Don’t blame the robots: factory automation is harder than it looks

April 18, 20183 minute read

Elon Musk recently commented that Tesla has suffered from “too many robots,” that factory automation slowed the Model 3’s production, instead of making it faster.

We agree it’s hubris to assume that filling a factory with complex conveyor systems and robotics puts it in the fast lane to the future of manufacturing. The problem with advanced manufacturing hardware and automation is that they’re only as smart as their programming. And, frankly, the process for generating and deploying that programming is crap.

The advanced hardware and software tools available to manufacturers don’t easily work together. Factory-floor robots can’t read CAD files from the design team and automatically interpret their instructions. Conveyor controllers must be manually reprogrammed if the logistics flow changes. “Automation,” in the case of the factory, is overstated.

The problem with advanced manufacturing hardware and automation is that they’re only as smart as their programming. 

What factory operators like Tesla experience is that it takes a lot of time and engineering to take a product from design to production. The gap between software and hardware means that lengthy planning, plus trial-and-error programming and manual tuning, is required to get a production line in motion. That’s why it takes years for a product as complex as an automobile to go from the drawing board to the showroom floor. When you consider a factory as high-tech as Tesla’s, you can quickly grasp the scope of the pain Musk must be experiencing.

We believe Tesla’s problem isn’t “excessive automation,” but rather the lack of a way to rapidly deploy and continuously optimize this level of automation. Nothing connects the many tools and processes; each exists in its own silo and requires translation and human intervention before moving to the next step.

Oqton is developing a platform to serve as the connective tissue between manufacturing processes, enabling them to become agile and adaptive. We’re working closely with hardware manufacturers to ensure our tools help machines understand design intent and make immediate recommendations to optimize manufacturability. Oqton FactoryOS, our factory operating system, will close the gap between hardware and software, and keep you out of “production hell.”

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