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From the very beginning, the “smart factory vision” was born out of the need to compete and reach new levels of efficiency.
We all knew there had to be a better way to do things — and, of course, we were right. As soon as technology finally caught up, the smart factory was born.
Since then, this little idea has grown in a big way: The term “smart factory” now represents something far more promising than a simple improvement over traditional manufacturing. It’s actually a chance to create your own industrial revolution — one that respects the inherent messiness of plant operations and provides answers that are just common sense.
If you’re ready to breathe new life into your manufacturing process, you’ve come to the right place. Here are five things the right smart factory system provides to get vital tasks done, from improving operational efficiency to cutting upfront costs.
What a smart factory looks like
Before jumping into the framework of a smart factory, let’s take a look at what we’re actually building.
Generally speaking, a smart factory system is designed to use technology to bring the right information together to guide decision making and action. That may sound like utopia — but as seasoned manufacturers know, “perfect” isn’t often a word in the industry vocabulary. After all, working together to improve efficiency isn’t the same thing as working flawlessly.
For this reason, every digital factory is built on an arsenal of tech tools that can enable visibility, flexibility and quick communication even when things get bumpy. It’s not just about trying to eliminate disruptors to production — it’s about providing the data and solutions necessary to effectively address those disruptors when they occur.
Here’s what smart manufacturing technologies can look like:
Don’t worry — these robots aren’t here to steal jobs. Instead, artificial intelligence (AI) in the manufacturing industry exists in the form of machine learning (ML), which finds patterns in your data. This information can be used to identify inefficiencies, streamline inventory management or create predictive maintenance schedules, allowing you to save time and money by addressing issues proactively.
Is reality just not doing it for you? Digital manufacturing has your back. Wearable smart factory technology can superimpose relevant data right onto your workspace — known as augmented reality (AR), the younger sibling of virtual reality — which provides information necessary to get the job done. By reducing the risk of human error and empowering employees to interact with tasks in better, smarter ways, AR brings the future to your manufacturing ecosystem.
Sensors are, in many ways, your eyes and ears on the factory floor. By monitoring for potential disruptors via images, pressure, vibration and more, sensors provide information vital for many manufacturing tasks. When deployed pragmatically, they help solve specific problems and give you the insights necessary to apply those solutions across your factory.
5 Key Smart Factory Capabilities
So, now that you know what smart factory initiatives and technologies look like, how can you get there? How can you revolutionize your approach and start seeing real results?
A successful smart factory initiative requires a good foundation - a way to pull in the new data, visualize it, and use it to drive the right actions. What’s required is a Smart Factory System, and here’s what every smart factory system should have in order to lay the foundation for success:
The only thing better than transparency is real-time transparency. When implemented properly, a smart factory system should provide visibility into processes and issues across the plant floor and at all employee levels. This creates a structure in which stakeholders are notified, root causes are identified and appropriate resources are dispatched — all based on a combination of automation, user input and historical data.
The interesting thing about transparency is that it’s a chicken-and-egg situation. Having some level of visibility is necessary to pragmatically deploy smart factory technology in the first place, simply because you need to know what your problems are before you can address them. However, once your systems are up and running, they’ll provide even more clarity via sensors, real-time mobile access and other tech solutions.
The key takeaway: Don’t jump into smart factory deployment blind.
Smart factory systems can’t just tell you about problems. They also need to create a framework you can use to decide which problems demand immediate responses.
For this reason, one of the key capabilities for a smart factory system is prioritization enablement. That means the technology needs to provide information from a variety of sources, including historical, manually entered and sensor data. The result is a story — one that paints certain problems (for example, those having the most significant impact on operational efficiency or return on investment) as the main villains while others are just henchmen you can take out later.
But that’s not all your digital factory should be able to do. It also needs to help you differentiate between machine downtime and other inefficiencies — because, according to our research, almost 90% of manufacturing processes have little or nothing to do with machines, and all 90% of them can have issues resulting in downtime. When you’re armed with the tools to help differentiate, you can respond to the right problems with the right solutions.
Resolution is a good thing — but it must be managed properly. To do that, your smart factory system should enable you to create a resolution structure capable of escalating issues when necessary, reporting outcomes, recording the actions taken by each stakeholder and contributing to overall asset management.
With a structure like this, you can easily identify which responses were effective and which failed to resolve the original issue or created new problems. The effective solutions can then be turned into standard operating procedures, giving you the chance to make improvements across the organization.
Perhaps the most important capability of any smart factory technology is speed-to-value. In fact, success is often measured by two things: return on investment (ROI) and how quickly you can get there.
That’s why it’s important to take the right approach when implementing any smart factory solution to a problem. Your first step is to understand what problems you’re facing, what the root causes are and how best to approach them. Then and only then are you ready to deploy the tech tools necessary to stop inefficiency in its tracks. If you do things the other way around, you’ll end up taking a shotgun approach to something that should have been targeted by a sniper rifle — and the result will be less ROI.
No digital factory is complete without a little help from your people. In fact, the other four capabilities actually rely on this one: Your sensors, data capture tools, real-time mobile access, resolution structure and other elements should all be in service of enabling and empowering your employees to have clear direction and to act on it. With the right tech at their disposal, manufacturing workers can manage their tasks more effectively, handle issues with more confidence and ultimately reach their full potential.
How To Implement a Smart Factory System
It’s one thing to know the five key capabilities of a smart factory system. It’s another thing to put them in action.
The key is to have a plan from the very beginning — and that plan needs a platform. At L2L, we recognized that automation, data capture, production process improvements and other vital upgrades can’t very well happen without support. That’s why our platform is designed to put every change, data point and communication channel right at your fingertips. You’ll have the visibility you need to pragmatically implement smart factory technology — and to pivot when need to make sure you see the results you’re looking for.
The platform can also help you avoid some common smart factory pitfalls by empowering you with vital information. For example, when you’re able to see and measure ROI, you won’t feel tempted to maintain the status quo and defer investment, because the proof you need will be highlighted via up-to-the-minute data. You also won’t have to worry about that technology-led “shotgun approach,” because the platform will show you right where problems occur and which tech solutions to implement in response.
Our smart manufacturing platform doesn’t just support your factory, your digital transformation or your own industrial revolution. It supports you.
Brush Up On Your Smart Factory Implementation
You know what smart factories look like. You know the tech involved, a few benefits to expect, the five key capabilities your system will need and the platform you can use to make it happen.
Once you know the basics, it’s time to brush up on the nitty-gritty of implementation — and you’ve come to just the right place. Download our smart manufacturing eBook OR contact us to book a demo to see how you can make the smart factory vision into a reality.