The smart factory is a leap forward to an entirely flexible and connected system. Here is how it can transform your operations and boost your bottom line.
How the Smart Factory Revolution is Transforming Manufacturing
In one of Norway’s seafood processing facilities, machines, not humans, do most of the work. They weigh and grade salmon, evaluate its quality, then distribute it to the respective production units. Afterward, other systems will calculate the amount of ice sufficient for transporting it to its destination.
The same happens hundreds of miles away in one of Germany’s manufacturing plants. Here, machines create millions of PLCs (Programmable Logic Controls) used to automate machinery. These range from automobiles, farm equipment, and ships to all the production centers across the globe. The entire manufacturing process for customized products at the plant is 99.99885% defect-free.
What is common in the two smart factory ecosystem examples?
Communications technologies, and information power the physical infrastructure. These draw insights from data within the landscape.
Automation relies on insights that also enable the execution of business operations and delivery of programmed output. Both are achieved with minimal or no human-machine interaction. Such cyber-physical environments are founded on IIoT (the Industrial Internet of Things), machine learning, and artificial intelligence. They are the foundations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This is basically adding ‘intelligence’ into the manufacturing process.
What Is A Smart Factory?
The term smart factory refers to a flexible system that can learn from and self-adapt to new conditions in real-time. It can also run all the production processes autonomously. In these environments, equipment and manufacturing processes are improved through self-optimization and automation.
The benefits go beyond production lines. They also touch on key functions such as supply chain logistics, planning, and product development.
Given the dynamic nature of technological advancement, this definition should not be considered to be the end state. Rather, it represents a continuing revolution. An ongoing journey toward creating and maintaining flexible learning systems. All these characterize the factory of the future.
The true power of smart manufacturing lies in its ability to adapt to changing company needs. These include expansion to new markets, shifts in customer demand, or development of new products and services. With more powerful analytical and computing capabilities, businesses can adapt to changes more easily.
What Makes A Smart Factory?
Here are some of the defining characteristics:
- Connectivity – This is arguably the most important sources of value. All the underlying materials and processes in smart factories are connected. This generates the necessary data for real-time decisions.
- Optimization – Smart factories allow for the execution of operations with high reliability. Automated workflow, enhanced tracking and scheduling, synchronization of assets, and optimized energy consumption are inherent. These lead to increased uptime, quality, and yield. Also, it could reduce the associated costs and waste.
- Transparency – Information captured in the smart factory is transparent. With real-time visualizations, companies can transform data into actionable insights. Transparent networks have tools such as real-time monitoring, tracking, and notifications and alerts, as well as role-based views. All these enable greater visibility for accurate decisions.
- Proactive – Due to their proactive nature, systems and staff can anticipate issues and take action in advance. The feature may involve identification of anomalies, and addressing quality issues. This ability could improve quality, yield, and uptime. It could also help in predicting the products and production facilities’ lifecycle and prevent safety issues.
- Agile – Smart factories have agile flexibility. This allows them to adapt to any changes with minimal human intervention. They are also able to self-configure material flows and equipment depending on the manufactured product. Then, they can see the impact of all these changes in real-time. Agility can increase factory yield and uptime by minimizing changeovers and enabling flexible scheduling.
All these features could afford you greater visibility across your systems and assets. This lets you navigate some of the hurdles in traditional factory structures.
How A Smart Factory Facilitates Lean Production
You do not need a closer look to notice how innovation has made a profound impact on plant operations.
Smart factory creates an enabling environment for order management, shipment, and Just-In-Time (JIT) production practices. It also creates interconnections between different subsystems within a shop floor. Furthermore, it establishes digital links between different areas of the company. These include processing units or assembly lines, and logistics services, stakeholders, product design offices, and the supply chain.
When connected, a plant will manufacture quality products in short production cycles. It will also address the demand for product variety and cut production wastes.
The catalyst for the revolution is the interplay of big data, IIoT, and data analytics.
A connected factory can track the location of materials, labor, movable assets, and machines in real time. IIoT leverages Enterprise Resource Planning system and Manufacturing Execution Systems to simplify manufacturing. It integrates them with process instruments and embedded devices for real time communication. This helps digitize the production environment.
Geo-fencing systems and self-driving vehicles enable the handling and transportation of materials. On the other hand, hazard monitoring solutions and remote quality control technology all rely on sensors. These ensure industrial security and safety as well as management of production quality.
The seamless flow of a huge amount of data between systems and machines unifies facility operations. The visibility of the production environment is achieved through big data tools. These can gather data in structured, semi-structured, and unstructured formats.
Industry 4.0 technology also enhances dynamic manufacturing operations. With the aid of smart equipment, manufacturers can work against economies of scale. They can handle small production runs and assemble customized products profitably. Real-time data and flexible operations, as well as human and system-to-system communication protocols, enable timely interventions. This improves reliability and quality.
IIoT drives self-organizing production lines with the aid of data. For the autonomous bin, sensors trigger a replenishment request, then data within the order management systems responds. Also, supply chain activities and production schedules are synchronized based on real-time information from IoT devices. This enables JIT arrival of materials into the bin.
The impact of IIoT goes beyond automated measuring, control of operations, and sensing. Cognitive models and advanced analytical tools intelligently leverage big data. This helps them come up with a self-healing and responsive environment. Furthermore, predictive analytical tools utilize intelligence from suppliers, customers, equipment, and production data.
While analytics drive self-optimization, automated ordering, assembly, and receiving ensure agility. Analytical frameworks help identify any areas for further cost reduction and efficiency in your JIT inventory strategy. This is achieved through the rearrangement of the production line sequence and adding more economical components.
The relevant technology for creating your version of the smart factory is already available. Early adopters are currently enjoying the myriads of benefits from the automated intelligent buildings to efficient smart cities. However, widespread adoption is hindered by several challenges. Data integration, for instance, is arguably the main difficulty. Numerous other hurdles exist, but you can always overcome them and reap the many benefits.
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