The Smart Factory: Fusing Digital Transformation in Manufacturing

Aug 9, 2019

GianChrister Tome
International Marketing
PCCW Solutions

Understanding the Concept of Smart Factory

With the advent of disruptive digital transformation technologies, manufacturing industry is no stranger to modernisation and adaption; especially now that it is entering the next phase of digitalisation, we call Industry 4.0. According to statistics, the projected global smart manufacturing size is expected to grow to $480 billion with sales of collaborative robots projected to reach $12.8 billion by 20251. Robotic machinery has long been the main technology highlight of large-scale production lines of large enterprises powering and working the overall operation of factories. At the core of Industry 4.0, is the smart factory, which serves as the heart that enables Industry 4.0.

A smart factory is an intelligent facility, powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI), where machinery and equipment are able to improve processes through automation and self-optimisation. The benefits also extend beyond just the physical production of goods and into functions like planning, supply chain logistics, and even product development. The structure of a smart factory can include a combination of production, information, and communication technologies, with the potential for integration across the entire manufacturing supply chain2.

This means that machines will operate independently, and/or cooperate with humans, and are able to collect, analyze and act upon relevant data. This in return creates a holistic smart factory that is fully responsive, adaptive, and connected. It is predicted that smart factories are anticipated to cause an average cost decrease of 3.6%, amounting to an approximate $421 billion worldwide3.

Key Elements of a Holistic Smart Factory

AI plays a crucial role in providing flexibility, mass customisation, better quality, and improved productivity within the four walls of a smart factory. The connected technologies enable a smart factory to function and decide independently, to achieve asset efficiency and sustainability.

There are certain traits that enable a connected factory to be unique on its own:

Always Connected

The smart factory being connected means real-time data gathering and collaboration across customers, suppliers and departments. Datasets are continuously pulled through both premise and location-based smart sensors with full data accuracy4. These sensors generate accurate and up-to-date information while integrating it with internal stakeholders and business operation systems driving the overall process in a seamless way for better supply chain visibility.

Fully Optimised

Through AI implementation, optimised smart factory entails minimal to no human intervention within the production and overall materials handling, whilst maintaining a sophisticated level of high reliability. With all systems and workflows automated and optimised , it effectively leads to increase uptime, yield, quality and overall waste reduction. Optimisation of manufacturing data comes through analytics, simulation, predictive and preventative maintenance, which ultimately reduces costs and improves quality5.

Highly Preemptive

A preemptive smart factory easily provides better prediction of potential issues within the overall production process based on historical and real-time production records due to transparency of data. AI-powered metrics, platforms, and tools provide real forecast to effectively predict anomalies, its root cause, and provide smart resolution6. This empowers the company and employees to act before crisis happen, mitigating further challenges and issues that may arise for continuous operations.

Easily Adaptive

An adaptive smart factory is highly flexible in dealing with the changes in the production process and makes intelligent decisions independently based on certain situations with minimal human intervention. This also includes autonomous control on the overall factory configuration. With intelligent AI in place, it provides a holistic insight and risk-assessment into any proposed changes to a product or assembly schedule before they are made, reducing downtime and increasing manufacturing agility7.

These features empower the manufacturers to have better visibility on their systems and critical assets, allowing them to handle challenges and issues efficiently faced by traditional factory structures. This ultimately leads to greater productivity and improved responsiveness to internal and external factors.

Smart Factory is the Future of Manufacturing

The smart factory of the future is an ecosystem of efficiency where in downtimes and defects are issues of old productions. Technology and people work seamlessly together to address consumer demands for unique and customised products through flexible manufacturing practises. Smart factories are the next best step for companies to adapt in order to accelerate growth and innovation to stay ahead of the competition and market demands. With disruptive technologies constantly evolving, smart factories are here to stay and it is the future of manufacturing. These factories are going beyond automation and are set to change the overall manufacturing landscape.