In Industry 4.0, companies are converging information technology and operational technology, to create supply chains that have a pulse on customer wants and can deliver on demand. The industry-wide push to streamline supply chains has given rise to “smart factories” — factories that synthesize new technologies to boost speed and precision, and respond fast to design iterations so companies can produce more of what customers actually want. Sixty-seven percent of industrial manufacturers say they have ongoing smart factory initiatives.
In this two-part blog series, we’ll be exploring some of the latest technologies that could drive factories into the future — and how manufacturers can leverage them to become more efficient, and more competitive.
The Technologies Defining the Factories of the Future: Part 1
The factory of the future will be characterized by the ability to plan production flows and employee allocations virtually, before any actual implementation takes place — allowing manufacturers more freedom to ideate and plan their processes, risk-free.
Product design, assembly line configuration, and factory locations are just a few of the things that can now be simulated with AR. Companies are no longer forced to go into prototype stage to determine the user-friendliness of products. Instead, digital product models can be tested and refined using tools like FEA and CFD. This allows for rapid iterative design cycles, and the ability to release better products, faster. For manufacturers, AR means planning production and assembly processes out on a virtual landscape, optimizing locations of production lines and people. Factory managers will be able to understand — and adjust — the capacity of their workforce, as well as the placement of machinery and other variables that affect production. This will help ensure that they’re prepared to handle production flows before placing costly orders to their suppliers.
Leveraging the Internet of Things
The Internet of Things is one of the key 21st century innovations to affect not only manufacturing, but the end-to-end supply chain. It moves information from siloed databases to the cloud, generating feedback, analytics, and actionable data. With the Internet of Things, factory operations can perform more autonomously and can be managed through a single platform. By helping devices across supply chain operations “talk” to eachother, IoT can enable machines to perform better, more efficiently, and more economically.
Mobile apps and cloud services make up the majority of IoT being used in supply chain. Image courtesy APQC.org
In 2016, the manufacturing industry alone spent $178 billion on IoT technologies. It’s no secret why. Unlike many technologies of the previous industrial revolution, IoT doesn’t serve a single isolated purpose. It provides the kind of connectivity across functions that manufacturers need in order to realize the larger goal of supply chain digital transformation. For example, sensor-based alert systems can provide better inventory tracking, allowing factories to automate their inventory replenishment. This not only reduces operating costs — it helps manufacturers better serve the end-to-end supply chain because they’re no longer scrambling to keep track of inventory manually, wasting the time of both their suppliers and customers.
Most importantly, the data that’s gathered can be fed back into the manufacturing process. This helps to iterate on short-term changes. In the long term, it allows planners to identify patterns, reducing error rates, boosting productivity, and judging the ROI of machines and other investments over time. Ultimately, leveraging the right data across the manufacturing value chain can help companies reduce costs and identify new revenue sources.
The Factory of the Future, Continued
In our second installment of this blog series, we'll cover 3D printing, robotics, and the single most important thing you can do to drive better efficiency across your manufacturing operations. Subscribe below or tune back in this Wednesday to get the scoop!