Factories across the manufacturing sector are becoming smarter – with new technologies being introduced constantly.
That’s the claim of many tech and industry experts who believe that optimising the manufacturing process to create an integrated and collaborative process will bring about the world’s next industrial revolution.
But, what are smart factories and how do they affect how we work?
Here, we look at the definition of a smart factory, which technologies are associated with it and what trends to look out for that will push the barriers of smart manufacturing even further.
Definition of smart factories
“Fully-integrated, collaborative manufacturing systems that respond in real time to meet changing demands and conditions in the factory, in the supply network, and in customer needs” is the definition provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
There’s nothing that smart machines can’t do, and they’re becoming a necessity throughout the manufacturing process – allowing more room for automation and greater operation optimisation.
As well as this, such technology can even look at the planning and logistics side.
What businesses wish to achieve from operating a smart factory is an entirely connected manufacturing supply chain that enables real-time control, measurement and communication at all stages — which reportedly delivers a more efficient and manageable process that should boost productivity and profits.
Predictions from business consulting firm, Capgemini, suggest that smart factories will increase productivity by 2022 – creating potential contributions between $500 billion and $1.5 trillion globally.
With such attractive statistics, it’s no surprise that over three-quarters of manufacturers either already have a smart factory initiative or are planning one. But what technologies are involved in running an effective smart factory?
An insight to smart technology
Factories around the world are implementing various types of technology to their operations. Here is a selection of the most common and effective.
The use of sensors
Data is becoming more important for businesses around the world – so much so, manufacturers are taking a greater focus on intelligent on robotics which is allowing them to monitor production more closely.
For example, this could include a sensor that signals when a particular part of a machine needs looking at from a safety perspective.
The use of robots
Robots were once a dream for many businesses, but today, brands have adopted their use and aren’t looking back – only forward to see what future developments hold.
Take Amazon, for example, the giant already has 80,000 robots in action allowing for a more automated process.
Now, robots can carry out human tasks at the same standard more efficiently. Often, they are designed to abide by high accuracy levels, which makes them more likely to create better-quality products, and can work in certain manufacturing environments that may be deemed too dangerous for humans – ideal for high-risk working environments.
The use of artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence is growing in popularity with the likes of Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa making their way into our homes. But did you know that these artificial-intelligence assistants are also prevalent in smart factories?
Because of AI, the need for human estimations has gone out of the window. Now, technology can forecast results using reliable resources. This has the potential to lead to a reduction in errors and costs.
Reportedly, smart manufacturing is anticipated to cause an average cost decrease of 3.6 percent – equalling approximately $421 billion – worldwide, according to PwC.
The use of 3D printing
3D printers are notoriously becoming more popular by the day, but they’re being used for much more than just prototypes.
As a result, the advances in 3D have attracted a new name for the process – “additive manufacturing” – which it received due to the procedure of adding layer upon layer of material to create a tangible final product.
As a result, more manufacturers are introducing 3D printing to their operations as they now have the ability to mass produce products and customise orders when doing so – heightening accuracy across the board.
The relationship between operating technology and information technology
To help businesses monitor physical manufacturing processes, manufacturers use operating technology (OT). When combined with information technology (IT), companies gain a greater insight into their manufacturing process’ performance – highlighting any causes for concern and positives.
By using OT and IT in this way, which is commonplace in smart factories, business owners have the potential to reduce production time, incorporate more efficient practices, reduce downtime, and respond to machinery-related problems faster – another way smart manufacturing can help boost productivity and efficiency day by day.
Developments are continuously arriving, and businesses aren’t afraid of adopting new operational methods that enhance manufacturing efficiency. So, what lies ahead for the smart factory?
Processes will become quicker, so you won’t have to wait too long for your product to be made. Soon, many more businesses will be using this technology to create everything, from spare machine parts to save money, to various moulds to mass produce heavy equipment quickly.
Helping those on the production floor, robotics will be able to move around effectively to ensure operations are streamlined.
What’s more, augmented reality (AR) is likely to become more dominant in manufacturing as a tool to ensure quality and help support those working on complex assembly lines.
In fact, Mitsubishi is working on maintenance-support technology using AR that lets the human user confirm an inspection of a product or plant and enter an inspection result by voice.
The cobot or collaborative robot, has become a hit in 2018 and can provide support rather than carry out separate task individually (unlike robots).
Essentially, they are designed to interact with people and co-habit the same workplace to help the human complete their task – for example, holding something in place or passing a tool.
In fact, the cobot is such a popular component of the smart factory, the president of Universal Robots anticipates that the cobot market will increase up to 75 percent within a year to reach a worth of $2 billion.
This article was researched and created by Fulton Umbrellas – a leading UK provider and manufacturer of birdcage umbrellas.