Taiwan’s smart machines key to ‘smart factories’ of the future
by Camilla Cornell
Today’s factories “face the challenge of frequently changing orders and variety of products” compared to the factories of decades ago
Covid-19 disrupted operations for Canadian manufacturers on a large scale, according to a recent survey by Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME). Two of three of those surveyed reported their output fell below normal and one in four reported sales dropped by 50 per cent or more.
In some cases, production lines ceased or slowed due to disrupted supply chains and outbreaks. Other manufacturers were forced to pivot quickly, scaling up or retooling operations to build products and components crucial to the fight against Covid-19.
The crisis highlighted the need for manufacturers to future-proof their businesses by optimizing production capacity and diversifying risks, said Walter Yeh, president and CEO of Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA). “The introduction of smart manufacturing can help companies around the world increase manufacturing efficiency and enhance international competitiveness,” said Yeh, during a recent on-line conference to promote Taiwan’s smart machinery manufacturing capability.
As the world’s fourth largest exporter of machine tools, Yeh emphasized, Taiwan has cultivated impressive smart machinery and manufacturing momentum. The island nation’s powerful IC design capabilities and knowledge in integration of technologies such as robots, 3D machine vision, IoT and embedded systems, has made it a much sought-after partner for applications along the entire supply chain of intelligent machines internationally.
“Given Taiwan’s advantages in smart machinery, smart manufacturing and ICT, we believe our industry will have the opportunity to add greater value and more benefits to global production,” said Cynthia Kiang, director general of Taiwan’s Bureau of Foreign Trade. To that end, Kiang introduced five of Taiwan’s most cutting edge companies, including Advantech, Techman Robot, Cosen Mechatronics, Axile Machine and AccuteX (Accuracy and Technology Leading Company). All were recipients of this year’s Taiwan Excellence Award honouring innovation and excellence.
The need for IoT. Manufacturers must connect production processes with digital technology, smart computing and big data if they are to reap the benefits of Industry 4.0, said Willie Lin, senior manager of Advantech, a leader in intelligent systems.
Today’s factories “face the challenge of frequently changing orders and variety of products” compared to the factories of decades ago, Lin pointed out. But industrial IoT enables managers to respond rapidly to changing markets and customer needs, while still keeping a handle on costs.
Advantech’s proven IoT offers a four-phase strategy to help clients create ‘smart factories’ that embrace machine automation, equipment networking, process visualization and predictive maintenance.
Advantech’s “war room” includes a high-resolution LCD screen wall displaying an array of information from production values to factory environment, equipment condition and costs. “Managers can use the war room to discuss issues, determine the root causes of problems and solve issues quickly,” said Lin.
The robot revolution. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, many factories had to shut down production lines due to outbreaks or government regulations. The exception: factories with automated production lines.
That fact alone has prompted increased acceptance of industrial robots, said Jerry Chang, sales manager for collaborative robot (cobot) pioneer Techman Robot. Some industries have accelerated automation since the pandemic hit to avoid further shut-downs, prompting demand for cutting edge cobots to rise 30 per cent in 2019 alone.
Techman Robot’s sophisticated cobots use intelligent vision and innovative technology to help clients keep land and labour costs under control. With distributors in South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Southeast Asia and America, Techman’s cobots have applications for food and beverage companies, electronics, packing and other industries.
On the cutting edge. “Cutting is the beginning of manufacturing,” says Alice Wu, vice-president of marketing and innovation for industrial bandsaw manufacturer Cosen Mechatronics. “All machines start with cutting.”
Cosen’s newest generation cutting machine, the CNC 530 combines an ability to cut through any hard material with sophisticated AI technology that takes the guess-work out of the process for operators, said Peng Huang, president of Cosen North America and Vice-president of Cosen.
The CNC 530’s high-precision band-sawing machine and health-diagnosis technology relies on a smart cloud service platform, enabling operators to pre-emptively diagnose problems, change blades more efficiently and react quickly to reduce down-time and wasted material.
The need for speed. Manufacturers face a range of problems from increasingly commoditized prices to higher costs and a shortage of specialized labour. “We believe that only reliability can achieve high profits for our clients,” said Iris Chen, marketing manager of Axile Machine, a specialist in high-precision five-axis metal working machine tools.
Axile’s tools incorporate a “smart monitoring system” (ART) that uses AI sensors to monitor mechanical components and energy consumption. Managers can quickly collect and analyze data to ensure “24/7 operation without unexpected downtime,” said Chen.
With applications for aerospace, high-end die and mold and medical industries, Axile’s synchronized analytic date gives executives the tools they need to “make better strategy and support the service team to do predictive maintenance,” Wu added. Sales teams get access to immediate feedback they can pass on to clients, allowing them to quickly secure orders. “We believe our products can help our clients be ready for Industry 4.0, as well as increase their competitiveness and profits,” commented Wu.
To learn more about Taiwan’s smart machines, visit the user-friendly Taiwan Excellence Smart Machinery Virtual Pavillion (https://www.taiwanexcellence.org/en/smart_machinery ) with more than 60 high-tech products on display.