Design principles and requirements for a true smart factory

The smart factory represents a leap from traditional automation to a fully connected and flexible system that can leverage a real-time stream of data from connected systems and applications to learn, self-optimize, and adapt to new demands and conditions in real or near-real time, and autonomously run entire production processes.

In other words, a real smart factory integrates data from all operational assets, including physical, human, and software, to drive all types of activities across the entire manufacturing network, including manufacturing, maintenance, inventory tracking, etc.

This results in a more efficient and agile production process with less downtime and a more remarkable ability to predict and adapt to changes in the facility, leading to better positioning in the competitive marketplace.

The real power of the smart factory is the flexibility to evolve and grow along with the changing needs in the markets, i.e., to incorporate new processes or technologies, develop new products or services, and provide more predictive and responsive approaches to operations and maintenance.

Many manufacturers are already leveraging different components of a smart factory in areas such as advanced planning and scheduling using real-time production and inventory data or augmented reality for maintenance. But a real smart factory is a more holistic endeavor, moving beyond the shop floor toward influencing the enterprise and broader ecosystem.

Fundamental design principles of a smart factory

Here, we present some of the fundamental design principles of a smart factory that can help designers build new smart factories or upgrade existing traditional factories to be smart. Those fundamental principles are as follows:

Modularity: It refers to the capability of system components to be separated and combined easily and quickly on a plug-and-play principle. It allows the system to respond to changing customer requirements in real-time and overcome internal system malfunctions. All smart factories should possess high modularity that allows the rapid integration of modules supplied by multiple vendors.

Interoperability: Secondly, a smart factory must have the ability to share technical information within system components, including products, and to share business information between manufacturing enterprises and customers. This is called interoperability.

Decentralization: This refers to the ability of the system elements (modules, material handling, products, etc.) to make decisions on their own or autonomously in real-time, unsubordinated to a control unit without violating the overall organizational goal.

Virtualization: This refers to creating an artificial factory environment similar to the actual one and is able to monitor and simulate physical processes. A virtual system enables the creation and implementation of designs and digital prototypes that are very similar to the real ones, and this virtual system gives the capacity to monitor and control its physical aspect in a virtual environment.

Real-time responsiveness: This is the ability of the system to respond to changing needs on time, such as changes in customer requirements and internal production systems due to malfunctions, resource failures, etc.

Requirements for a smart factory

Let’s now discuss some of the essential requirements for a smart factory:

  • Modular machine tools and workstations: This refers to the flexibility of machines and workstations to be reconfigured in accordance with the changing floor layout and process functions.
  • Modular material handling equipment: It refers to the possibility of reconfiguring material handling equipment (such as conveyors, AGVs) on the floor or changing equipment capability to transfer the required product.
  • Multi-skilled workforce: It refers to the ability of the workforce to perform several types of tasks, including decision making, supervision, programming, maintenance, and completing a manual assembly or process.
  • Reconfigurable fixture: It refers to the adjustability of a fixture to hold set(s) of parts or products.
  • Reconfigurable tools: It refers to the capability of tools to be used in different tasks (i.e., tightening different sizes of bolts).
  • Standard infrastructure: It refers to the use of a standard supply infrastructure that connects system components to all supply layers (such as pressurized air, Ethernet, current).Standard communication and CPS: It refers to a standardized communication protocol in which information is reordered, enriched, and saved in the integration layer.
  • Embedded computer: An embedded computer in each physical module enables autonomous decisions by retrieving required information from cloud computing via CPS.
  • Sharing meaningful information: It means having a common framework that allows data to be shared and reused across applications in a meaningful fashion.
  • Secure communication: It refers to authenticating access requests for information in cloud computing.
  • Collaborative behavior: In Collaborative behavior, system components (agents) work together to accomplish system goals.
  • Modular and decentralized control architecture: The control system has the ability to identify the physical module and automatically upload its control module from the cloud without human intervention.
  • Smart product: Using RFIDs, a product can identify itself to the modules, providing all information required to accomplish its process on the module.
  • Virtual system builder: It refers to a software package or virtual repository that works as an engine to run the virtual system, enabling effective simulation.
  • Capturing actual factory: Using 360◦ cameras, all events on the factory floor are captured in the real system.
  • Virtual reader: A Virtual reader provides a virtual system with online data from shop-floor sensors.
  • Virtual interfaces with CPS: This refers to interfaces that can retrieve and store information from CPS and related knowledge bases, enabling diagnosing assistance and online simulation.
  • Standardized virtual modeling language: This enables manufacturers to build a virtual module corresponding to the physical module to load the virtual module from cloud manufacturing and automatically integrate it with the virtual system.
  • After-sale services: It refers to tracing products and offering services over the product life cycle.
  • Offering core processes as services: The factory should offer its core function(s) to external factories or other internal factories.
  • Cloud computing: It refers to sharing product service and factory functions via cloud computing.
  • Cloud connection: It refers to access to the requirements of both customers and service suppliers.
  • Online data analysis: It refers to transferring customer requirements to products and investigating manufacturability using existing resources or outsourcing services.
  • Customization and real-time capability: This refers to responding in real-time and for manufacturing to order even a single unit.

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