to the future
When Renault suggested we do an inside report on the smart factories of the future, I immediately saw myself as Marty McFly in his DeLorean. Without missing a beat, I grabbed Erwann (my trusty Doc Brown) to FAST FORWARD TO THE FUTURE.
We’ve never seen anything
A fantastic mechanical dance.
A vast, noisy hangar filled
with people, robots, conveyor belts
and busy operators
right and left.
Everything fits together
and dovetails seamlessly.
It never stops.
We don’t know where
The first thing that strikes me is how orderly everything looks. Each person is in the right place and seems to always know what they are expected to do. The line operators’ movements are organised and precise. Every minute – or every 72 seconds, to be exact – a new vehicle arrives and the same routine begins all over again. It’s like a perfectly choreographed industrial ballet.
At exactly 5:15 p.m., Julien, the maintenance technician who looks like he's 18 but is really 30, piques our curiosity:
"Want me to take you to a place where no one ever goes?"
Erwann and I nod at each other. This is just the kind of challenge we like. A few seconds later, we find ourselves following our knowledgeable guide up an iron staircase.
The climb takes us from a noisy swarming beehive to a virtually deserted silent area overlooking the entire production line. It’s mesmerizing. There’s only the car bodies moving along on the conveyor belts at regular intervals.
“Look, that’s where the customisation starts. That’s where the film begins.”
“We’ve put all of the supply chain – deliveries, inventory, parts preparation and assembly kit distribution – on the periphery of the production line. What you need to understand is that everything is organised around this central line,” explains Franck patiently, outlining the setup with his hands.
“The system is designed to optimise flows by shortening the distances as much as possible.
This has also had a critical impact on safety, because it reduces the opportunities for accidents,” he continues, as though talking to a small child.
“In this way, we’ve improved performance next to the line, redrawn and optimised flow paths, simplified each person’s work and significantly improved end-product quality and compliance. It’s as simple as that.”
Hmm... it doesn’t seem that simple to me, Franckie baby!
I ask him about the “full kitting” and “AGVs” everyone keeps mentioning since we got here. “Full kitting and the AGVs keep the system running smoothly.
As you’ve seen, the entire system is organised around mass customisation. Off to the side, at the start of the line, we prepare a kit for a specific customer’s vehicle – we’ll call him Fred.
A small mobile robot, or AGV (for Autonomous Guided Vehicle), brings the kit to the right place at the right time, with the exact number of parts needed for Fred’s car. This set of parts for each vehicle in the day’s film is known as the AGV kit. Is it clearer now?”
When Erwann and I arrive in Cléon on the fourth day of our assignment, we can only talk about one thing: collaborative robots, or cobots. These are robots that work hand in hand with humans. Together.
Until now, they had been kept at a distance. In sheet metal working, for example, the very powerful and imposing robots are in their own separate space, for safety reasons. On the assembly line, there are many men and women assisted by mechanical arms and AGVs, but few robots.
Now, finally, robots working with humans! It’s a new world!
As I watch the engine assembly line, it takes me a while to understand that the articulated arm screwing pieces together every ten seconds next to the young female operator is a collaborative robot. Somehow, it wasn’t as impressive as I expected.
“Actually, it’s a real revolution,” says Laurent, whose enthusiasm is infectious. “You have to keep all that power under control, because there’s always someone right beside the robot. It can’t be too fast, or move too suddenly. The pace of the partnership has to be worked out, and the tasks are shared. The cobot only handles tedious tasks with no added value, while the operator uses higher skills.”
When you look at it that way, it is impressive.
"Digital is the new normal!"
In today’s world, our relationship with mobility has changed. We no longer get around or use automobiles in the same way. Customers have different expectations. This paradigm shift has certainly contributed to the changes under way in automotive manufacturing. To be sure, we’ve got the digital transformation, connected objects and collaborative robots, but the real news is that they are being used to create the customised, autonomous electric vehicles this decade’s customers want.
Factories have simply adapted. Well, so to speak – it’s not that simple. New professions, new skills and new tools –
The world is changing and industry is adapting fast
Clearly, my first-day images of Charlie Chaplin and my Granddad’s Renault 4 are a thing of the past.
Cosmic Cars Cybotron
Car, Car, Car DJ Hell
Cars Gary Numan
Drive Bobby McFerrin
Drive My Car Curtis Harding
Ride Like The Wind Christopher Cross
The Robots Kraftwerk
Robot Rock Daft Punk
The Girl And The Robot Röyksopp
Cvalda (Dancer In The Dark) Björk
I Robot The Alan Parsons Project
Everyday Robot Damon Albarn
Love In Outer Space Sun Ra
Future Shock Herbie Hancock
Shape The Future Nightmares On Wax
Souvenir Du Futur -M-
Mothership Reconnection (Daft Punk Remix) Scott Grooves feat. Parliament/Funkadelic
Intergalactic Beastie Boys