Industry and automation: what is at stake?
The Global Industrie exhibition, which opened on 27 March, has attracted over 50,000 visitors, 2,700 exhibitors and 50 different industry sectors. Jean Lafarge, director of Industry of the Future market at ENGIE Ineo, takes the opportunity to talk about what automation means for Industry 4.0 and France’s great potential in this field. An expert’s opinion.
Jean Lafarge, director of Industry of the Future market at ENGIE Ineo
Very often, process automation is associated with the fear that an industry or a human input is no longer necessary. Do you share this view?
Far from it. Let us make a simple comparison: in 2018, almost 400,000 industrial robots will be sold and installed worldwide (IFR data, 2017). This year, Germany, which installs five times as many robots as France, will introduce 20,000 units, China about 70,000, Italy 6,500 and France about 4,000. This big difference shows what high potential we have at our disposal! If we compare these figures with unemployment levels in the countries mentioned, growing automation in industry is far from synonymous with higher unemployment… Robots are intended to replace human beings for tasks that are not only less attractive but also those that are tougher (hostile, hot, cold, noisy environments etc.), more repetitive or that require physical effort and that are very often the source of repetitive strain injuries. What’s more, collaborative robots (cobots), currently being rolled out on a large scale, require collaboration between the human and the robot, which calls for perfect knowledge and respect of machine safety. Automation in industry also has another effect – increasing the number of value-added roles. The automation rate is actually a good indicator of how dynamic an industry is.
So, does the future of French industry lie quite simply in automation?
Issues vary greatly from one industry to another. Our regional structure gives us a clear view of how the food and drink industry in western France, the automobile industry in the east and the aeronautical sector in Occitanie all vary from each other and have differing requirements. We can also see that manufacturers wish to come back to France and are, of course, seeking greater competitiveness. This calls for highly modular solutions that are safer, more efficient and embedded in industrial processes. Robots are just one element of a global design incorporating a set of technologies. This concerns all or part of the production or supply chain. Our experts commit to an overall result (return on investment, cycle time etc.).
Can you think of any innovations that will soon be rolled out and that are likely to push back the boundaries in industry?
Vision solutions giving robots “eyes” will enable them to accomplish complex tasks like 3D bin picking. This technique enables a robot, with the help of a 3D camera, to pick out a part among others and integrate it in the production chain. Another breakthrough is the combination of robots and autonomous vehicles (Automatic Guided Vehicles). These are a few examples of the technologies of the future that experts at ENGIE Ineo are developing and researching on a daily basis.
What is ENGIE Ineo’s expertise in the field of robotics?
Robotics is one of our keys areas for development. Our strategy is simple: to meet our customers’ process requirements with precision. Our aim is to be an industry partner, not only as an integrator of electricity solutions but also in automation and robotics, in order to help improve the efficiency of the industrial process and optimise the supply chain. These are areas in which we have cutting-edge know-how! From our centres of expertise in Montargis and Terville, we supply robotics primarily to the logistics, cosmetics/pharmaceutical, food and drink, automobile and manufacturing sectors.