Can robots work alongside production line operators to carry some of the burden? Can virtual reality simplify training operators when the production environment is digitally mirrored? And can components for production be picked by robots rather than humans?
New digital and Internet-of-Things technologies are rapidly advancing, and Scania needs to be in the forefront of developments to remain competitive. Yet many of these new technologies are insufficiently mature to be introduced into actual production. Enter the Smart Factory Lab, set up by Scania to explore, asses and pilot new solutions before being implemented in production.
The lab engages a multinational team of 15 engineers, thesis workers and trainees to carry out trials. “Our mission is to adopt new technology for production as it becomes available from universities and suppliers,” says Lars Hanson, Coordinator of the Smart Factory Lab. “These technologies need to be adapted to Scania’s needs and the Scania Production System. Our aim is to improve productivity, quality and employee health.”
The young engineers help explain the new opportunities and enlighten others
The young engineers have in most cases been recruited immediately upon graduation from Stockholm’s Royal Institute of Technology, with which Scania’s has a long-standing collaboration. In addition to exploring the merits and suitability of technologies, they help explain the new opportunities and enlighten others – both within Scania and externally.
“What we are doing is important since we are spreading all this knowledge to the rest of Scania,” says Project Engineer Juan Luis Jiménez Sánchez. “Others are being made aware that the technology exists and can be used to really improve Scania’s production systems.”
Jim Tolman, with an educational background in creative technology and human-computer interaction, is exploring new opportunities to benefit from virtual and augmented reality. A training instructor can, for example, coach operators in new assembly methods without travelling to Scania’s production sites in Europe and Latin America. They can also learn how to assemble new components well before these are physically available. “It’s about people interacting with computers and computer systems to create to make something simple to use. Since VR is a relatively new technology, there’s not yet a defined way of working and there’s no operating system available so there are lot of interesting human-computer issues to work with.”
Meanwhile, Xiaomeng Zhu is applying advanced analytics and machine learning to determine whether robots can be gainfully employed for component picking in a more rational order. And Vipasha Laijawala is looking into how Internet-of-Things devices might improve monitoring wear in production machinery.
“We have a lot of creative freedom”
“Since we cannot be certain that new technologies will actually work, we can’t directly implement these in production,” she says. “With ongoing production of trucks, failed attempts would be really problematic. We therefore test new technologies in the vicinity of the factory. We adapt solutions, evaluate them and if we think that they are good enough, we conduct pilots. If the proof of concept is promising, we can design a large-scale solution and implement it in production.”
The entire team of lab engineers is enthusiastically engaged in applying the latest technologies to improve Scania’s production. “Here at the Smart Factory Lab, we can come up with new ideas and apply these. We have a lot of creative freedom,” says Xiaomeng Zhu.