The term ‘Smart Factory’ describes a highly digitalized and connected production structure where machinery and equipment are able to improve processes through automation and self-optimization. It is a factory where physical production processes and operations are combined with digital technology, smart computing, and big data to create a technology-driven system for companies that focus on manufacturing and supply chain management.
It is derived from ‘smart manufacturing,’ which is a category of manufacturing that employs computer-integrated manufacturing, high levels of adaptability and rapid design changes, digital information technology, and more flexible technical workforce training. This includes the material handling devices that have evolved to accommodate more predictive planning and more flexible business needs. Trends such as Industry 4.0 or the fourth industrial revolution have made this transformation of the supply chain possible.
How is a smart factory a flexible factory?
The basic idea behind a smart factory is flexibility. The internet of things (IoT) creates an interconnection between the devices. The system intelligently applies big data to create a responsive and self-improving environment for the factory of tomorrow. Central to the smart factory is the technology that makes data collection possible. This is enabled by intelligent sensors, motors, and robotics present on production and assembly lines that the smart factory puts to use. The aspect of data collection has many implications:
The smart factory has self-optimization as its key feature. It can predict and detect quality defect trends and can help to identify the human, machine, or environmental causes of poor quality. The system generates data and analyzes it to reveal asset performance issues that can require some kind of corrective action. Thus, it leads to a better-quality product with fewer defects and recalls. In other words, it is a flexible system that changes itself for quality.
Smart manufacturing results in more predictable inventory requirements, more effective hiring and staffing decisions, as well as reduced process and operations variability. Moreover, the transformation of supply chain in this system provides an integrated view of the supply network with quick responses to sourcing needs. These factors immensely help lowering the cost of manufacturing.
Smart factories provide operational efficiencies, which ultimately result in a smaller environmental footprint than a traditional manufacturing process. For example, conveyor systems consume energy by running continuously even when there is no load. In a smart factory, key areas are frequently stopped in order to activate only the needed resources. By employing variable speed drives in conveyors, energy efficiency can be increased up to 30%. Furthermore, higher process autonomy results in less potential for human error, including industrial accidents that cause injury.
Smart factory is a flexible factory as it helps the manufacturing ecosystem to autonomously sense the context, adapt to constraints, and organize pre-emptive action to achieve business goals. Predictive analytical tools generate date and intelligence from the customer, supplier, equipment, and production data, which can then be acted upon. It brings all the elements of a factory including material handling devices to perform at maximum efficiency and lower waste.