Smart factory technology allows factory sensors to communicate with each other, with employee mobile devices, and with management’s software platform. This enables employees to monitor equipment 24/7 and receive immediate alerts whenever there is a problem. The technology also enables the equipment itself to automatically adjust operations in order to keep the factory running smoothly.
In addition to immediate alerts to problems and constant monitoring of equipment and the product being manufactured, smart factory systems improve the safety of employees with predictive maintenance and remote diagnostics.
The technology also improves the factory’s energy-usage by monitoring and adjusting temperature and light.
A good smart factory system uses factory infrastructure data—including equipment—and employee data. It also uses (and generates) data on the condition of the product it monitors or builds.
The newest research or regulations on the production of the goods made by the factory is absolutely crucial to the successful implementation of the smart factory system.
And, of course, the system needs historical and current sales and orders of the product.
Other useful data for a smart factory includes industry news, market trends, and current supply chain data (when not part of the company’s manufacturing operations already). Each of these sources of information impact the company in both the short and the long term.
In addition to the costs of implementing smart factory technology, scaling the system up to work with an enterprise of several factories is very difficult, even when the company is successful enough that it needs to scale up. On a related point, interoperability presents many challenges. Not all factory equipment comes from the same source and much of it has already been in use for many years. Enabling old equipment to talk to newer robots and tablets, all from different companies, can frustrate many business people.
Management may also want to use data generated by a smart factory platform in an HR or employee management platform. This can be difficult to manage.
Finally, of course, network security is an issue. The company must ensure that all data generated by the factory system remains secure and should restrict access to the platform to only authorized employees. They should also establish different levels of access, with the ability to give orders to equipment available only to upper management.
Smart factory transformation requires integrating people, processes, and technology at the same time. Crean [co-founder, president, and CTO of Crean Inc.] says there can be a tendency to over-focus only on technology. To avoid this, companies need outstanding people, leading-edge technology, and modern, flexible process methods that deliver faster, establish competitive cost objectives, and target game-changing performance.
“The technology solution, in a lot of ways, is often the easiest part,” Crean adds. “But at the same time, it’s very easy to make mistakes in an ever-evolving technology space. Manufacturers must select the right technology and have a full understanding of what their goals are to ensure the technology is capable of achieving those goals.”
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