Find out how smart factories can be delivered on a practical level. Where are we now, what are the barriers to developing successful smart factories, and how can they be overcome?
For anyone connected with the manufacturing industry, a revolution is afoot. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) – a collective term for the introduction of connected sensors and devices, and centralised analytics engines, to industrial settings – is transforming warehouses, logistics centres and factory floors of all shapes and sizes.
By forging closer links between design, manufacture, supply and demand, and maintenance, the IIoT is helping industrial organisations to be more flexible, more efficient and more integrated in their approaches – as we explored in our insight guide looking at how the IIoT can deliver smarter factories.
This insight guide moves the discussion along to look at how those smart factories can be delivered on a practical level. Where are we now, what are the barriers to developing successful smart factories, and how can they be overcome?
According to a Capgemini survey of 1000 senior executives across a range of countries and key industrial sectors, just over three quarters of manufacturers either have an ongoing smart factory initiative or are working towards formulating one, while more than half have aligned $100 million or more towards smart factories. It seems clear, then, that we are past the point of discussion without action, or of early adopters being the exception rather than the norm. Nevertheless, the same survey revealed that only 14% of organisations are satisfied with their level of smart factory success. There is plenty of space for improvement, and innovation.
Where will those improvements come from? At this stage, we need to delve a little deeper into the technology that can constitute a smart factory.
The connected operations that underpin the IIoT are at the heart of any smart factory. Each needs a mechanism for capturing data, consolidating and analysing it, and feeding that data intelligently back into operations. The required technology is a machine-to-machine communication system, comprised of wireless communication channels such as radio-frequency identification (RFID) or near field communications (NFC), and a centralised analytics engine or platform. That feedback loop mechanism, through which tangible business decisions are made on the basis of previously untapped data, and in many cases entirely automatically, is the heart of what makes the smart factory smart.
The feedback loop is augmented with a wide range of additional technologies and processes, including:
The smart factories of today – and tomorrow – incorporate a range of these technologies, adapted and tailored to the precise setting in question. There is no ‘one size fits all’ smart factory.
The list challenges when it comes to developing a smart factory is long and diverse, but some of the major areas to think about are as follows.
A smart factory cannot be bought off the shelf. It needs to be carefully designed and tailored to the needs of the organisation in question, even when it is based around non-proprietary technology. This requires a logical and pragmatic understanding of the organisation’s needs and goals, and careful project management throughout.
There’s no getting around it – creating a smart factory costs money. Deploying brand-new connected hardware on the factory floor clearly requires an upfront investment, but so too does retrofitting existing equipment with connected sensors. On an ongoing basis, whilst smart factories should ultimately drive cost efficiencies in terms of streamlined processes and shifts to models like predictive maintenance, they still involve different financial models to legacy factories. Measuring those costs against the benefits realised by the smart factory, and therefore evaluating the success of a smart factory project, can also be challenging.
The IIoT marks a radical shift in how industrial hardware is managed, operated and maintained – and this means that in-depth training is often necessary to enable staff to adapt to the new setup. Maintenance and engineering staff, for example, are required to move away from old processes of regular manual checks, and plan their schedules based on data automatically generated by the factory floor. Production and assembly staff may be required to start using augmented reality technologies. Upskilling existing staff members to use this new technology requires additional investment in terms of time and money.
The smart factory is, by nature, a connected factory – and this means that protecting it against digital vandalism and deliberate infiltration has to become a major priority. Cyberattacks on the smart factory can have a devastating impact in terms of day-to-day operations and long-term protection of assets, so it is vital that organisations developing smart factories can both defend against cyberattacks and rapidly identify, isolate and mitigate them if and when they do happen.
Governance and compliance
Much of the smart factory’s intelligence – its ability to learn from itself and optimise processes without human interaction – fundamentally transforms the ways in which organisations manage their internal processes and achieve and demonstrate regulatory compliance. New processes and audit trails may need to be developed.
How, then, can industrial and manufacturing organisations best meet these challenges and develop smart factories of the future?
Just as there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ technology solution for building a smart factory, so there is no single path to success for creating one. However, there are some principles to follow.
Project management principles: aims and objectives
Too many industrial organisations still approach the smart factory as in inevitable next stage in the evolution of their industry, rather than a proactive IT or technology strategy. However, thinking of the smart factory like any other business transformation project encourages a starting point of what is our business trying to achieve?
From there, it is far easier to pin down what kind of data will ideally be captured by the smart factory, and what kind of insights and actions that data could drive. And since the smart factory is, at its core, all about capturing and harnessing data, this is the best way of ensuring a smart factory that is closely aligned with business goals, and a smart factory whose success can be easily evaluated.
Five key stages
Once you have confirmed your success criteria, all operational smart factories, no matter what their precise technological setup, scale and scope, should ultimately follow five practical steps:
However, those five key steps do not need to be applied across your entire organisation all in one go. In fact, from a cost-efficiency and ease of project management perspective, it is normally sensible to work on making disparate parts of the factory ‘smart’ at different times.
Work from the inside out
Your people will always be key to making the smart factory an ongoing success. You need to spend time explaining your objectives and listening to and engaging them on the journey. The project cannot get off the ground without technology alone. As such, the most logical approach to developing a smart factory begins with people and the business case and then moves to the equipment. Why are you doing this? How will this affect the team? Who will be responsible for this new approach after you have implemented? Will it change the way your people are rewarded? Do they have the right skillsets? How will the human/machine collaboration work in your smart factory?
Only then do you get onto the technology. Where do you need to retrofit existing hardware, and where will you install brand new equipment? How do you cope with the many proprietary protocols? Which centralised analytics engine is most appropriate for your goals – today and into the future? How can you maximise the useful lifespan of all the hardware on your factory floor, via a predictive maintenance programme? . And from there, you can extend your smart factory out beyond your manufacturing premises, to consider your supply chain and logistics.
Setting up a smart factory doesn’t need to be complicated, and it doesn’t need to involve ripping out your existing setup and starting again. Much better to “Wrap and Extend.” A logical approach can create a dynamic, intelligent and proactive factory floor, positioning you strategically for the future.
Learn how to tear down the innovation barriers and move towards innovation platforms. Read this whitepaper to find out everything you need to know to begin your own Industry 4.0 journey.