The Fourth Industrial Revolution has transformed the way conventional manufacturing systems operate. As we transition into the future of industry 4.0, the combination of Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), big data and analytics make the concept of smart factories a reality.
For me, this is really exciting especially with the clear return of investment and the reduction in costs eventually (if they get it right). However, I feel that because of the big-ticket items above such as automation, manufacturers could get carried away and end with a more complicated factory than today in a short period of time. Nevertheless, I remain a firm supporter of smart factories (and you will see why below) as long as this is introduced in an incremental and iterative way, so organisations can learn what is right for them.
From factories to smart factories
By nature, factories are large, complex systems with many components of production in multiple locations. Static to change, conventional manufacturing practices struggle to satisfy the ever-evolving expectations of customers and the need to operate in a sustainable manner. Manufacturers need to be proactive and flexible, whilst also keeping their costs low and optimising their resources. Obtaining real-time data is one of the key aspects to leveraging change and customer needs.
With the rapid movement of Industry 4.0, the uncertainty of future challenges and the need to stay competitive, organisations are becoming increasingly eager to implement smart factories in their operations. These smart factories, can integrate an entire manufacturing supply chain, including its components located across the globe. It is the design of these factories that makes it plausible for the interconnectivity of manufacturing systems, enabling the analysis and communication of real time information.
Smart factories unwrapped
The new report from the Capgemini Research Institute, “Smart factories @ scale”, has found that some organisations have already made one-third of their factories smart, with plans to transform 40% more over the next five years. According to the report, we are also seeing manufacturers committed to invest significant amounts towards smart factories. The estimated worth of the smart factory market for technologies such as MES, ERP, PLM and others is approximately $154 billion.
However, what makes smart factories so powerful?
- Intelligent automation: The integration of advanced robotics, distributed control and machine vision, reduce the level of human interaction during production and as a result, decrease the amount of errors and unnecessary energy consumption in producing the wrong product mix to supply the market JIT. This not only lowers costs, but it also increases reliability and manufacturing efficiency and effectiveness.
- Big data management and analytics: The implementation of AI and predictive analytics, enables for the automation of routine tasks allowing humans to focus on handling higher-level decisions. Its predictive analysis can provide manufacturers with the information of future risks, including where, when and how to prevent these.
- Connectivity: Using industrial IoT, smart factories can gather a wide range of data from existing equipment and new sensors across the world. This provides raw, real-time data that can be used by manufacturers to mitigate risk and satisfy the expectations of its customers. These sensors are interconnected to machines, providing transparent visibility of their condition as well as the current processes occurring in the factory. They can provide organisations with insight to further explore unexplored territories and markets.
A step into the future
We are seeing the appetite for smart factories in the automotive, pharmaceutical and consumer products sector. What these sectors have in common is their need to produce high quantities of outputs that are precise, risk free and low in costs. Smart factories allow for these sectors to employ smart logistics, flexible coordination of departments and the use of technology to enable quality assurance, reducing the level of resources in problem solving.
Nonetheless, the number of manufacturers taking the first step towards digital manufacturing continues to be astonishing low compared to the great opportunities it offers. Smart factories are still in their early stages, and there are still many challenges that need to be resolved before they can achieve their maturity.
Integrating these technologies in conventional manufacturing processes can be challenging if the environment where it operates does not have the right resources to enable this technology. In global organisations, the IT model used is sometimes too centralised blocking agility in processes improvement enabled by technology- however, Hybrid Hub models can help overcome this issue. Most organisations need to upskill their employees, to ensure they have the appropriate integration of hybrid, soft and digital skills.
In addition, the new Capgemini Research Institute’s report, states that the use of cloud-scale data can have serious consequences without the adequate measures in cybersecurity. According to our research, less than 50% of organisations have the adequate data available and cybersecurity measures in place, where one in five manufacturers have experienced a cyberattack in the last year.
Despite these challenges, smart factories are becoming a reality and only those willing to risk will enjoy of the opportunities it offers. New technological developments like 5G are promising better connectivity, higher speed and the capacity to carry larger amounts of data, enabling a more connected world.
If we begin this journey with small, workable technologies, then we can reduce risk- we may still fail, but we will fail fast and learn quicker.
Associate Consultant, presents Industry 4.0- Discovering the power of smart factories
Micaela joined Capgemini Invent in February 2019 and is aligned within the Process Optimisation capability of the Operations Transformation practice. Having graduated from the University of Glasgow with a degree in Business and Management, she is now supporting the management of a significant technological change for a large utilities client.