Realizing the vision of a Smart Factory requires planning and also defining the business model that it will eventually serve. What are the goals and objectives? Do you want to be more efficient and productive, establish fully automated and autonomous production, reduce lead times, increase sales, and increase transparency? If your goals and objectives are in line with the above then you should be looking at what’s needed for getting started with a Smart Factory vision.
The Smart Factory Future is Now
We are currently in the 4th Industrial Revolution where the proliferation of web-enabled and network-connected machines and devices are able to communicate in real-time to provide fully automated production capabilities and real-time production data. Full end-to-end integration is possible today with; automated quoting, production planning, material supply, machine programming, automated machine, material automation systems, predictive maintenance, interconnected logistics systems, and adaptive planning based on production requirements. With software managing the data streams from the individual machines and external sources, visualization and analysis of the production process in real-time is a reality.
Developing the Smart Factory Vision
Follow these steps to develop your Smart Factory Vision:
- Determine the business model that you want to serve with the new Smart Factory vision.
- Take inventory of the software and machine systems that you have today.
- Create an information stream mapping (ISM) to determine which devices are able to communicate data in real-time, and those that are not capable. In addition, determine who in the company needs data and which data content they require. This step determines the actual data content that can be derived from each device; for the tracking of material flow, production efficiency, machine maintenance, machine availability, and job status.
- Evaluate your machine suppliers and software partners to visualize the data. If you are currently working with a preferred supplier, inquire as to which software systems are currently available to visualize machine production data and monitor the efficiency levels of each. If working with outside supply chain vendors, how can they contribute to the overall vision of your Smart Factory with integrated logistics and supplies?
Creating the Smart Factory Vision Plan
Based on your Smart Factory vision, what needs to change from your current processes, software, and machinery systems? While this may seem daunting, a step-by-step approach is best. Look for modularity for the greatest flexibility so the Smart Factory vision can be achieved at your pace. Choose equipment partner(s) that can provide modular systems for software, machines, and automation that will eventually fulfill your vision. If you have stand-alone lasers and brakes today that can communicate in real-time, can they be adapted to accept automated systems and software communication tools to fulfill your Smart Factory requirements?
Once you have the Smart Factory vision plan for your company, then it’s a function of determining what you have today, can I expand with what I have, or do I need to replace what I have? A modular approach is best and allows for the realization of the Smart Factory at the pace that suits your business. Working with an experienced machine supplier that has also developed specific Smart Factory automation and software solutions is also key to developing and executing the Smart Factory plan.
Benefiting from the Smart Factory
Increased efficiency, productivity, revenues, production transparency, and customer satisfaction are all by-products of the Smart Factory and contribute to higher profit potentials for your company and competitiveness in the marketplace. If you are still on the fence about it, there is no turning back the clock. Technology is progressing and so must your vision for the future. Don’t be a mere witness to the current technology revolution, be an active participant and reap the benefits of planning for the future of your company and staying ahead of your competitors.
By Frank Arteaga, Regional Director of Marketing, Bystronic Inc., Hoffman Estates, IL