Industrial manufacturing has to go through the so-called fourth industrial revolution as companies introduce digital technologies into their operations. These technologies improve production and efficiency by connecting all physical and digital assets into one system that allows real-time monitoring and data generation.
Once the operational data makes it to an artificial intelligence software solution, the system identifies pinpoint bottlenecks and operational issues. By introducing automation to the mix, manufacturers can transform their facilities into smart factories that provide all kinds of benefits. Let's see the effects of industrial optimization in more detail.
Smart Factory Explained
Before we get to the benefits smart factory solutions provide, we first have to explain what a smart factory is. In short, it's a concept of introducing digitalization into manufacturing practices. So whenever you hear the term "smart factory," you know you're looking at a highly-digitized operation that involves the use of big data, interconnected devices, and automation.
Data is the backbone of every smart factory, as all insights are generated by analyzing massive amounts of data. Every machine, device, and process connected to the system provides operational data and sends it to the AI that learns how production works and finds better ways to optimize manufacturing. The system rests on highly advanced digital technologies such as cloud computing, big data analytics, Industrial Internet of Things sensors, etc. Once all devices and assets are connected to a single AI-driven system, managers and team members can monitor every machine in real-time.
Moreover, they can use the same technology to optimize everything from production to supply chain management and employee engagement. When done right, the process of manufacturing digitalization provides a more flexible, adaptable, and streamlined operation. It helps improve production and efficiency while reducing operational costs and increasing safety.
Technologies Behind Smart Factories
As mentioned above, digital transformation rests on a few modern technologies. Moving manufacturing from traditional methods to a new, digital environment requires some effort and investment into new technologies. The process can take months to set up, but the benefits are worth the effort once everything is in place. Here are some of the technologies behind modern smart factory solutions.
Industrial IoT is a term used to describe a modern factory where all devices, machines, processes, and even employees are connected into one AI-driven system that facilitates the exchange and use of data. IoT technologies such as visual and operational sensors are already a part of modern manufacturing machines. Older machinery can also be fitted with these sensors to connect to the centralized system.
Once all elements and assets are interconnected, the sensors generate real-time operational data from all devices and data points, improving tracking and identifying new ways to optimize production. IIoT leads to increased efficiency, better control, and improved visibility into all essential metrics.
Cloud computing is truly one of the most revolutionary services ever to reach the market. It's the most popular software as a service delivery model because it's much more affordable than any other method. Manufacturers and businesses don't have to spend a ton of money updating their IT sectors and infrastructure anymore. Most smart factory solutions use this model to deliver smart factory solutions to their customers.
Of course, the ability to deploy software from an online cloud has led to all kinds of revolutionary practices. When compared to traditional techniques, cloud computing is much more flexible and affordable than an on-premise solution. Manufacturers have to connect all devices to a cloud system to ensure that it gets the data it needs to optimize production and provide valuable feedback. Everything is done in real-time, which was impossible in the past.
Big Data Analytics
There is no "smart factory" without big data. The AI is the system's brain, and it needs access to high-quality operational data to understand how the production process works and what metrics matter the most. Once it gets a steady stream of high-quality data, it can pinpoint underperforming machines and devices.
Big data is the key element in the optimization process because it helps spot errors and patterns in production. Then, after it has all the data, the AI can make accurate predictions, help improve product quality, reduce costs, and provide all kinds of other benefits.
Smart Factory Benefits
A smart factory is the next step in manufacturing. When these technologies combine, they can provide numerous benefits that help streamline manufacturing and improve the overall operation. Here are some of the primary benefits you can expect when introducing smart factory solutions into manufacturing.
Improved Quality Control
Product quality is what makes or breaks a company, and the right smart factory solution can make a big difference. Advanced visual IoT sensors can help improve product quality by identifying defects during production.
The system scans every unit throughout the entire production line. It monitors all details such as raw materials needed to produce the product to detailed quality checks during every production stage. If it recognizes a defect, the AI will find the cause of the problem and improve the production process to eliminate future errors.
AI solutions can complete thousands of actions at the same time. That makes them ideal for production optimization. The AI collects and analyzes operational data generated by IIoT sensors and identifies areas that need improvement. The same method applies to any process, product, and manufacturing practice.
Moreover, AI doesn't only find better ways for improving production. Once it understands how a process works, it uses automation to improve accuracy and efficiency. The smart system also makes it easy to conduct inspections, pinpoint issues, and assign solutions.
Predictive Approach Through Simulations
Simulations have been used in manufacturing for decades. However, previous simulation technologies were all CAD-based. Engineers were required to input parameters and test products, services, or ideas. Simulation technologies that use real-world operational data taken from the factory floor are now able to provide some incredible insights into the future.
A new simulation technology called Digital Twin allows manufacturers to copy an entire production line, product, or process in a digital environment. The digital copy works the same as the real counterpart, allowing manufacturers to predict future events such as machine failure, hazards, etc. Insights like these are then used to improve the operation, which helps reduce maintenance costs, enhance product quality, and reduce time-to-market. Digital Twin simulations are also ideal for employee training.
Employee safety is always one of the key concerns in every production plant and factory floor. It's even more important in potentially hazardous industries such as metallurgy, mining, and heavy chemicals. Wearable IoT sensors can help improve employee safety and reduce the chances of workplace injuries.
The IoT sensors can monitor employee health, temperature, and the presence of hazardous gasses, noises, etc. Whenever a danger is recognized, the sensor will alert the employee, evacuating the area before anything terrible happens.
The transition from traditional to digital technologies in manufacturing is still in its early stages. However, modern technologies such as AI, IoT, and Big data analytics are already showing massive advancements in manufacturing practices. Together, they can improve production, product quality, supply chain optimization, and other essential processes while cutting costs.
Adopting these technologies is a valuable asset for most small and medium-sized businesses, but it will become more available in the future. So if you're looking to prepare your manufacturing for the future, jump on board the Industry 4.0 train. It'll leave your competition behind for good.