As the supply chain enters the fourth industrial revolution—known as Industry 4.0—the manufacturing process now uses new technologies to optimize the production process for modern business models. Because manufacturing technologies continue to develop and digital technologies become more commonplace in manufacturing, there’s a new need to adapt supply chain management beyond the third industrial revolution.
But what does this mean for your shop floor? In this article, we’ll help you understand what smart manufacturing and digitization are and how to adapt your factory. We'll also explain how the manufacturing industry is changing to keep up with Industry 4.0 as we move into the next era of mass production.
What Is a Smart Factory?
A smart factory is an interconnected, digital facility that leverages a network of machines, computers, and advanced technologies to collect, share and organize data across the production facility. It uses this data to improve processes, streamline production and reduce shutdowns and downtime.
When you have a smart factory, you can improve your optimal workflows and use machine learning, AI and automation tools to improve your processes continually. A smart factory is often interconnected with its suppliers, logistical partners, third-party vendors and distribution centers as well, creating an even more in-depth ecosystem of technology and advancements.
The Key Components of a Smart Factory
A smart factory often uses specific types of technology advancements and tools in order to accomplish its efficiency and optimization goals. Here are a few of the common components used in smart factories across the globe.
Big Data and IoT Integration
One of the hallmarks of a smart factory is the use of big data and the Internet of Things (IoT), which are often considered the real driving power behind Industry 4.0. The Internet of Things includes internet connections and capabilities within different devices, including the machines on your factory floor. These machines are equipped with sensors that connect your machines to web-enabled devices, allowing you to collect data on a massive level, which you can then use as part of a data-driven decision-making strategy.
AI and Robotics
Another major component of a smart factory is artificial intelligence (AI). AI and machine learning allow companies to create incredibly advanced insights that go beyond what humans can recognize on their own. These occur not just on the production floor but across the entire organization. AI provides insights that help with the visibility and success of your entire factory, while advanced robotics can help make processes run smoother and take over jobs that are dangerous or too complicated for your employees to manage on their own, freeing up resources and enabling employees to manage other projects.
Cloud management refers to using cloud-enabled devices and tools to manage and oversee your company. Cloud computing allows you to embrace connectivity and integration by storing, organizing and collecting massive amounts of data without needing a storage source on-premises. It also helps you bring all areas of your business together with integration tools and capabilities that were previously unattainable. You can use cloud computing to help with sales, distribution, marketing, service, engineering, production and even throughout your supply chain.
Cybersecurity is a crucial part of a smart factory. Far too often, manufacturers want to embrace certain elements of a smart factory without considering the serious ramifications if their systems aren’t secure. The very same equipment and tools that make a smart factory more efficient also open up new ways for malware attacks and other cyberattacks. In order to protect your interests, you need to ensure that you are taking your cybersecurity seriously and adopting safe systems and approaches.
A digital twin is a type of virtual replication of an object, manufacturing process, factory, supply chain or production line. This virtual representation pulls data from different sources to create a digital version of the original that can be modified, tweaked and worked on to create a better process. By working on a digital twin and running a simulation, you can test new ideas and advancements without needing to disrupt the real version in the physical world, giving you new ways to test updates to your processes and business optimization techniques.
Benefits of Smart Manufacturing
Now that we’ve covered more about the tools used in smart manufacturing and what a smart factory can look like, let’s dive into some of the important benefits of smart manufacturing that make it worth the effort to implement for businesses around the world.
Enhanced Plant Efficiency
Manufacturing efficiency is often a major factor behind implementing smart technologies. All business owners and managers want their manufacturing processes to reduce waste and be as efficient as possible to increase profitability and reduce losses. However, doing this manually can be nearly impossible. A smart factory helps you maximize your plant's efficiency by reducing reliance on manual tasks and leveraging automation to help your factory respond in real time and optimize material sourcing, production and even things like human resources and distribution.
Quicker Issue Resolution
Smart manufacturing reduces downtime in every sense of the word, including in issue resolution. Traditionally, when an issue arises on the factory floor, it can take hours, days or even weeks to fully resolve. This is because people might be uninformed about the issue, unclear as to the possible ramifications or even unaware that something has gone wrong in the first place. Smart manufacturing works in real time, meaning that your team can deal with an issue as soon as it arises. This makes your factory more productive and creates new communication channels for your team.
Safer Factory Floor
In addition to helping your factory become more efficient, smart manufacturing also helps your factory floor become a safer environment for your employees. You can create better safety reports and a better reporting process so safety issues don’t go unnoticed. In addition, you can know immediately when a safety violation has occurred so you can address it before someone is injured. You can also use advanced robotics to take over jobs previously handled by employees that have the potential to be dangerous, such as working with chemicals or unsafe materials.
Better Product Tracking
Smart manufacturing ensures that your products are tracked from the moment raw materials come into the factory to the minute the product is delivered to the customer. Smart systems optimize asset utilization and show you exactly where specific products are in your supply chain — and on your production line—so you never have to wonder where something is or track down an order. You can track packages and products with extreme accuracy by keeping everything digitized.
Continual Production Improvement
Having a smart factory also requires a focus on continually improving your production facility. Smart technology and tools allow you to boost productivity while collecting real-time data that helps you predict future issues or areas that need your attention. This helps you avoid shutdowns and bottlenecks so you can continue to optimize your processes without being held back by inefficiencies.
Challenges of Smart Manufacturing
With all these benefits, it’s easy to forget that there are also challenges that need to be solved to make the most of smart manufacturing. Here are a few of the biggest challenges that smart manufacturing faces, along with some potential solutions to address these issues head-on.
Replacing Manual Processes with Automated Ones
One of the most common challenges that arises when moving towards a smart factory with automation is replacing all of your manual processes. If you have been in business for a long time, you have deeply established processes that are ingrained in how you do business. Changing things up too quickly can be overwhelming for your employees and your business, meaning that automation can take a long time to implement.
In order to solve this problem, you need to have a clear plan from the beginning. Rather than testing out new technologies or trying a process update here and there, have a strategy planned out where you systematically move through your organization with clear dates, timelines, and solutions in place. Not only does this keep things organized on your end, but it helps your employees know what to expect as their daily tasks or responsibilities change.
Monitoring Equipment Performance
Smart machines and equipment need to be monitored in order to ensure that they are functioning optimally and working at their best to maximize your business. However, the oversight needed to monitor these machines and pieces of equipment can be overwhelming, especially as so much data is collected and stored. Figuring out how to monitor your equipment performance with data can seem like an uphill battle.
Establishing maintenance schedules and checklists is a great way to avoid being overwhelmed with the amount of data you collect from your machines. When you know what you need to look for, you can set aside the other data and really narrow in on what needs to be done in order to optimize your machine performance. You can also use machine monitoring tools and plug-ins to make sure that your machines are working correctly and reduce the amount of manual time spent on the same tasks.
Another major challenge of smart manufacturing is maintaining cyber security. As mentioned earlier, the same systems that allow smart manufacturing can also create new ways for malicious attacks to target your business. Many people are afraid of the terms “cyberattack” and “data breach,” so they avoid advancing their tools and systems altogether.
The best solution to keep your systems safe is investing in security systems and tools to protect your data. Many advanced security tools will protect your data from being breached andkeep it as safe as possible. This will allow you to move forward with your smart manufacturing plan more confidently.
Examples of Smart Manufacturing
Smart manufacturing might sound great, but what does it really look like in action? Let’s explore some different examples of smart manufacturing in different industries so you can see for yourself how Industry 4.0 is changing the manufacturing world for the better.
Smart Manufacturing in the Automotive Sector
The automotive industry was one of the first to embrace smart manufacturing. This sector has been using smart technology for years to help optimize production lines, test components and gather data on vehicles. Smart manufacturing has also helped automate the production process in automotive factories and create better communication between all team members and outside suppliers and distributors.
Smart Manufacturing in the Logistics Sector
In the logistics sector, smart manufacturing helps predict better distribution channels, optimize transportation routes, use storage spaces and capacities and plan for potential environmental disruptions to the flow of goods. Whether cargo is transported by air, sea, or land, smart manufacturing makes it easy to plan the movement of goods. It connects different tools and transportation systems to create an interconnected web of data across the logistics space.
Smart Manufacturing in the Aerospace and Defense Sector
Smart manufacturing is also transforming the aerospace and defense sector, allowing new lines of communication to open and creating an ecosystem of partners that can access critical information and update their processes. This leads to innovation, growth and transformation in the industry like never before. New tools also allow production processes to be updated and aircraft systems to be digitally created and explored before being created on the factory floor.
Transform Your Shop Into a Smart Factory With Amper
At Amper, we want to help your business adopt new technologies like machine monitoring and analytics. Our goal is to help you increase functionality in your production lines while keeping an eye on sustainability and optimization. Our manufacturing technologies assist manufacturing companies with their supply chain management, data analysis and real-time data. When you adopt the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), you become prepared for the future. Amper is ready to help you prepare for smart manufacturing. Take a look at our machine monitoring capabilities to see how Amper can take your business to the next level with advanced automation and predictive maintenance.
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