A broad description of smart factories would be that they entail highly networked and digitized production to do longer, more complex tasks beyond traditional automation. Such a factory is also characterized by a collaborative design approach that enables it to work closely with the customer to provide the best possible product at the most competitive price. Such a system is capable of continuously improving the system it works within, and is capable of adjusting to changing market conditions and the ever-changing preferences of customers. Such a factory is able to build on established technology and combine it with new knowledge and skills to provide the best products available in any given field.
A smart factory can do more than just automated or semi-automated processes. It can also have a system that involves human intelligence. In fact, it is very common for such factories to be equipped with either sensors or artificial intelligence that collect data or intelligence from all of its activities and processes. Such a factory could then use the collected data, intelligence, and analytics to make decisions about how to further improve the production chain and procedures. Such actions not only benefit the company in terms of increased productivity and profit, but they also lead to better organizational practices. Below are seven steps to building the Perfect Smart Factory:
Accelerate current processes and designs through advanced sensors and electronics. Smart manufacturing technologies allow information and data to flow faster, meaning that existing designs and processes can be improved or streamlined. Such technologies enable fast decision-making on where to invest the money that will yield the best return in terms of profits, in what specific industries to invest in, how to improve processes, the tools and equipment used to deliver those goods, and so forth. Ultimately, intelligent technologies and systems help provide solutions to complex problems and help ensure that businesses are able to respond quickly to market changes.
Control wastes and eliminate waste whenever possible. It is one of the primary principles of smart factories – fewer non-value-added processes and less waste. Indeed, some companies are even eliminating waste entirely. For instance, instead of storing finished products in unorganized and unsafe warehouses, such companies place orders with wholesalers and manufacturers and let them sort out and handle the shipping, storage, and logistics themselves. That saves time, increases efficiency, and reduces costs.
Connect and exchange data and information at field level. The internet is increasingly being used at field level to provide access to real-time information and to allow distributed teams to collaborate and share data. This opens up a wealth of new possibilities for smart factories. For example, rather than relying on expensive third party logistics systems, companies can use their own industrial internet network to monitor the logistics of their entire production process. In addition, as online order fulfillment continues to advance, it becomes even more critical that companies be able to effectively manage and track their entire supply chain.
Automated predictive maintenance systems. In the past, when problems with a specific element of a production chain popped up, the factory floor usually had to take care of the problem by visiting the service center and having an operator show them how to fix the issue. However, as predictive maintenance tools become more sophisticated and as manufacturing companies make their products more generic, there is no longer a need to go to these potentially dangerous shops. These automated systems replace human operators completely, saving companies money and time on labor and reducing the risk of costly mistakes.
Better diagnostics. One of the primary reasons that smart factories are able to reduce wastes and improve productivity is because they address problems as they arise instead of waiting for them to become problems. The accuracy of these systems is usually much higher than what can be achieved manually. Such systems enable planners and engineers to take action on potential problems before they become crucial defects in the process. Incorporating these types of diagnostics into the design of processes and factories allows for better prediction of potential issues and smoother production schedules.
Real-time analytics. Analytics also play an important role in the efficiency of the production process. As described earlier, these systems enable planners and engineers to take action on potential problems before they become critical issues and even enable them to rework processes and factories to improve the quality of the product or service. However, the big data analytics provided by smart factories allows for much more than this. Incorporating predictive maintenance and real-time analytics, these systems can improve a company’s ability to anticipate problems before they occur so that the best solution can be implemented.