company with its Kapture Platform, which concentrates and analyses data from the dimensional checking fixture solutions which is the company’s core business. Xavier Conesa, CEO de Tecnomatrix, spoke of the need to enrich data with other information such as date/time, ambient temperature, materials, etc. Tier 1 clients no longer need to be convinced of the value of such solutions.
HP. The darling of the show.
The central HP stand attracted a continual stream of visitors for the Large Format HP Jet Fusion 3D 4200 printer on display there. Alex Moñino, Marketing director of HP, explained in his keynote on Thursday morning how Additive Manufacturing is moving beyond prototype and one-off uses to production runs where the batch size may well justify printing each piece rather than making an expensive mould. The benefits of controlling the process down to voxel (a voxel is the 3D printing equivalent of a pixel) level brings huge opportunities for designing behaviour into pieces. Embedding sensors and electronics into pieces leads to an Internet of Parts or intelligent parts, which can provide data on operation at a component level. HPs partnership with Jabil shows the interest of one of the world’s largest contract manufacturers has for the future of additive manufacturing technologies.
Industry 4.0 and people
In one of the last sessions of each day, a panel discussed aspects of Advanced Factories and people, educational needs, and how the convergence of technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Collaborative Robots and Augmented Reality impacts the workplace and society. It is encouraging to see such initiatives at an Advanced Factories conference, as the human and socio economic aspects of technological disruption is often left for society to discover as the problems become evident “at run time”.