Digital Factory 101

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Digital factory. It’s a phrase once unheard of in the manufacturing world. These days, it’s thrown out like candy at a parade, describing the high-tech, cutting-edge paradise that, despite being mentioned all the time, may seem just beyond your reach.

The truth, though, is that the digital factory vision is more than some new fad. Instead, it’s the foundation for the future of manufacturing — and by transforming your plant, making your processes more connected and reducing downtime in all its forms, this solution can unlock your path to future success.

Here’s a crash course in everything digital factory.

What is a Digital Factory?

To breathe digital life into your factory, you must first shrug off some of the “old ways.” You’ll know them when you see them — slow, inefficient and downright frustrating, these outdated solutions require some serious upgrades before they can actually meet the needs of a fast-moving industry.

That’s where a digital factory comes in.

Like its predecessors, the digital factory vision is built on the concept of eliminating waste — but this cutting-edge approach uses tools like artificial intelligence, production process automation and optimization and advanced analytics to make it happen. Better yet, it all comes down to one idea:

You don’t have to do it like you’ve always done it. 

Repeat that to yourself a few times. Get it tattooed on your arm, if you have to. It’s the basis for all digital factories — and it’s built on the concept that there are no absolute right or wrong answers.

In short, it’s manufacturing freedom.

Digital Factory lingo

To fully understand what a digital factory looks like and how you can make it your reality, you’ll need a working knowledge of these terms and phrases. Some of them may be familiar, while others may sound like something out of The Jetsons:

  • IoT- The Internet of Things, or IoT, is a system of interrelated computing devices as well as mechanical and digital machines.  They all have unique identifiers (UIDs) and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.

  • Industry 4.0 - The first three Industrial Revolutions occurred in 1765, 1870 and 1969. The fourth, after which Industry 4.0 is named, is happening right now — and you can be part of it. 

  • Modeling & Simulation - Most manufacturing folks know software is used to model and simulate various situations in our industry. This technology allows for virtual planning and trial runs to configure, assess and evaluate different scenarios before any concrete is poured. 

  • AI - Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is just what it sounds like: machines learning things. It’s sleek, smart and capable, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. 

  • Real Intelligence - That’s right — people are a vital part of digital manufacturing. At L2L, we like to say that AI is almost as great as Real Intelligence, and that’s what we bring to the table. Decades of real-world experience on the shop floor — turning wrenches, pulling levers, living and breathing manufacturing — led us to realize there’s no replacement for Real Intelligence found in the minds of your people

  • Big Data -This term refers to data that is fast, complex and undeniably huge in volume.  For more information on how to approach big data in a smart way, watch our webinar: The 5 Keys to Success - Smart Factory.

Each of these terms has a role to play in a digital factory. They’re all interconnected and accessible at the click of a mouse or tap of a touch screen. More importantly, their data is readily available, visible and transparent — not just because a digital transformation occurred to make it possible, but because people work together to make it happen.

Benefits of a Digital Factory

So, now that you know what a digital factory is and what it looks like, let’s take a look at the main event: why digitizing every last production process is worth it.

Here are just a few of the immediate benefits you can expect from digital manufacturing:

Flexibility

We no longer live in a “one size fits all” world. As consumer needs and wants change, the goods and services we deliver to our customers must be able to change as well — and with a digital factory, that flexibility is always within reach. You’ll have the data and insights you need to pivot whenever and however necessary, and to track the results of any changes you make.

Accessibility

Data’s no good if it’s trapped in outdated formats. Digital factories allow you to store all your data in the cloud, including:

  • Lists of tools and materials.
  • Documentation.
  • Specifications.
  • Compliance regulations.
  • Supplier information.
  • Drawings.

This data is both secure and unlimited — and, better yet, it’s completely digital. That means no more boxes of paper clutter. It also means you can search, edit, and share content to your heart’s desire, cutting down on wasted time and money.

Optimization

Digital factory solutions don’t just give you the freedom to shrug off the old methods — they allow you to experiment with technology and methodology until you find the combination that meets your needs, optimizes your manufacturing environment and makes your factory a dream come true.

One word of warning: If digital transformation seems like a huge deal, that’s because it is. The good news is that this kind of innovation is a pattern of human history that has been repeating itself for generations. In fact, as you remind yourself that becoming a digital factory won’t happen overnight (nor should it), you join everyone who was ever brave enough to switch from a typewriter to a computer, or from a bike to a first car.  

Of course, the world didn’t jump straight from smoke signals to smartphones. There are plenty of small steps to be taken in between — and the same is true for digital factories.

how to start making your factory smarter

From data and analytics to artificial intelligence and production process optimization, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Here are a few starting points for the beginning of your digital factory:

  • Any processes that include mundane manual tasks, including record-keeping.
  • Safety-sensitive tasks, like hazardous waste transport and disposal, that can be automated or modified.
  • Turning lights on and off when people enter a workspace or when no one is in a building.
  • Tracking shipments.
  • Clocking in and out.

No matter where you begin, you want your teams to embrace these incremental changes. Digital factories aren’t just about manufacturing — they’re also about manufacturers themselves.

Go digital with L2L

Manual systems had their time and place, but no longer. These are the days of Industry 4.0, and if you play your cards right, you can start your own revolution — a digital one.

The time, money, effort and energy saved by a digital factory feeds positively and directly to your bottom line. Sure, there’s plenty to know — like what IoT actually means or how to actually implement automation — but it’s a journey well worth taking.

If you’re ready to learn more about what digital tools could be at your disposal, download our Smart Factory eBook today.

 

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Kevin Bryan

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