🏭 Dark factories, bright future?
An automatic (or ‘dark’) factory can be defined as ‘a place where raw materials enter, and finished products leave with little or no human intervention’. One of the earliest descriptions of the automatic factory in fiction was Philip K. Dick’s 1955 short story ’Autofac’, a dystopian and darkly comic scenario in which entirely automated factories threaten to use up the planet’s resources, by continuing to produce things that people don’t need.
Dark factories are a part of the global digital transformation and move to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), which is being driven by increasingly capable robotics and automation, AI and 5G connectivity. In this article, we’ll discuss the benefits, challenges, and how companies can move forward with this concept.
It’s also important to consider that fully automated factories have been tried previously, with varying degrees of success. There are a few cautionary tales; IBM tried its own in the 1980s, but closed it because it wasn’t able to respond to changing market needs. Apple also built such a plant in the 1980s, but closed it in the early 90s – likely because the plant was unable to deal with increasingly smaller components. More recently, Tesla walked back some of the automation at its Fremont CA facility, when machines failed to meet its ambitious manufacturing targets. This shows us the importance of flexibility and forward planning.