Taking the driver out of the factory
In the 1993 science fiction film, Jurassic Park, visitors could take a tour in an autonomous Ford Explorer that used tracks on the ground to navigate. This was a good prediction of future technological advancements, but the autonomous vehicles of today are far more advanced than the Jurassic Explorer. Jonathan Wilkins, Marketing Director of EU Automation, explains how autonomous vehicles are beginning to transform the manufacturing industry.
Industry 4.0 has significantly boosted the autonomous vehicle industry, with improvements in their technology, adaptability and reliability, as well as an expansion in their potential applications.
Autonomous vehicles in factories
Manufacturing facilities are typically very large, often spanning several buildings. Therefore, equipment, raw materials and finished products must be transported to the correct location as the manufacturing process progresses.
Traditionally, humans would conduct this task. However, autonomous vehicles eliminate the need for the workforce to conduct manual handling, meaning manufacturing factories can reduce the incidence of injuries and improve staff health and safety.
When Jurassic Park first opened, an unlucky driver would have repeatedly driven the same circular route with squealing children in the back seat. By introducing an autonomous Jurassic Explorer, the staff would have been able to focus their efforts on other areas.
As well as benefitting individual workers, autonomous vehicles increase productivity in manufacturing, as they can transport a greater mass and move more quickly than a human. They’re also more reliable, so late deliveries are avoided, helping to keep the entire manufacturing process on schedule.
Another advantage of using autonomous vehicles in manufacturing facilities is that they can be programmed to comply with Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) requirements. This is essential in pharmaceutical manufacturing in particular, for ensuring the safety of all staff and consumers.
In light of the advancing technology, customers expect the process from online ordering to product delivery to become faster, easier and more affordable.
Amazon has plans to accomplish this with its upcoming service, Prime Air. It will enable customers to order their products online and receive them in 30 minutes or less via a drone. This service will be completely autonomous and will minimise the need for delivery drivers. As a result, there will be fewer Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) on the roads, reducing traffic problems and emissions.
An alternative solution is the use of driverless HGVs. They’re expected to be safer than lorries driven by humans due to the array of sensors used and the braking and accelerating synchronisation of several vehicles in tandem. Additionally, HGV drivers often work long, unsociable hours and spend time away from home. Therefore, by introducing driverless HGVs and employing people to manage and coordinate the vehicles instead of driving them, businesses can improve employee satisfaction.
The makers of Jurassic Park underestimated the full extent of where technology could take autonomous vehicles. However, they made a good prediction of how they would be used in the future to make workers jobs easier and to make businesses more productive.