Shift to the Smart Factory
To get there, they need to embrace the principles of Industry 4.0 for adaptability now—and for greater resilience in the future.
Human workers are still required to supervise operations and troubleshoot if needed, but these manufacturers were able to continue mostly autonomous production because of one important reason: The factories are smart.
A smart factory that uses data is:
Connected: Data flows across all aspects of manufacturing from the supply chain down to production, distribution, and beyond.
Optimized: Machines that are idle can take on new work loads and that saves downtime and increases productivity.
Transparent: All stakeholders can access real-time data.
Proactive: Problems are spotted using data analytics and solved before they cascade into larger bottlenecks.
Agile: Can shift production according to market demands.
The Building Blocks of a Smart Factory
If data lays the foundation for a smart factory, a few technologies comprise the building blocks. Following are examples of how smart factories use these technologies.
Schneider Electric, a lighthouse smart factory, uses IIoT to monitor production processes and relay information about production variations in real time. Vendors that access this data can adjust their inventory accordingly and ship supplies proactively.
In the case of a sudden disruption of labor, it would be ideal to move production to another location. Or to have plant managers monitor production from a remote location. Cloud technology provides those capabilities.
This is a manufacturing process that deposits materials layer by layer. A computer file stores information for the design, which is fed into a 3D printer. This kind of manufacturing is especially useful for precision parts with complicated designs.
Robots moved beyond the caged giants seen in automotive manufacturing. While large robots still perform welding, gluing, and fastening operations from cages so they don’t inadvertently harm their human coworkers, today's robots are collaborative (cobots) working alongside humans.
Parts break. When they do and experts are not available onsite, augmented reality (AR) helps workers access remote help. The expert can remotely overlay a model of the broken part against the real-life equivalent and guide the worker with fixes in real time. This saves precious downtime. AR can also help with worker training.
Working Alone—or in Tandem
While the list of technologies driving smart factories might be long, companies can choose which ones to implement first, depending on the key performance indicators they want to realize first.
Almost all manufacturers can integrate these technologies into their practices and realize efficiencies.
To adapt to new realities, many manufacturers could be managing non-essential staff offline and rotating necessary workers in staggered shifts to adhere to strict CDC protocols.
Digitizing data and understanding how to integrate new technologies with existing legacy systems is the next step. Sharing data intelligence can deliver efficiencies in inventory management and make for a more resilient supply chain.