Midea Thailand AGV and robot arm in their smart factory.

SINGAPORE: The landscape of manufacturing is moving towards smarter, safer, and more efficient operations. Gone are the days of solely relying on manual labour and exposing workers to hazardous conditions. Instead, manufacturers are embracing “smart factories.”

The Edge Singapore reported that according to forecasts by Mordor Intelligence, the connected manufacturing industry in the Asia Pacific region is set to soar, reaching a value of US$54 billion (approx. S$73.27 billion) by 2025 and surpassing US$80 billion (approx. S$108.54 billion) by 2029.

One example of this transformation is China’s Midea Group, a leading home appliance company. Midea has taken significant strides towards building smart factories, with its operations in Thailand serving as a prime example.

Workers leverage 5G-enabled smartphones to kickstart the assembly process, which is then managed by robotic arms. This integration of human expertise with robotic precision not only enhances product quality but also eliminates the risks associated with hazardous tasks.

Central to Midea’s smart factory initiative are Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), which play a crucial role in material transportation within the facility.

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Unlike traditional AGVs that follow predetermined routes, Midea’s AGVs utilise advanced technology to navigate the factory floor in real-time. Equipped with cameras and lasers, these vehicles communicate with each other to avoid collisions and can even detect and halt in the presence of humans, ensuring a safe working environment.

Urban Zhao, a spokesperson for Midea, said, “The AGVs we use don’t need preset routes. Instead, they can plan, automate and analyse the real environment in real-time [to move around our factory safely].”

He noted, “5G networks are the key enabler for its smart factories.”

He also shared that with 5G’s low latency and high bandwidth, it provides seamless communication between robots and connected systems, empowering artificial intelligence (AI) to optimise operations in real-time and mitigate downtime caused by faulty machines.

Midea’s partnership with tech giants Huawei and local telecom provider AIS has been instrumental in realising its vision of 5G-enabled smart factories. Building on its success in China, where it launched a fully connected factory in Jingzhou, Hubei, Midea has replicated this model in Thailand.

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The results speak volumes: only 15 seconds for one production line to make one washing machine, doubled delivery efficiency, halved inventory, and a 30% reduction in labour costs per unit.

Midea’s embrace of 5G technology also enhanced quality control, with a 10% improvement in defect detection rates attributed to 5G distributed massive MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output) technology.  /TISG

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