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What Makes Smart Factories “Smart”?

What Makes Smart Factories “Smart”?

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

Damien Dhellemmes

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.

Working Smart

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.

Leveraging Data

Smart workers for smart factories | Image Source: Schneider Electric

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

With actionable insights, employees are empowered to make better decisions in the workplace

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.

Harman Partners With Intel On Industrial IoT

Harman Partners With Intel On Industrial IoT

Connecticut, US: An end-to-end Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) solution—Quick Predict—that provides early detection of issues with rotating equipment in industrial settings has been launched by Harman, a provider of connected products for automakers, including connected car systems, enterprise automation, and connected services. 

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From The Machine To An Intelligent Process

From The Machine To An Intelligent Process

Development of new solutions for Industry 4.0 are picking up pace. Dr Jürgen Hohnhaus, head of development, Bystronic, talks about the potential of such developments. By Oliver Hergt. Photos by Manual Stettler 

Q: How long has Bystronic been involved in the topic of Industry 4.0?

Jürgen Hohnhaus (JH): Since 2010. At that time, the term “Industry 4.0” had not yet been coined. Back then, we asked ourselves: Which Internet technologies must we integrate into our machines? And what will these technologies enable our customers to achieve in the future?

Q: And what was the conclusion you came to?

JH: The first product that was developed based on these considerations was the Observer. Today, it enables our customers to use their smartphone and tablet to access the status of their cutting and bending machines at any time and regardless of location.

Q: At that time, where did the impulse to become involved in Internet technologies come from?

JH: It was triggered by the fact that everyone was already using smartphones and digital applications in their private life. There was little doubt about the benefits of these solutions. So it was only logical to start thinking about how to transfer these benefits to industrial sheet metal processing.

Q: In the media, Industry 4.0 is currently a much-discussed topic. There are many different interpretations of it. What exactly does Bystronic understand by Industry 4.0?

JH: The goal of Industry 4.0 is the digital penetration of industrial business fields in order to improve the efficiency of production processes. In our case, we are talking about sheet metal processing. People, machines, and manufacturing parts that are involved in this process all become interlinked. An additional factor apart from this interconnection is artificial intelligence. This allows intelligent networks to be created within which machines will learn and optimise themselves in the future. Humans participate in these networks. This allows them to access information about their machines and parts regardless of time and location, assess situations, and intervene where necessary.

Q: Does this mean that these networks create greater transparency?

JH: Precisely. With Industry 4.0, customers receive more transparency regarding their production processes. They see when and where their orders are being processed, and how far their production parts have progressed.

Another benefit of Industry 4.0 is increased flexibility. In addition to large series of identical parts, Industry 4.0 enables customers to offer and manufacture small batch sizes with individual parts in a very short time.

In the future, in addition to mass products, this will enable individual parts and small series to be produced at competitive prices. Intelligent system support makes it much simpler to adapt workflows and thus to respond more rapidly to the customers’ requirements.

Q: How much Industry 4.0 is packed into the recently launched ByStar Fiber laser cutting system?

JH: A great deal. The ByStar Fiber is “Industry 4.0 ready”. Our fibre laser is based on a completely new control system. This enables the cutting processes on the machine to be measured and analysed using a hitherto unattainable sensor technology.

This provides us with data that will help us make laser cutting intelligent.

Q: Industry 4.0 comprises various aspects. Where is Bystronic setting priorities?

JH: I see four areas of focus. The first is automation, which will be augmented with artificial intelligence. The next step is the interconnection of the intelligent machines with the production parts to form a digitally integrated factory, the “smart factory”. The third area is big data. That is, the question as to how we can ensure the secure handling and meaningful analysis of data. The fourth topic are new service solutions, which are made possible through the advanced data analysis possibilities.

Q: Is the aim of Industry 4.0 exclusively about building a smart factory, or are selective individual solutions for users also feasible?

JH: With Industry 4.0 we are currently in an evolution process. This means that the development of new solutions is taking place gradually. For the user, the first step is to install machines that are ready for a digital network. This makes it possible to integrate a variety of software solutions, depending on the customer’s requirements. These can be expanded on a step-by-step basis.

Like pieces of a puzzle, which, when put together, result in the complete picture—the smart factory. An example of a selective individual solution that offers an entry to increased process transparency is the Observer.

Q: What solutions does Bystronic already offer in order to support customers with the preparation of offers?

JH: Today we are already able to simulate the process costs and manufacturing time of parts. This enables our customers to define the costs for an order in advance, which they can use to prepare the offer.

In the future, we want to process this simulation data in digital form in order to subsequently automatically generate an offer. This will make our customers’ offer process even faster.

Q: Let us look ahead a little. How will the company’s solutions change over the foreseeable future?

JH: In addition to our machine tools, we are increasingly transforming into a service provider. This means that we are taking the path from the machine to an intelligent process. The transformation has already started with the ByOptimizer, Observer, and other software solutions, for example. These services complement our customers’ workflows and expand the performance spectrum of our machines.

Q:Will there be radically new types of products in the future?

JH: The greatest potential for brand-new products lies in the field of software. In the future, laser cutting systems will autonomously monitor and control themselves. We have already taken the first step in this direction. As mentioned, our latest products are “Industry 4.0 ready”. In a next step, we will introduce intelligent functions into the process by means of software applications.

Q: On which of the customers’ operations will this have the greatest impact?

JH: Their logistics and order management in the back office will experience the greatest changes. Thanks to digital solutions, the workflows in these areas will become more transparent, more predictable, and thus also leaner. This will enable our customers to avoid unnecessary process steps in the future.

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