Smart Factories and the future of manufacturing - Automation

Smart Factories and the future of manufacturing

Oct 26, 2018 | Industry 4.0 & sensors, News, Smart Factories & AI

As technology continues to advance across the world, manufacturers are adopting the smart factory concept. 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 …

What is a smart factory?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology have stated that a smart factory is: “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.” 

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 this is because Smart factories allow machinery to work more efficiently through automation and intense optimisation to get the job done.

The increase in smart factories will lead to mass productivity by 2022, allowing contributions between $500 billion and $1.5 trillion to be made around the world. 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?

A look into smart technology

Technology has officially taken over and is now a vital part to an efficient smart factory. Here is a selection of the most common and effective ways to increase efficiency.

The use of artificial intelligence: Artificial intelligence has made its way into our homes — take Alexa for example. But did you know that these artificial intelligence (AI) assistants are also prevalent in smart factories? AI gathers objective data, eliminating the need for human estimations and helping workers forecast demands and assign resources with precision. 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% —equalling approximately $421 billion — worldwide, according to PWC. 

The use of 3D printing: 3D printing is a new craze taking businesses by storm — soon every factory will have one to help steer efficient production. 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. Manufacturing companies have a world of opportunity to make the most of with the advances in 3D printing and additive manufacturing, as the process enables manufacturers to mass produce customised orders with incredible efficiency and accuracy.

The use of sensor technology: If you want to run a successful manufacturing factory, you must collect reputable data and you can use intelligent motors and robotics to do so. 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: Companies around the world are already adopting the use of robots in their smart factories. Did you know, that Amazon already have 80,000 robots in their workforce? Robots have the ability to carry out human tasks at a faster rate and with greater efficiency, which is why they are becoming incredibly popular in manufacturing across the globe. 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.

A partnership between merging of operating technology and information technology

Helping businesses monitor manufacturing processes is 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.

Manufacturing tendencies of the future

Soon, many more businesses will be manipulating this technology to create everything, from spare machine parts to save money, to various moulds to mass produce heavy equipment quickly.

Robots will gain more authority. 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. 

Technology is constantly improving at a rapid rate — meaning that businesses must always be prepared for future investments. So, what lies ahead for the smart factory?

Cobot will become a greater focus too! The cobot or collaborative robot, has been produced to provide support rather than carry out separate tasks 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% within a year to reach a worth of $2 billion!

This article was researched and created by Fulton Umbrellas, a leading provider and manufacturer of birdcage umbrellas.

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