Manufacturing Platforms of the Future Smart Factory

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Manufacturing industry has historically been an early adopter and a direct beneficiary of technological advancements.

Successive industrial revolutions have steered the industry from a world of scarcity to one of surplus—quality goods and alternate options. This raise in quality of life was made possible through the combined capabilities of mass manufacturing and precision engineering. 

After championing precision, efficiency, and scale, our factories are gearing up for the next big step in their evolution—collaborative and self-aware platforms.

The experts are calling it Industry 4.0. / Manufacturing 4.0  

Key Enabler
Role of Machines
Role of Humans

Industry 1.0
Mechanisation through water/steam power
Limited by power and sophistication
Supervise and handcraft the end products with machine assistance

Industry 2.0
Mass manufacturing powered by electricity
Efficiency and speed
Quality control, resource management, and logistics

Industry 3.0
Computers and automation
Precision and customisation
Supervise/enable interoperability of systems

Industry 4.0
Cyber-physical systems, IoT
Replicate real-world, make circumstantial decisions
Resolve conflicting goals, program smart algorithms 

Along the journey, the roles of machines and humans within the factory have fast evolved and gradually blurred. 

Factories of Today!
Industrial automation is no longer a best practice, but a rule for factory management. A large manufacturing unit typically incorporates IoT technologies to monitor the health, quantity/quality of output, and detect faults in near real-time. They use Business Intelligence (BI) systems to help visualize the real-time operational status and make quick process optimizations. In this model, the Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) are essential yet functionally independent pillars of manufacturing. 

But, in the near future, it would become hard to distinguish between the computational and physical elements in the assembly line. The marriage of IT & OT will create new opportunities for increased productivity and revenue.

Common Concerns:

o A large number of specialised machines work in isolation
o Manual intervention often needed between successive stages of manufacturing
o Downtime and sub-optimal operations translate to lost revenue and opportunities
o Lack of timely data and hunch-based decision-making 

Factories of Tomorrow!

A manufacturing platform is a complex ecosystem that involves asset management, supply chain management, process engineering, performance management, planning, smart manufacturing, quality control, operational visibility, data security, and personnel management. 

The key aspect of an Industry 4.0 factory will be in enabling the cyber-physical systems to gain self-awareness and predictability to better manage the factory. The newer technologies such as additive manufacturing, augmented reality, cloud computing, cobots, cyber-security, and data science are expected to play a vital role in optimized manufacturing with near-zero downtime. The ideology of distributed decision-making and centralised oversight will be the new normal. 

The world is heading towards a service and subscription-based economy. Customers prefer to rent products over permanent ownership. In this context, the roles of manufacturer and service provider are blurring to reveal new opportunities, business models, and revenue streams. 

Industry 4.0 Use-Cases

o  Increased productivity
o  Reduced operational cost
o  Scheduled maintenance
o  Agile systems/Supply Chain Management
o  Data-driven decision-making
o  Innovation
o  Increased customization
o  New business models (Product to service)
o  Differentiating from low-cost manufacturers 

Worldwide Manufacturing Predictions

o  By 2018, 60% of large manufacturers will bring in new revenue from information-based products and services, while embedded intelligence will drive the highest profitability levels

o  By 2019, 35% of large global manufacturers with smart manufacturing initiatives will integrate IT and OT systems to achieve advantages in efficiency and response time

o  By 2020, 60% of plant floor workers at G2000 manufacturers will work alongside automated assistance technologies such as Robotics, 3D Printing, AI, and AR/VR

o  By 2020, manufacturers will capture 20% more aftermarket revenue by using product and service quality measures to enhance customer experiences

Source: IDC FutureScape 

All trends suggest that the future-factories will be a shared workspace between humans and machines to execute complex workflows that craft products/services in collaboration between multiple stakeholders. 

Roadmap to a Smart Factory!  

The connected systems within the factory require a specialized ‘technology stack’ to enable interoperability, data exchange, and collaboration between internal systems and external collaborators. The technology stack should also be capable of robust data analytics, visualizations, upgrades, and safeguarding access to products and the data flow to and from them. 

Industry 4.0 infuses new capabilities into the manufacturing platforms,

 Newer insights: Machines can monitor/report real-time data lending insights into their health, performance, and use.

o  Remote control of complex processes: Complex operations along the assembly-line can be remote-managed to allow optimizations, customizations, and resolve conflicts.

o  Self-improving algorithms: Machine learning and data analytics can help machine continually optimize their algorithms. It is possible to predict faults, quality issues by analysing previous outcomes of the process.

o  Autonomy: Over time, machines can adapt to the environment and user preferences to service themselves and operate on their own. 

Migrating to a Smart Manufacturing Platform 

Obviously, Manufacturing 4.0 framework is not an overnight upgrade, but a carefully planned journey. It is a journey that involves planning, infrastructure upgrades, interconnecting complex systems, meticulous testing, re-skilling people, and implementing optimized workflows. 

In most cases, it is possible to retrofit the existing equipment with smart capabilities instead of having to replace them. The data warehouse too can work with the existing BI solution. 

A consideration would be to adopt the industry best practices and standards so that it would be easier to collaborate and conform to the market demands.

Five-step Plan for MFG 4.0 adoption

o Audit and Discovery (Current state, KPIs, Use cases)
o Experimentation (POCs)
o Build Competency (People & Technology)
o Achieve Proficiency
o Company-wide Implementation 

Of course, a smart move would be to consult a technology-expert with proven experience in helping adopt Industry 4.0 framework within your organisation. 

Manufacturing businesses need the flexibility to plan and execute in a dynamic environment. Ability to quickly adapt and leverage is vital, not just to build a leadership position, but also to envision a larger tomorrow. 

Cathal Murtagh

I am a results orientated, strategic and methodical sales professional with over twenty years experience in delivering customer solutions with quantifiable ROI to blue chip multinational companies. Over the years I have developed a very collaborative approach with customers delivering on all their requirements pre and post sales which has enabled me to develop enduring customer relationships. I…

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