What’s Inside A Smart Factory?

Contemporary manufacturing is characterized by speed, efficiency and technology. Since the 1960s, robotics and electronics have been involved in manufacturing processes, many of which have been handled by automation; however, much of this automation still requires a fair bit of human oversight to operate.

 

Today, however, digital technology has become increasingly prominent in factories of all kinds, and digital seems to be overtaking the human-operated robotic automation equipment of yesterday.

Digital technologies have improved connectivity, data collection and analysis between manufacturing equipment and even between facilities, but digital technology alone is not without its flaws.

Although factories can take advantage of digital technologies that require human input and operation, more and more are turning to so-called smart technologies.

The Use Of Smart Technology In Smart Factories

Smart technology is typically defined as technology that uses a combination of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, network connectivity and automation. These technologies may be a combination of both hardware and software, and the ability to network is essential to complex smart technologies.

Many homes and businesses currently take advantage of the Internet of Things (IoT). This is a network of smart devices like appliances, electronics, computers, cellphones, tablets, wearable accessories and more.

All of the components within the IoT network are able to talk to one another via the Internet, and they can learn and change their behaviors based on how the other components are used or are functioning.

Credit: HAHN Group

What Is Smart Manufacturing?

Smart manufacturing is the process of using smart technology to create products. A factory that engages in smart manufacturing is one that incorporates this kind of technology in the production process across multiple phases, but it may also incorporate this technology across various departments.

For example, a manufacturing facility may automate the inventory process by which items are automatically added to a digital storefront’s inventory as they are produced and stocked in the facility’s warehouse. This process is completed by intelligent scanning equipment that documents each product as it comes off of the assembly line and enters packaging.

The software within this equipment checks the finished product totals against the packaged totals using radio-frequency identification (RFID), removing products that were deemed damaged or unsalvageable as needed. The final total of finished goods can be added to the digital storefront for faster access by customers.

The information gathered through the automated scanning and data collection phase can also be compiled automatically into a report that will be sent to the facility’s maintenance department to allow engineers faster access to critical performance updates.

3D Printing, Cloud Computing And Intelligent Manufacturing

Because many components and pieces of equipment of the modern smart manufacturing facility are tied together through the Internet, it only makes sense that technologies like cloud computing have begun to play a larger role in the manufacturing process.

A smart facility can manufacture goods using 3D printing based on design files gathered from the web that are shared across multiple devices in the cloud. Customers can collaborate on the design of new products using cloud computing, and a manufacturing facility can then gain access to updated files as orders come in.

This not only gives facilities the ability to provide custom manufacturing capabilities, but it also opens up new partnerships with inventors, designers and third-party sellers. This, in turn, has the potential to create new revenue streams for facility owners.

It also provides more opportunities to sell manufacturing services online as customers can upload their design files from a remote device, and a facility can then input these files into 3D printing equipment to create customized goods quickly.

Are Smart Factories The Future Of All Manufacturing?

Whether or not the smart factory is the future of manufacturing or not remains to be seen, but if trends continue the way they have in recent decades, it’s all but certain. Intelligent manufacturing offers a vast amount of benefits to manufacturing businesses, customers and consumers. It also creates new opportunities for manufacturers who have traditionally worked solely within the B2B sphere.

Credit: Josef.uher

The agility, precision and efficiency achieved through smart technologies involved in modern manufacturing have created a commerce environment in which business owners who refuse to embrace smart technology will likely be left behind. Technology is also becoming more centralized, hinting toward a future where connected technology will become the rule rather than the exception.

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