Establishment of virtual factories - an integrated digital modeling of whole factories, production lines or single machines - will significantly benefit manufacturing by optimizing equipment utilization, shortening time taken to ready production lines, and removing bottlenecks, according to Davis Si, industry sales director for Industrial Equipment under France-based Dassault Systemes Greater China.
The integrated digital modeling can be of three levels: modeling of a whole factory including management of conveying materials, components and products on the first level; a specific production line, that is, the corresponding manufacturing process such as stamping, welding, paint spraying or assembly at a car factory, on the second level; and single equipment items used to manufacture a specific product, such as machines or robots, on the third level, Si said.
A complete virtual factory consisting of all three levels can help manufacturers develop purpose-specific solutions, such as improving product quality, production efficiency, and equipment utilization.
As customized production is in increasing demand, mixed use of same production lines to make different products is the most feasible approach in terms of return on investment in installing production lines. However, such mixed use involves complicated problems in maintaining production capacity at certain levels, scheduling production, allocating workers and managing feeding and cutting of materials. Establishment of virtual production lines can help solve these problems, Si said.
For highly automated factories equipped with a large number of robots, integrated digital modeling of operation of individual robots or robotic arms as well as collaboration between robots and workers, robots and machines and robots and automated supporting equipment is particularly important. This is because such operation and collaboration are so complicated that adjustment of robots to readiness on the spot is not feasible in time and cost, he said.