While connectivity within the manufacturing process is not new, recent trends like Industry 4.0 have further enabled blending of the digital and physical worlds. From traditional linear, sequential supply chain operations to an interconnected system of supply operations today (also called digital supply network) – the landscape has completely transformed, and manufacturers are increasingly looking at unlocking several capabilities of this new trend. Let’s discuss more in the context of “Smart Factories: Connected and Collaborative”.
According to the Capgemini Research Institute, smart factories have the potential to contribute at least USD 1.5 trillion to the global economy over the next four years.
What is a smart factory?
The smart factory represents a leap forward from more traditional automation to a fully connected and flexible system—one that can use a constant stream of data from connected operations and production systems to learn and adapt to new demands. The strength of a smart factory lies in its ability to evolve and adapt to the changing needs of an organisation. Whether it’s a shift in customer demand, expansion into new markets, development of new products – smart factories are flexible in their approach.
Why does a smart factory stand out?
According to research, a leading electronics company used a fully-automated system, 3D scanners, IoT technology, and integrated machine control to produce ACs. This helped lower overall costs, along with production capacity improvement of 25 percent and 50 percent fewer defective products.
A smart factory has features that give it an edge above the traditional factory: Connectivity, Optimisation, Transparency, Proactivity, Agility. Each of these features helps manufacturers make better decisions and in the bargain, enhance production.
The most important feature of a smart factory is its connected nature. Smart factories make use of the underlying processes and materials to stay connected, and generate the data necessary to make real-time decisions.
An optimized smart factory enhances operations with minimal manual intervention and high reliability. The automated workflows, syncing of assets, improved tracking and scheduling can help a smart factory to increase its yield, and reduce costs and waste.
Further, the data captured in a smart factory is transparent: Real-time data visualizations can transform data captured from processes and then convert them into actionable insights.
In a proactive system, employees and systems can take action before issues or challenges arise, rather than simply reacting to them after they occur. This can help in the early identification of errors, restocking and replenishing inventory, and monitoring safety concerns.
Agile flexibility allows the smart factory to adapt easily, and schedule product changes with minimal intervention. Advanced smart factories can also self-configure the equipment depending on the product, and make these changes in real time.
The smart factory can also offer benefits around wellness for labourers, and environmental sustainability.
Implementing Smart Factories
A smart factory can be implemented in a range of ways, either outside or inside the four walls of a factory. There are a set of advanced technologies that enable the flow of information and movement between the physical and digital worlds.
Using sensors, connected factories can track the location of labour, materials, machines, and moveable assets in real time. Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) digitises the production environment for real-time communication. For instance, smart tags can be embedded to transform a spare parts bin at a production facility into an autonomous bin, which digitally records location and content, and communicates when it needs to be replenished.
In addition, self-driving vehicles, geo-fencing systems for transportation, hazard monitoring solutions for industrial safety and security, and remote quality control tools to manage air, water, and product quality depend on sensors and communication technology to function optimally. John Deere, the USD 37 billion heavy equipment company, has fitted its tractors in India and the world, with sensors the world over to improve productivity and reduce waste in crop farming.
The seamless flow of data between machines and enterprise systems is what makes up the entire manufacturing process.
Flexible operations and real-time data from humans and system-to-system helps in improving the quality and reliability through timely interventions before and during manufacturing. In the case of the autonomous bin, when sensors trigger a replenishment request, data in the order management system responds to the requirement.
Similarly, cloud computing enables smart factories to generate, process, and store large data sets cost-effectively. The scalable and secure cloud architecture meets requirements of connected ecosystems.
Plants operated by Godrej and Welspun use the Intelligent Plant Framework to run their factory floors. Manjushri Technopak’s manufacturing plant, situated in the industrial suburb of Bidadi, has about 20 odd packaging machines that are connected over a network. The company gets a monthly review about the machines over a dashboard.
Advanced analytical tools and cognitive models apply Big Data to create a responsive environment for the factory of tomorrow. Predictive analytical tools harness intelligence from the customer, supplier, equipment, and production data, which can then be acted upon. It also minimises downtime for retooling the equipment and asset maintenance.
Further, analytics helps OEMs grow revenue from after-sales services by accurately forecasting the lifespan and maintenance needs of finished products. Automated maintenance, ordering, receiving, assembly, shipping, and after-sales services ensure agility, while analytics drives self-optimisation.
Artificial Intelligence is increasingly becoming an integral part of our lives, from homes to factories. In smart factories, AI collates objective data, eliminating the need for human estimations and helps workers forecast demands and find solutions with precision. This means reduction in errors and costs. Reportedly, smart manufacturing is anticipated to cause an average cost decrease of 3.6%, equalling approximately USD 421 billion worldwide, according to PWC.
3D printing or additive manufacturing is being preferred for its efficient production. The procedure of adding layer upon layer of material to create a tangible final product has opened up a world of opportunity for manufacturers. For example, Toyota developed a multi-material roof that consisted of aluminium, CF and other materials for a fuel-cell powered bus.
Companies around the world are already making use of robots in their factories. Did you know that Amazon already has 80,000 robots in its workforce? Robots have the ability to carry out human tasks at a faster rate and with greater efficiency, which is why they are becoming incredibly popular in manufacturing across the globe. Plus, they are also ideal for high-risk working environments. At Mahindra & Mahindra’s Nashik plant, there are robots building car body frames.
Schneider Electric launched its second Smart Factory in Bengaluru in November 2019 which provides customers with a showcase of benefits of industrial digital transformation, including enhanced performance, increased safety and reliability and remote monitoring and preventive maintenance.
The Bengaluru Smart Factory is smart and integrated, with digital tools such as augmented reality empowering operators to gain visibility into operations and maintenance, driving a 10% reduction in the mean time to repair critical equipment. In addition, digitised processes have eliminated paperwork by 95% and are contributing to a cleaner plant with optimised energy consumption. Its first Smart Factory was inaugurated in Hyderabad in February 2019.
With manufacturing and conversion costs expected to reduce by 20% and 40% respectively with the deployment of emerging technologies in manufacturing, smart manufacturing techniques are likely to be adopted.
These transformational changes, however, need to be complemented with right up-skilling of employees so they can offer more sophisticated and high value work. In order to enable this, the industry, the government and academia must be on the same page to realise the dream of a smart India.
(Edited by Anu Choudary)