Technology is becoming as smart as humans. We now have smart phones, smart homes, and of course, smart factories. The intelligence of any plant, warehouse or manufacturing complex is determined by its abilities to read its environment, improve overall efficiency, and develop products or services that can better the future.
THE I.Q. OF A FACTORY
Generally, smart factories can positively affect several elements of a production line including logistics, enterprise resource planning (ERP), manufacturing execution systems, control technologies, and field actuators. Smart factories typically employ machinery and equipment that can improve processes through “self-optimization and autonomous decision making.” In other words, they’re capable of making their own decisions.
This goes against what many factories are experiencing today, where humans are the decision-makers and the machines simply do as they’re told, but for smart factories to exist, machinery must be interconnected through a network of sensors that read the data they collect along the way. Which machines need fixing, which ones require shutdowns, and which parts need to be replaced are just some of the elements these sensors are designed to pick up.
A MODEL TO LIVE BY
Nowadays, the idea of the smart factory finds itself stretching into the far reaches of reality, and one of the biggest examples exists in the form of Electronic Works facility in Amberg, Germany. The European enterprise is decorated with an array of smart machines coordinating the production and distribution of the business’ renowned control devices. The process involves over 1.5 billion components and over 50,000 varying products, making the steps far too long and complicated for human capabilities. Thus, machines are given the opportunity to step in, and the factory benefits greatly in the long run. A Gartner Research study conducted on the company’s primary hub of operations shows that only 15 defects per million occur on an annual basis. The plant experiences 99 percent reliability, and 100 percent, that’s right, 100 percent traceability on its expansive lines.” Now, there’s a factory that knows what it’s doing.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR FACTORY SMARTER
One of the main reasons why Electronic Works has been so successful in the integration of its smart factory is because it has learned to fuse three specific technologies into one working system. They include product lifecycle management (PLM), manufacturing execution systems (MES), and industrial automation. These technologies work together through the plant’s interconnected devices to “form a convergence point” and enable software to take advantage of all the data collected during operations. With humans at the helm, it’s not unlikely for most of this data to get lost or go unused, but with sensors monitoring the information and doing the heavy lifting, machines and executives alike can make smarter and more timely decisions regarding the factory’s procedures.
So, while humans aren’t set to lose their places altogether, it appears factories and the technology they employ are getting closer to the finish line. Their capabilities are growing every day, and the production rates of these factories are at the center of the digital manufacturing process.