Collaborative Automation for Flexible Manufacturing

Despite there is not yet a common agreement about how the so-called Industry 4.0 paradigm is going to be implemented, one point is however clear: future manufacturing environments will be populated by humans and machines, sharing the same workspace.

The idea to allow for human intervention within an automation system dates back to 80’s when the Toyota Production System (TPS), earlier developed Taiichi Ohno and Eiji Toyoda, has been disseminated worldwide. In particular, the term jidoka (自働化) that is often translated into autonomation or “automation with human touch” has been introduced to emphasise the integration between automation (自動化) and human beings (人). Though several decades have been passed since then, the integration of machines and humans in the same shop-floor constitutes today a very hot topic like never before.

Purely automated environments and even Flexible Manufacturing Systems (FMS) that have been also theorized time ago, are no longer considered to be the candidate solutions to respond to the increasing demand for mass customisation, and to better accommodate market fluctuations. In order to really achieve these goals, the pervasive collaboration between humans and automation is nowadays considered a must.

The main goal of the RAS Technical Committee on Collaborative Automation for Flexible Manufacturing (CAFM) is to bring these concepts towards a new spring. We believe that the original ideas should be brought up to date, and reconsidered in view of the availability of modern technologies, such as collaborative robots, high-speed connectivity, capability to process large quantity of data, etc.