The new plant, based in China, will use robots to make more robots as it pledges to build the most “advanced, automated and flexible” factory of the future in the world

Factory of the future ABB

An artist's impression of ABB's 'factory of the future'

Swiss engineering firm ABB is investing $150bn (£117bn) to build the most advanced production plant in the world in Shanghai, China – which it has dubbed the “factory of the future”.

The company’s robotics campus is expected to begin operation in 2020 and, when completed, will use automated manufacturing techniques and artificial intelligence research to build its latest lines of robots.

China is the biggest robotics market in the world with a third of robots sold in 2017 being bought in China.

CEO of robotics engineering company ABB, Ulrich Spiesshofer, factory of the future
CEO of robotics engineering company ABB, Ulrich Spiesshofer

ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer said: “China’s commitment to transform its manufacturing is a torchlight for the rest of the world.

“Its strategic embrace of the latest technologies for artificial intelligence, advanced robotics and cloud-based computing present a playbook for every country that wishes to have a globally competitive manufacturing base.

“Shanghai has become a vital centre for advanced technology leadership – for ABB and the world.”


How ABB’s ‘factory of the future’ innovates on existing manufacturing techniques

The new factory is said to be capable of “dramatically increasing” both the breadth (different types of robots) and depth (variants of each type) of robots that can be made on-site, which ABB says will allow for “greater and faster customisation to meet the needs of customers”.

It will achieve this through a number of innovative features and techniques, such as utilising a flexible floor plan rather than a fixed production line.

Automated vehicles will deliver parts to the relevant station in the most efficient manner, while ABB’s own SafeMove software allows people and robots to work safely in close proximity.

A cloud-based system will give around-the-clock intelligence on the performance of the factory and detect any anomalies that could lead to unplanned downtime.

The “factory of the future” will also feature an on-site research and development centre to develop the latest developments in machine learning and AI to provide continued innovation and keep ABB one step ahead of the competition.

Sami Atiya, president of ABB’s robotics and motion division, said: “The concept behind this factory is the same advice we give our customers every day: invest in automation solutions that provide flexibility and agility to grow in whichever direction the market goes.

“ABB is proud to help our customers in China and around the world with solutions that take full advantage of the latest technologies to meet the challenges of mass customization, faster cycles and constant change which have become the new normal – even in our own factories.”