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On the Road to the Smart Factory

On the Road to the Smart Factory

Cyber-physical Systems, the Internet of Things and Today's Production Environment

Future concepts of cyber-physical systems and the Internet of Things in production involve discussions of fully networked, self-organizing production systems which have the objective of a “Smart Factory”. These are also an important part of the high-tech strategy, Industry 4.0.

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However, until we reach the objective of completely digital manufacturing, there is still a great deal of research and development ahead. The networking of sensors and actuators via the internet means that with our current level of technology, we still face unanswered questions such as real-time compatibility and security, which are needed in an industrial context.

 

However we do not necessarily need to consider the concepts of the Internet of Things (IoT) as the prospect for the future. Nowadays, with hybrid architectures, we can already increase previously-unexploited potential in resource efficiency, effectiveness and flexibility in manufacturing. As long as network infrastructures and protocols do not allow real-time-capable processes via the internet, we will work with architectures that function with a “division of labor” – both decentralized and central intelligence. And because humans will continue to play a significant and increasingly important role in production for the foreseeable future, the continuous improvement of ergonomics and thus a reduction in employee efforts is also an important factor in production.

 

The Internet of Things is now present in virtually all areas of life and work – from fitness wrist bands that communicate with the cloud, to parking sensors that provide information for higher-level parking guidance systems. But what is the significance of the IoT in production?

 

The journey to the digital factory will be, as with so many developments in industrial manufacturing, a continuous evolution rather than a revolution. Existing heterogenic production equipment, long investment cycles and limited possibilities for “experimenting with ongoing production” are the typical prevailing conditions.

Let’s consider the way to the Smart Factory as a journey that started over 40 years ago with the invention of the programmable logic controller (PLC). With a little imagination, it is also possible to consider PC-based automation as an intermediate step to the digital factory.

 

For a long time, the reliable control of industrial processes was considered the main task of automation. In order to be able to produce more intelligently, focus on a consistent flow of information assumes greater significance in addition to the control aspect. If we manage to establish this and control it, we can set up applications and logics with it, which in turn allow us to save resources, become more effective and produce more flexibly.

 

However, if the technology is (in part) still in development – what concrete steps can we take in order to make our manufacturing “smarter” today?

Seven steps towards a Smart Factory

  1. Bring people together
  2. Find a common language
  3. Define business objectives
  4. Determine the ideal status
  5. Cost/benefit assessment/investment plan
  6. Match technologies, taking into account costs and benefits
  7. Implementation and continuous improvement