Industry 4.0 or Smart Manufacturing – ‘Automation’ and ‘acceleration’ are the biggest watchwords for the manufacturing industry, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic surges again. This crisis has proven to leaders the importance of agility and crucial lessons of putting their workers first. It has also perpetuated a rapid change for brick-and-mortar Manufacturing businesses to respond with digitisation efforts with concerns over the wellness of workers and worrying supply chain uncertainties. These businesses are particularly pushed to fast-track the deployment of smart machines powered by advanced technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics to reduce the reliance on real-life humans, pivot supply chains to become more sustainable, and eliminate unnecessary losses from compromised speed and productivity.
According to the World Economic Forum Global Lighthouse Network, which actively powers smart and advanced factories across different industries around the globe, some of these ‘smart manufactories’ have been totally unaffected by the adversities of the pandemic due to the resilience they have built through the use of technology.
The concept of a “lights out” manufactory and complete automation is no longer a pipe dream in this current era of hyper-connectivity. Born out of the 4th evolutionary phase of the Industrial Revolution, Industry 4.0 is an interconnected advanced manufacturing ecosystem supporting the move into automation. It leverages consumer data and digital technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and data analytics to match the rising Gen-Z customer expectations.
In this article, we aim to share some of the technologies that can contribute to a Smart Factory and reveal the potential benefits when they integrate and work together in context to the manufacturing industry.
What is a Smart Factory?
Since the latter half of the 20th century, as per the Digital Revolution (a.k.a 3rd Industrial Revolution) us humans are already exposed to many ‘smart’ products and services that empower and enhance numerous aspects of our daily life through ‘connectivity’ today. Likewise, communication between systems and equipment forms the core element of a Smart Factory.
Each and every component of the factory across the connection network is AI-enabled and intelligent by programmed logic to self-optimise functioning and production processes. All production lines and workflows are thus ‘smart’, fully connected and well-integrated to an autonomous network through the use of computing tools, products and plant technologies. In this way, it is possible to collect, process and forward the data, giving rise to the potential of automation, the leap forward from traditional productions and operations. These digital innovations and technologies of this industrial revolution are set to equalise and drive enterprises, organisations and industries to respond and transform to a more prominent scale.
According to the Boston Consulting Group that developed a partnership with the Singapore Economic Development Board, smart factories have enormous capabilities to improve labour productivity by up to 30% and create approximately 22,000 jobs by 2024. The study conducted prior to this collaboration revealed that advanced manufacturing could add up to S$36 billion (US$26.9 billion) to the total manufacturing revenue for companies in Singapore.
The 3 Key elements of a ‘Smart Factory’.
1. Computer Vision
Computer vision is a field that allows computers to recognize and comprehend visual images and videos. With this technology, manufacturing site managers are able to attain real-time visibility to their manufacturing production line, track progress remotely and have a clear overview from the comfort of their seats. This visibility not only allows them to take immediate action when errors are made to minimise delays and additional rectification costs but also enables better workflow planning by identifying idle resources and workers in the factory.
Likewise, this computer-based system also generates an automated safety report with accidents at the production line. It also proffers real-time actionable notifications by ‘smartly monitoring’ for safety breaches (i.e., safe distancing and PPE protocols) and identifying safety lapses better before accidents happen.
Overall this technology ensures a safe working environment while automating mundane laborious manual site inspection. This also ultimately reduces the reliance on workers and unnecessary wastages of resources.
2. Predictive Data Analytics
Predictive Analytics enables predictive maintenance. Manufacturers can leverage this AI-powered maintenance strategy to reduce unplanned downtime in the manufacturing lines. Predictive maintenance is essentially a ‘crystal ball’ for a machinery’s health, allowing manufacturers to anticipate impending breakdowns in advance.
Predictive analytics enables manufacturers to automatically schedule maintenance based on prognostics of real-time data combined with an extensive database, thus reducing any unnecessary or inefficient maintenance work that does not help the machine. With proper maintenance of machinery by fixing the right thing at the right time, unplanned downtime and bottlenecks in the production line can be eliminated, allowing better production efficiency and increased runtime. Another useful takeaway from this strategy is the full understanding of the machinery’s Remaining Useful Life (RUL) that enables manufacturers to create better strategic plans around the machinery, be it planning amortization or purchase of new machinery replacements.
3. Demand Forecasting
With the explosion of data on every machine and device, there is no restraint when it comes to these historical sales data facilitating quantitative data-driven forecasts or predictions to drive supply chain demand planning. However, the pandemic has rendered the traditional quantitative market trend forecasting techniques ineffective. Manufacturers are undoubtedly looking for autonomous planning, and forecasting processes powered by AI to meet customer demands by leveraging data. They are also in dire need of some advanced transformation that incorporates rapid forecasting and collaborative decision making across the entire supply chain function and across the geographic markets.
Smart manufacturers on the flip side can also smartly manage production schedules and optimise supply chain resilience efficiently with the help of ML algorithms, which can forecast customers’ demands based on historical data and order history. This customer-focused strategic integration also allows manufacturers to manage resources more efficiently, for example, optimising raw materials storage, allocating labour at the production lines, and incur long-term cost savings as a result.
4. Industrial robotics and Automated Production lines
The current pandemic and manpower crunch that is shadowing this traditional industry is forcing manufacturers to steadily deploy technological solutions. Manufacturers are not immediately looking to overthrow humans and hire WALL-E and terminators to accomplish tasks in the production line. They are essentially seeking to supercharge their business and the process of meeting customers ever-growing demands and achieve customer satisfaction efficiently with AI and ML technologies.
Automation takes many forms, they range from speedy and precise quality checks to 3D printing to eliminate human errors and even introducing AI-enabled machines that are fine-tuned to perform tasks in the assembly line to robotics taking over repetitive and routine tasks. The tasks to be automated are specific to each business, but it’s definitely the start of the new era and soaring to reach achieve new levels of productivity and efficiency.
Summarizing the Potential Benefits of Smart Factories
Smart factories have enormous potential that can be seized easily. The benefits fundamentally arise as a collective interplay of the above-mentioned key technologies.
- Increase safety and security on the production line
- Ability to track progress and demands in the real-time automated production line -execute automation
- Minimized downtime with predictive maintenance scheduled to only repair, retool and reset necessary equipment.
- AI-driven predictions based on current and historical data for best managerial decisions at low operational pressure.
- Strives towards automated production lines to tackle the shortage of labour with skills required in the future.
- Energy savings and reduced costs
We are all well aware of how digital transformation has already proven to spur new levels of productivity and efficiency for the other industries. And while every other phase of the Industrial Revolution has had its curve of mass adoption that brought tremendous productivity improvements only until the next ‘big thing’, this one is not the same. Industry 4.0 and “smart” factories are here to allow the outdated traditional industries to regain competitiveness, cement its agility and push them to the new age.
The above-mentioned benefits of safety, efficiency and productivity are competitive advantages that are products of merely connecting the physical world to the digital network. They are all connected together part of a system that works together. Not to mention, the inspiration of the lighthouse manufactories’ success of surviving the pandemic crisis aspect of this Industrial Revolution in itself should have been enticing to manufacturing leaders as this is essentially ‘the’ golden opportunity for organisations that wish to easily hold a competitive advantage over their fellow competitors.
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Smart factories are a dynamic move forward for manufacturers. It opens up a plethora of opportunities for companies to improve productivity, gain greater insights and make better decisions in this digital age.
Digital transformation and adoption of the smart factory sure sound daunting and insurmountable. Still, here at groundup.ai, we are confident to help traditional Manufacturing leaders visualise how they can ride this digital wave simultaneously and reap huge benefits. We can help integrate all of the above mentioned ‘smart’ technologies specific to your manufactory and boost your competitive advantage. Our synergistic smart factory AI solutions allow for end-to-end tracking and optimization of processes in real-time of all functions in and around the production lines on a simple dashboard. We also aim to equip you with all the valuable information as a bird’s eye view in a single platform about your manufacturing site.
Contact us to find out more about this cutting-edge all-in-one AI solution and become a smart manufacturer of tomorrow.