The fourth industrial revolution, also known as Industry 4.0, is sweeping across Asia Pacific with more manufacturers building smart factories. Nearly half of manufacturers in Asia Pacific will have fully connected factories by 2022, serving customers with shorter timelines and higher quality standards. This dynamic shift towards smarter factories has prompted companies to focus on technologies which deliver greater efficiencies and reduced operational costs. By Damien Dhellemmes, Country President, Singapore, Schneider Electric
Maximising Smart Factories
Companies in the region are equipping themselves with solutions such as the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud, big data, and analytics to help drive operational excellence across the enterprise.
In the automotive industry, for example, solutions such as predictive analytics are being implemented to help companies reduce unscheduled downtime and maintenance costs. Predictive analytics can be used to forecast and diagnose problems several days or months before they occur, using advanced pattern recognition and machine learning.
Compared to older factories, maintenance in smart factories has now become a proactive strategy rather than a reactive process. Employees now increasingly play a greater role in the planning and decision-making process in the plant.
Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) presents manufacturers with an opportunity to improve the connectivity of their plant facilities and empower workers to be “smarter”. Smart and connected devices can be used to link existing manufacturing solutions to drive improvements at a unit level. Internal quality checks for plant equipment can also be made by employees in real-time. This means employees can operate remotely with better visibility of plant operations without having to be on-site.
Companies can enable advanced workflow software allowing employees to focus their energy on their work, creating new opportunities for the business rather than spending time on repeated tasks. Automated workflows mean that employees can manage their work with little to no oversight. By streamlining processes and workflows, companies can manage their routine processes consistently and efficiently with no human error.
One way to maximise efficiency and improving collaboration amongst employees is with mobile workforce management solutions. Such solutions collect data from stranded assets that are not digitally integrated to the plant. This means that best practices can be adopted across the plant by standardising, documenting and enforcing maintenance inspections and procedures. This results in increased accuracy of executed tasks and asset performance optimisation.
With mobile access capabilities in the plant, employees involved in key decision-making process can be granted access to relevant data when needed. Providing access to data empowers them to be more active participants, making more informed decisions during the work process. The overall productivity and efficiency of the workplace is improved using actionable insights derived from the data using mobile access.
Drive Digital Transformation To Stay Ahead Of The Game
We ourselves strongly believe in the value of smart factories. We ensure that our own factories (more than 170 worldwide) integrate latest technologies to become pilots for new industry 4.0 solutions. For instance, our factories in Batam have become a test bay for machine learning, AI, predictive and digital maintenance, connected machines and processes. This has allowed us to increase the performance of our operations, while strengthening the link between our research and development teams and operations.
The integration of big data, cloud and IoT capabilities will pave the way for companies to work towards their smart factory vision, becoming more energy efficient and sustainable in the long term. It is key to align mid to long term strategic goals with the digital transformation infrastructure of the business before embarking on the digitalisation journey. Companies need a digital strategy in place to carefully assess the organisation’s needs, before analysing whether digital solutions are able to deliver operational excellence across the value chain.
At the same time, smart factories need smart workers. Companies need to go beyond digitising their plant operations and invest in their talent to drive digital transformation of the business. When employees are upskilled, companies can fully leverage the benefits of their smart factories.