In part three of The Big Questions series, exploring the future of the food and beverage industry, we imagine how smart factories might look and function in tomorrow’s world

In part one of The Big Questions series, we saw how packaging could evolve in the future, while part two wondered what we might be eating and drinking in the coming decades. But how exactly will products be manufactured? How different could production become? And how will this affect the way we work? Put simply, what will factories of the future look like?

Finding our place

Sprawling warehouses where fleets of autonomous robots move at lightning speed, switch between intricate tasks and communicate with each other in their own language. All without a person in sight. It’s the stuff of science fiction which often sees factories of the future as places where the need for humans has been virtually erased.

Far from making us redundant, most experts believe tomorrow’s factories will simply change how we work. The initial goal of robotics and automation was to relieve workers of manual, repetitive or dangerous jobs. And with ever-advancing technology, this will continue. We’ll move further from planning and performing tasks to more creative technical roles – innovating solutions, solving complex problems and collaborating closely with machines.

Want to know more about the future of work? Hear economist David Autor discuss why automation won’t take away all human jobs.


Man meets machine

Machine-enhanced manual tasks are being seen more and more in modern factories with collaborative robots or so-called co-bots. Co-bots can work alongside humans to deliver greater performance than by either of them working independently. This means manufacturers can better decide which tasks to automate and which tasks to perform manually, ultimately making production lines more efficient.

Co-bots could also reshape the whole concept of the factory floor. If robots can work safely side by side with humans, they can be utilised away from the controlled, safety-fenced world of the shop floor. In the food and beverage industry, co-bots with dexterous limbs, intelligent sensors and advanced safety parameters could dramatically speed up the process of getting goods from factory to shelf. Faster picking, placing, sorting and loading is just the start.

Want to see cobots in action? Take a look at cobots working hand in hand with people at Hannover Messe, the leading trade show for industrial technology.


The ultimate flexibility

In industrial manufacturing, production lines are getting more flexible, agile and intelligent – making format, speed and technical adjustments faster than ever. In the future, all automated systems will likely possess a high level of adaptive control and self-learning capabilities. They’ll be able to monitor and learn, instantly switch between product types, and make technical adjustments without stopping production.

This level of flexibility will be made possible by strides in both hardware and software. An increasing number of sensors will enable systems to adapt in real time, while advances in artificial intelligence will allow machines to handle a complex variety of tasks. Added to this, on-site 3D printing will reduce the reliance on distant suppliers, while industrial digital solutions will take asset management to new levels of efficiency.  

Want to learn more about the potential of 3D printing? Hear from chemist and inventor Joseph DeSimone on the implications of 3D printing that’s 100x faster than now. 


Want to know more about creating factories of the future? Check out our Co-creating the Future series with GE Digital where we explore how SIG and GE Digital are co-innovating to help manufacturers realise a new era of data-driven intelligence and decision making. 

You can also read about our Smart Factory platform – a drive to deliver IoT-enabled systems, solutions and technical services that create more intelligent, connected and automated plants. Or get in touch to see what SIG can do for your business.

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