The Future Vision of Smart Factory
The Smart Factory is the concept of the future for many companies in production. It has become the buzzword of the so-called fourth industrial revolution. Many companies now have to adapt to this vision of the future, even if they are still struggling with the vision of Industry 4.0 and its implementation.
The prerequisites, namely the necessary technologies for the implementation of the intelligent factory of tomorrow, have been met. The next step is to transfer these technologies to industry.
The Smart Factory is therefore the long-term goal toward which all Work 4.0 developments are working today and in the future. It affects many production sectors such as mechanical engineering, the chemical industry, the automotive industry, electrical engineering and agriculture. A major, revolutionary process that will change the vast majority of companies is already in full swing.
But what does a smart factory actually mean? The digital factory is the evolution of our modern factories into intelligent environments where the gap between the real world and the digital world is getting smaller and smaller. Digitization here means that all systems, products and processes are networked in the Smart Factory. One day it should be able to organize itself without human help.
The intelligent factory that organizes itself
The term smart factory comes from research in the field of manufacturing technology and means intelligent factory. The definition of the term can be summarized as follows: It is a production environment that organizes itself. This production environment includes, among other things, manufacturing plants and logistics systems. Humans no longer have to intervene in the actual production process.
These processes are made possible by cyber-physical systems and the intelligent networking of machines and products. In concrete production, this could work as follows: the product itself communicates the information needed for production to the smart factory. With this information, the smart factory controls the individual production steps until the desired end result is available. The communication between the product and the system or between products and systems works wirelessly via the so-called Internet of Things (IoT).
The smart factory can also be described as a stage of manufacturing based on the advanced application of information and communication technology. It is an intelligent and automatic production of Industry 4.0.
But is there room for people in big data? It is no longer needed for the actual production process, but for the control and optimization of the processes. He also coordinates interfaces to external systems and other smart factories. His main tool will be virtual reality technology. With it, he can have a virtual effect on the systems without direct physical contact.
The advantages for companies when producing with a smart factory include:
- lean and optimized processes
- shorter production times
- Production of individual products at prices of mass products
- increase of productivity
- lower storage costs
- transparent supply chain
- automated, efficient ordering processes
- lower labor costs in production
- greater flexibility in production
- shorter time to market for new products
- quick adaptation to new or changed product requirements
- increased delivery reliability
- agile reaction of the production process to fluctuations in market demand
For an initial overview, the most important features and requirements that are necessary for a Smart Factory can be divided as follows: Networking, individualized production and cyber-physical systems as interfaces between hardware and virtual reality intelligence.
In the intelligent factory, networking is the be-all and end-all and a basic requirement for the self-controlled manufacturing process. The smart factory communicates with other smart factories via the external network, and the internal network takes care of all internal production components.
One of the advantages of this manufacturing technique is the individualized production. This means that individual products and small series can also be produced as cost-effectively as is otherwise only possible with mass production.
For the data exchange between the hardware and the intelligence of the smart factory, the systems must be equipped with sensor, processor and radio technology. In such a smart factory, huge amounts of data are generated that can only be handled with technologies from the Big Data area. These technologies must be implemented.
Smart factory is on the way
Increasing digitization is gradually leading companies towards the Smart Factory and thus into Industry 4.0. In the area of manufacturing technology in particular, however, it can be anticipated that industrial companies are only slowly opening up to digitization and are rather reluctant to approach change processes and adaptation projects. The results of various studies show a high need for optimization.
But why is the manufacturing industry in particular so hesitant about the next level of industrialization? As already mentioned, the manufacturing industry lags behind other industries when it comes to measuring the maturity levels of digitization. The studies come to the conclusion that sectors with large plant parks in particular have a great deal of digital catching up to do.
The reasons are varied: So far, these companies have preferred improvements in the form of small solutions, while the smart factory would involve a complete changeover in all areas of production. Companies are afraid of expensive production downtime because digitization would mean an almost unmanageable intervention in their ongoing and complex production systems.
If there are digitization projects in the manufacturing industry, then completely new smart factories are created, while "old factories" are only changed in small steps. So far, only eight percent of the companies analyzed stated that they have advanced networking. After all, almost half of the companies (48 percent) currently have hardly any networking of company processes and with external partners, which is a basic requirement of Big Data.
What companies need for implementation
The introduction of a smart factory means a step-by-step approach in which already digitized processes are adopted and new components are integrated. It is an interplay of different basic technologies and new processes that have to be implemented.
From an IT point of view, for example, modular and scalable IT architectures are the prerequisite for the introduction of future Industry 4.0 standards. Furthermore, flexible IT construction is of crucial importance in order to enable the implementation of high-performance infrastructure solutions.
In addition to economic efficiency, the affected employees should also be included, thereby strengthening their acceptance of new work processes. Possible risks during implementation can be minimized, for example, by real-time simulations.
Digitization ensures cross-company networking of all resources involved in value creation. Manufacturing and production must be completely rethought, both by the manufacturers and by the partners in the supply chain.
New tasks for management
The transformation of a traditional company into a smart factory is a process that can take between seven and 15 years. The tasks and requirements of this transformation are so diverse and extensive that the topic can only be touched upon in the following.
There is no one way to the smart factory. Every company has to find and draw up its own roadmap for this path, because management's tasks must be based on what this transformation means: a change in the entire corporate culture.
The design and implementation of a smart factory must therefore be geared towards the entire system: from the technology to the people to the organization. The following three areas seem to be in the foreground:
- Fundamental changes in and between engineering and IT
- Security and Safety in the Smart Factory
- Organization, culture and workforce
As already mentioned, the companies must have enough stamina for the design and implementation, since this process cannot be mastered overnight. Top management must have IT skills and process understanding for a digitization strategy is essential. Converting your own company into a smart factory also requires large-scale project management, as you have to work with a large number of technology partners and service providers from the IT sector.
The following are ten concrete measures that bring structure to the planning:
- Setup of simulation platforms to design the smart factory
- Development or procurement of a toolbox for software and IT architecture
- Taking into account the human factor and its requirements for the design of software to optimize the smart factory and for the users
- Ensure availability of industry-specific production and energy control systems
- Develop or provide consistent, efficient industry-specific data processing methods
- Development of a reliable data collection system for the entire manufacturing company (sensor data, data navigation, data analysis, user interfaces)
- Optimization of the supply chain based on binding data and evaluations
- Development of an open platform (software and hardware) to seamlessly integrate small and medium-sized suppliers as well as large manufacturers
- Integration of product and production models as well as education and training in the processes of the Smart Factory
- Expand education and training for the workforce to shape the workforce needed for the smart factory
Additive manufacturing is a part of smart factory
The additive manufacturing describes the process of constantly adding material, layer by layer, to a computer model until the entire printing process is finished. It presents a potential to radically alter the entire life cycle, altering the boundaries of physical and economic production and resolving issues that make traditional manufacturing impractical or challenging for some occupations. It challenges current business structures and ideas about supply chains while fusing the digital and physical realms—all qualities that the factory of the future is striving for. Even the most complicated designs may, in theory, be submitted digitally for manufacturing as needed. Rapid prototyping, high-precision part manufacture, radical design innovation, cheaper tooling, shorter time to market, and lower production costs and emissions are all possible benefits of additive manufacturing, particularly for custom/low-volume/high-complexity components. In the future, the additive manufacturing, whether it is metal 3D printing or industrial-grade composite printing, will usher in the era of intelligence. Through the combination with LoT, the production process of the factory will be more intelligent to hugely accelorate the productivity.
The first prototypes of the Smart Factory
The number of smart factories implemented so far is manageable. For illustration and inspiration, here are some of the examples:
Gildemeister Drehmaschinen GmbH based in Bielefeld has specialized in virtual machine tools. With the help of digital simulation, production processes can be tested and work preparation simplified. The company is working on the development of a service platform that will digitize work preparation with virtual machine tools.
The Globalfoundries chip factory in Dresden lets its silicon discs (wafers), on which the chips are manufactured, travel through the clean rooms on a high-tech railway. These transport trolleys are loaded and unloaded by robots and the wafers inform the machines which production steps the respective wafer requires next.
Siemens has an electronics plant in Amberg where production is largely automated. After all, machines and computers complete 75 percent of the value chain independently. Workers are only needed for a quarter of the work: They insert the starting component, an unpopulated printed circuit board, into the production line at the start of production - the rest is done by the machines.
The SEW Industrie 4.0 showcase at the Graben-Neudorf plant is already showing employees today what their working lives could look like in the future. The employees in production and assembly receive support from mobile assembly assistants who are connected via WLAN. The fitters are guided through all work steps in the assembly cell on self-propelled workbenches.
Even though the transition from a conventional factory to an smart factory is a tough and prolonged process, in the digital era, this transition is gradually taking place. It is predictable that in the near future, numerous smart devices and big data will be integrated into our working environment and the manufacturing process. However, human being is still the major engineer for driving the trend.