What will Factories of the future be like?

How will a factory of the future work and how would new technology help cut costs and boost productivity? To answer these questions, we launched hub4industry. hub4industry is a Digital Innovation Hub comprised of technology companies and institutions with a showroom in Krakow. It supports businesses – above all Polish ones – evolving into factories of the future. At hub4industry, startups have access to both a 5G network and a campus network, allowing them to test their products effectively at hub4industry. hubraum is just one partner in this consortium.

The aim of hub4industry? For these startups to develop ideas that would help introduce Industry 4.0 solutions into production plants. Amongst their number were Optimatik and cthings.co. We spoke to them about their commerce-shaping innovations; the benefits of joining hub4industry and the most life-changing aspect of industry 4.0. 

Can you tell us a bit about what makes your product so special?

Arnold (cthings): We build industrial 5G gateway devices which help cobots (collaborative robots) and autonomous ground vehicles (or AGVs) talk to a 5G network. This means AGVs can be upgraded from running on wifi networks to 5G networks, which brings all sorts of benefits into play, like allowing a machine to react in real time, getting around broadband issues, allowing far more people to use the network without any jitters, to name just a few.

Arnold Wierzejski, founder and CEO of cthings.co

Radek (Optimatik): And what about us? There are currently 12 million industrial vehicles operating in factories and warehouses worldwide, which are mostly forklifts, largely driven by human operators. This is one of the top three costs of every plant or logistics centre. As such, it’s clear that one day all these 12 million human-operated forklifts should be replaced by robots.

However, up until now, companies which have already decided to change to robots have faced a serious problem — the new robots have their own system of communication and so don’t communicate with the vehicles driven by humans, which leads to collisions and traffic jams. We wanted to solve this inefficiency by providing tools allowing robots and the forklifts to coexist smoothly and for forklifts to be gradually replaced by robots thanks to the system we devised.

Optimatik’s box attached to the top of a forklift

How has hub4industry helped you to develop your product?

Arnold (cthings): We were given access to two things: technical onboarding and environment. To work with 5G, you need this infrastructure. It’s not that common in Poland to have access to 5G everywhere and, to be perfectly honest, hub4industry is one of the first places in this country to deliver 5G infrastructure and a 5G network.

The program also offered consulting on how to configure the parameters of our device to work properly within a 5G network as well as connecting us with a business partner and a solutions integrator, Astor. We started to talk in this consortium of three companies; we had a partner to discuss the business side of things; we had an environment in which we could test the solution and we had a plan to build a proof of concept together and test it in a live environment.

cthings.co’s industrial 5G gateway device

Radek (Optimatik): I’d agree the environment has been really useful. We’ve only just started, but so far, it’s been helpful that we have been able to use the hub4industry showroom in Krakow as both our R&D plant and our showroom. It has been a really great place where we can upgrade and work on our product, like a real-time facility to test it, and on the other hand, to show our investors and clients, “See, this is how it works, our product can save you many costs in your factory and upgrade your inefficient processes.” So this is a great advantage for us, that we have a plant where we can be visible. 

Radek Miszczak (L) and Jerzy Lipiński (R), co-founders of Optimatik

What has the most helpful part of hub4industry been so far?

Arnold (cthings): We couldn’t have done without the 5G infrastructure — this is a unique part of the program because offers like business coaching, software coaching, building cloud applications are common nowadays. We found the environment and the accessibility of industrial equipment very useful.

It’s like hubraum are inviting you to a workshop and telling you that now you can take the tools from the workshop and build whatever you like. Then hubraum will tell you that if they like what you’ve built, then they can take it and resell it. So that’s ideal for creators and startups.

In this photo, the cthings.co device is perched on top of the automated guided vehicle, connecting the AGV to the 5G Network and is being remotely controlled by AI to drive autonomously around the production floor

Radek (Optimatik): I would agree that the 5G aspect has been really important! I had no idea that we would receive such substantial support in terms of the technical aspects of the 5G network. So far we’ve received a lot of hardware to test which would be otherwise unavailable to us on the market; we’ve had a lot of instructions, documents and explanations of how to utilise this 5G network. Without hubraum’s support, it would have been very difficult for us to adjust our 5G solution to these 5G networks. 

Obviously the program is deeply focused on the benefits of Industry 4.0. What for you is the most life-changing aspect of this era of industry?

Arnold (cthings): I think it’s going to improve the safety of operations in some factories. Sometimes in factories you’ll see a counter — it looks like a digital clock and it tells you how much time has passed since the previous accident. In any situation where people work in a heavy form of industry soldering something or using specific tools or carrying out heavy lifting, there will occasionally be accidents. 

The biggest enemy of automation is not knowing what’s going on. If there are sensors to measure things and actuators to control things, then you are closing the loop of understanding, improving, actuating and then starting from the top with analysing, understanding and so on. You will finally be equipped with knowledge so you can make processes more sustainable. This isn’t just good for you, it’s good for your employees — you can equip them with this data and you can make their work safer.

The Optimatik team

Radek: And employees are an important – maybe the most important – part of the equation! I believe that one of the key benefits will be for workers – people will be liberated from dangerous and tedious jobs and will be free to pursue more rewarding forms of labour. This sounds very utopian, but it’s something I’ve seen personally: the jobs in factories that I see being replaced by tech are boring, dangerous, stressful.

I believe there will still be a demand for a human workforce as well in new factories — according to our customers so far, there’s a problem with a shortage of qualified personnel, so once we provide our solutions, the people who formerly occupied the role don’t lose their jobs, instead they get moved to different parts of the factories where they are also needed and their skills will be better utilized. 

Would you like technological support from hubraum in developing your product? Apply for a place on our iOS AR innovation program now.

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