Efficiency, effectiveness, and economical. The 3 Es have guided the manufacturing industry for hundreds of years and brought about massive transformational changes. As hi-tech solutions and automation pave the way in the modern economy, problems like worker fatigue and quality control will diminish. The smart factory, however, represents a leap forward from automation to a fully connected flexible system. The Industry 4.0 revolution along with IoT will enable factories to use a constant stream of data from interconnected operations and production systems to learn and adapt to new demands. The smart factory can integrate data across all the systems to drive maintenance, manufacturing, digitization of operations, and inventory tracking. So what are the trends picking up in the smart factory across the world?
A new wave of factory automation is underway. Industrial robots are entering the manufacturing scene and creating value for companies. It is not uncommon to see robots outnumber production workers in most of the smart factories today. The availability of collaborative robots has considerably reduced the overall costs and increased manufacturing flexibility for the companies.
An unexpected breakdown can be very costly for a manufacturer and add to that the losses caused by the downtime. Smart factories enable predictive maintenance to be practiced that can alert manufacturers when parts are prone to breakage. Many smart factories are now using IoT sensors to predict faults before they happen. The technology also has the capability to locate the nearest service technician and map out the best route for the person to reach the premises.
Increasing use of AI
Artificial intelligence has been a hot topic in many industries. In a smart factory though, it plays a key role, by helping manufacturers predict demand patterns and optimally allocate resources. AI basically eliminates human guesswork and brings in a cold and hard perspective of data into the equation. New cloud-based smart factory apps have emerged recently which come embedded with AI and enable sophisticated decision science to be used to perform day-to-day work tasks.
A lot has changed with the introduction of 3D printers. The parts once ridiculously expensive to manufacture can be done within minutes for a few dollars with a 3D printer. In a smart factory, 3D printers are increasingly being used to make not only the prototypes but the final products as well. Such additive manufacturing creates an object by adding the material layer by layer as opposed to the subtractive manufacturing of drilling, cutting, and hammering materials away. Additive manufacturing opens up possibilities for mass customization from individual automobile parts to a pair of shoes.
Today data is easily available to managers. But how will they make sense of numbers to address issues and bottlenecks? Many inefficiencies often go unnoticed which has a dramatic effect on productivity. Graphical representation of data can help executives gain insights into challenges that lie in the production line. Data visualization assists even lower-level employees to understand what’s going on and empower them to take decisions that can improve operational efficiency in a smart factory.
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