Factories are heading for a ‘dark’ future — and it’s not what you think

Factories have been transformed by automation, with robots now taking on a considerable proportion of jobs once done by people – lifting heavy loads, assembling parts, and more.

Some manufacturers are edging toward a future of factories focused on “lights out” or “dark” production. In such a setting, factories have near-total to full automation, with robots able to continue running overnight when humans are no longer there.

As manufacturing has become more and more automated, there are concerns about the roles traditionally taken on by people.

Wootzano, a robot-powered food packer in the northeast of England, is one example. The company is working to prepare and pack fruit with a lineup of robots that can operate with little to no supervision.

“Complete automation is what we all want to get towards, we want no human beings and the whole thing being run autonomously,” Atif Syed, CEO of Wootzano, told CNBC.

Still, the cost savings to this can be quite high, Syed said, noting that Wootzano, which packs fruit for distributors across the U.K., will eventually be able to operate with 80% fewer people than it currently does.

However, implementing a fully automated factory isn’t as straightforward as it seems. For one, robots don’t excel in creative thinking or problem-solving.

“If an error is happening, we don’t have enough data possibly to understand using machine learning techniques to then solve the problem,” Helge Wundermann, a professor of robotics at University College London, told CNBC.

“The creativity, the experience, the expertise of the human beings to troubleshoot some of the problems is essential.”

Will the future of manufacturing truly be “dark”? And if so, what are the challenges to building autonomous factories? Watch the video to learn more.