The manufacturing landscape is changing at a breakneck pace. The rise of smart digital technologies, including the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), advanced analytics, quantum-inspired computing, and cloud computing, has created new opportunities for manufacturers.
Until recently, due to limitations in digital technology capabilities and prohibitive computing, storage, and bandwidth costs, the realization of the smart factory remained elusive. But today, those obstacles have diminished, making it possible to do more with less cost across a broader network.
AI, cognitive computing, and machine learning enable manufacturers to interpret, adjust to, and learn from the data gathered from connected machines. As a result, manufacturers can now move beyond task automation to more complex, connected processes, thanks to their ability to evolve and adapt, combined with powerful data processing and storage capabilities.
In general, a smart factory is defined as a high-tech, intelligent factory centered on integrating all the production processes—from product planning to purchase—through ICT (information communication technology) to time- and cost-effectively produce customized products.
A smart factory enables the following key capabilities:
- Autonomous process control
- Total operations synchronization
- Operations command center
- Digital process twin
- Augmented workforce
- Dynamic operations sensing
Undertaking a smart factory journey generally addresses everything in a factory environment, such as asset efficiency, quality, costs, safety, and sustainability. As a result, increased speed to market, improved ability to capture market share, improved profitability, product quality, and labor force stability are all possible outcomes.
1. Asset efficiency
Every aspect of the smart factory generates reams of data, which can reveal asset performance issues that require some kind of corrective optimization through continuous analysis. Indeed, such self-correction distinguishes the smart factory from traditional automation, resulting in higher overall asset efficiency, one of the smart factory’s most important advantages. Lowering asset downtime, optimizing capacity, and reducing changeover time are just a few potential benefits of asset efficiency.
The smart factory’s self-optimization feature can help predict and detect quality defect trends earlier and identify the discrete human, machine, or environmental causes of poor quality. This could result in lower scrap rates and shorter lead times, and higher fill rates and yield. A better-quality product with fewer defects and recalls could result from a more optimized quality process.
3. Lower cost
Historically, more cost-effective processes have been those with more predictable inventory requirements, more effective hiring and staffing decisions, and less process and operations variability. A higher-quality process may also imply an integrated view of the supply network and rapid, no-latency responses to sourcing needs, lowering costs even more. Furthermore, because a higher-quality process may result in a higher-quality product, it may lower warranty and maintenance costs.
4. Safety and sustainability
The smart factory can also provide tangible benefits in terms of worker health and environmental sustainability. A smart factory’s operational efficiencies may result in a smaller environmental footprint than a traditional manufacturing process, resulting in greater environmental sustainability overall. Greater process autonomy may reduce the risk of human error, such as industrial accidents that result in injury. Specific roles that require repetitive and exhausting activities will most likely be replaced by the smart factory’s relative self-sufficiency. However, in a smart factory environment, the human worker’s role may require more judgment and on-the-spot discretion, leading to higher job satisfaction and lower turnover.
- Greater insights and information transparency for intelligently automated processes and decision-making
- Increased labor productivity
- Increased operational efficiency
- Increased factory capacity utilization
- Predictive, intelligently automated processes
- Increased production output
- Improved order fulfillment rates
- A more integrated, connected IT/OT and process landscape
- Responsiveness and agility to address current needs and future disruption
- A unified, real-time view of operational data
- Reduced supply chain risk
- Greater overall impact from transformation, with the quality implementation of new technology