Every day more and more industries are joining the industrial revolution, also known as Industry 4.0. Digital transformation has allowed physical elements to merge with digital ones, improving productivity. This results in the Smart Factory concept.
What is a Smart Factory and what technology does it use?
A Smart Factory, as the name suggests, is a smart industry. That is, disruptive technologies have been incorporated into their production processes resulting in a more flexible and modular production due to these automation technologies.
A Smart Factory allows the minimisation of production process times, as well as its costs, as it is able to adapt and optimize the processes in addition to storing and analysing a large amount of data in real time. This results in a more flexible, efficient and autonomous production by making people focus more on improving processes and not so much on repetitive tasks, providing great value.
For a “traditional” industry to become a Smart Factory, it mostly requires the involvement and motivation of the company management, as well as professionally knowledgeable work teams that can lead the transformation. However, all these statement of intent and teams of professionals must count with the technologies and tools that will help and allow them to control, analyse and improve production and plant times:
- Cloud monitoring, better known as the cloud, where you can store all the information and the large volume of data that is generated both in the plant (robots, sensors…) and in the specific tools (MES, ERP…).
- “Internet of Things” or IOT. Connectivity between machines allows you to coordinate systems, capture data, have remote control of production, as well as exchange information between systems and products.
- Big Data. All information generated through connections between machines or plants and tools must be collected and analysed in real time with two objectives: the first is to identify patterns; and, the second, prevent future events. Only Big data will allow you to work with a large volume of data in optimal times.
- Cybersecurity is an essential technology in a Smart Factory since privacy and data protection is the most key aspect for industries.
- Robots facilitate those tasks that require a high level of accuracy or all those that are repetitive. Each activity to be developed will require a cognitive robot or an autonomous robot, or even both.
- Digital Twins to increase efficiency, control and operations planning.
- Virtual and Augmented Reality help operators with product organisation, production tasks and equipment maintenance and repair. But we must not confuse both terms; when we speak about augmented reality, we refer to the technology that allows us to overlay, in real time, digital information to information that is perceived through our eyes requiring only a smartphone. While virtual reality requires special glasses to transport ourselves to the virtual world.
How to turn your production plan into a Smart Factory?
Traditional industries face a number of challenges and their digitalisation can be defined in 4 steps:
- Companies should see digitalisation as an opportunity instead of as a threat, as it allows them to improve efficiency and reduce both production time and costs.
- Once the needs are identified, the objectives and strategic plan must be defined in order to address change. These can include: optimising internal processes, increasing sales, reducing costs…
- Define the internal team that will lead the project. This team should consist of specialists with deep knowledge regarding the business and all its processes.
- It is important to recycle and actively involve the entire workforce, i.e. companies must set up a plan to either train their employees or hire new staff. The transformation is absolute and involves all workers and internal processes.
What competitive advantages does it have for a business to justify the investment?
Digitalising an industry brings with it numerous benefits that affect the planning, quality and development of products and logistics in the supply chain. Here are the most important competitive advantages:
- Speed and flexibility in the face of the unforeseen.
- Real-time digital and physical connection through sensors and Iot devices.
- Resource optimisation.
- Reliability of stored data.
- Two-way data flow between elements.
In the long run we have other advantages, such as the benefits that Machine Learning provides. We require time to collect and store enough data to plot a forecast in demand, perform preventive and predictive maintenance or generate digital twins, these are only some of the actions that Machine Learning can do for us.
Cybersecurity in a Smart Factory
The explosion of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence has made data security much more relevant. The interconnection of smart devices generates a large amount of data that is susceptible to industrial espionage, theft and attacks. So one of the essential requirements to have a Smart Factory is to contemplate cybersecurity.
The moment we decide to digitalise the industry, cybersecurity should be considered for both components and processes as a key element for business continuity. For this reason, we always implement strategies to protect integrity and confidentiality.
Nexus Integra is an integrated operational platform that turns a traditional factory into a smart industry with all mandatory security measures and with the objective of protecting customers’ data.